Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Thank goodness I'm not dead

Yes, it's the Incorporate an Indy Quote or Slightly Modified Indy Quote meme. Not really a meme just a little game to play.

So, yes. Thank goodness I'm not dead.

Why should I be? You may ask. It has to do with my inconsiderate neighbour, in the flat below, who insists on listening to TV late into the night (specifically, 00:40 on Thursday nights) and preventing me from sleeping. He actually went away for two weeks. It was bliss.

He returned on Sunday evening but didn't do the TV thing.

But last night. Last night.

Last night I was actually drifting off at 11:30pm because his TV wasn't too loud. Then a song came on that he liked, so he turned it up. And left it turned up. Incredible. He did stop at about 00:20 this time which would not have been so bad but for one little thing:

I'm in the last week of preparing the Comedy Central UK website for launch. There's a lot to do, it's not desperate but it will be tight. I need to be able to think clearly during the day. I need sleep.

So I got stressed, I got really really stressed. The noice stopped but I had got so stressed that I still couldn't sleep. It was a vicious circle: every minute that passed worsened the situation because I Had To Sleep. But I couldn't. Until 3:30am.

Reluctantly, today, I decided I needed to do something about it. I had never seen my neighbour. I knew he was male. But nothing more. I needed to confront him and get him to stop it.

You know how it is. You run through a million scenarios, you try to decide what's the best thing to say. Luckily words are something I have some skill with and I'm reasonably good at dealing with people - and I know that the majority of people are decent. But there was always the chance that he wasn't one of the decent ones. There was a chance there would be a bad reaction.

I needed to use the magic words: "Can you help me?" These are the most powerful words on the planet, it is only a tiny minority of people who don't respond to that request.

I planned it out: Arrive at the house. Don't go to my flat because then I'll chicken out. Make it the first thing to do. (I did some reading up on handling this sort of situation, it is recommended you try to handle it when the problem is not happening.) Knock on his door (rather than ring from outside), which will slightly discombobulate him: if I'm knocking directly on his door then I'm either another tenant or a landlord. When he opens the door, introduce myself as the person upstairs and ask for his help.

After that, improvise. But don't be accusative. (Tricky for me, that one, I find the accusatory tone slips out easily.)

So that's what I did. And that's how it played out, action for action, word for word.

To my surprise he was in his 40s, I was expecting 20s-30s, and quite civilised. I explained the problem with me having to get up early. I asked if I was disturbing him at all (apparently not). Then I accepted his excuse ("the walls are really thin" - actually they're not) so he could save face. He said he'd keep the noise down, so I thanked him.

And hugely relieved at not being dead, I came to my room. I hope that handles it.

In other news: the daughter has an audition at Bristol Old Vic tomorrow - journey time over 4 hours one way, for 15 minutes. As previously mentioned this is her number one choice, especially when she found out that some of her favourite actors went there (like Gene Wilder, oh yes).

However something far more important happened for her today. In this audition she has to sing a short song unaccompanied. When the daughter was in Primary School she tried out for the School Choir and the headteacher told her she was not good enough. She was crushed and from that point has never really believed she could sing - only good enough for big choirs. We did pay for her to have some professional singing lessons at one point but they were short-lived for various reasons.

Anyway we had suggested that she get a music teacher at college to give her a lesson just to give her some pointers. She arranged it and finally got the lesson today. She was given some coaching on her breathing which she appreciated - but the teacher also told her that she had a beautiful singing voice!

She's floating. Finally the words of that stupid man, ten years ago, have been erased.

The wife and I are so happy. Next Monday the daughter is in Oxford for another audition and a couple of weeks later at RADA. Both of those involve hours of work, in groups and singly. Bristol Old Vic obviously want to make it just like an audition for an acting job.

And that's the end of the news.

So does any of this have to do with screenwriting - my story about the noise problem can be analysed to see which story elements exist. An exercise for the reader.

What's on the turntable? "The Book" by Sheryl Crow from "Sheryl Crow". Another superb songwriter, in a similar vein to Joni Mitchell, evoking powerful situations where the listener can see the story.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Searchamafacation #2

So let's see what people have been searching for on this lil ole blog in the last month...

  1. Me! (32 times)
  2. Red Planet (17) - no surprise there. My daily visits are typically in the 30-40 range, when there's a Red Planet blog they shoot up to 80-100.
  3. Being Human (16), popular show and I've mentioned it a few times.
  4. Celtx (10) - my script-writing software of choice. It's free (-ish).
  5. Go Go Google Gadget! Progress Bar! (9)
  6. Joint fifth: BBC's Merlin (9)
  7. Tiddly Pom - those immortal words by Winnie-thar-Pooh.
Joint 8th (3): Toby Whithouse, Gordon Giltrap and "Show don't Tell".

The weirdest search that resulted in a visit: "it was dawn when the skull wept blood."

So what's next on the writing front, as Charles asked?

Which needs to compost for a week or two; Unit X feedback will arrive at the end of the week; and I need to write a treatment for Running - but I'm not ready for that yet.

One thing that's been preying on my mind is my "make me a million pounds in 3 years" website. My business partner is getting a little peeved. So I think I'll give my evenings over to that until I get the Unit X feedback.

What's on the turntable? "Ballet Volta" by Sky from "Sky 2" yum.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Fun script done

There you go, Which made it to 13 pages in the end, in the first draft anyway.

Got stuck at one point and realised that it wasn't working with just the two groups because they are both good guys and there was insufficient plot to have them at each other's throats. Instead I brought in a bad guy from the Sarah Jane Adventures to be the cause of the trouble.

I'm pretty pleased with it as it stands, obviously it needs going through a couple of times and smoothing out. I expect there are additional emotions I can bring out. I also need to see if I can fit in "There's no place like home" comfortably - I really want it and there is one character that can say it but it didn't fit the flow at any point.

Joy joy feeling. Be well, citizen.

What's on the turntable? "I close my eyes and count to ten" by Dusty Springfield

Saturday, March 28, 2009

InkTip addendum

Now that is interesting. I mentioned InkTip in this blog including how they emphasised that they really were international (even if mostly US).

Their regular free newsletter popped into my inbox yesterday, I don't always read them in detail but this time I did and see what I found:
Andrew Bellware of Pandora Machine has acquired 'Clonehunter' by InkTip scribe Eric Steele after discovering it on InkTip ... Regarding the script, Andrew said, 'I read Eric's script and knew immediately that I wanted to shoot it' ... Although [Eric] has optioned [...] work before, this is [his] first sale. Based in the UK, he had this to say about listing with InkTip: 'It doesn't matter where in the world you are or who you know. Instead you are judged solely on the strength of the material. That for me is the greatest thing about InkTip.'
So there we go. I don't suppose they put that in just for me (or you). I guess I have decided ... as soon as I have some space on a credit card I shall give InkTip a test.

What's on the turntable? "Bohemian Rhapsody" by Queen ... We're not worthy!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Onwards and upwards

If I hadn't been trapped in Reading this evening, I probably wouldn't have got around to entering Monsters for the Cheltenham Screenwriters Festival ScriptMarket competition - you know, the one where there was a big question about how many words should be in the synopsis.

It turns out that the right number was 250 words. So I took my off-the-cuff 230 words and edited it into present tense and pruned it back to 195 words. Then added other essential material, like a bit of setting; I kept adding and cutting with the word count wavering between 200 and 245 words, once reaching the giddy heights of 247. More items were removed as non-essential, giving me more space to fill in emotion and ensuring that the protagonist was clearly acting as a causative element of the story.

The final act was where the story flow seemed to jump in a complete non-sequitur right in the middle. Not good. In the actual script it all flows but, because of what had been chopped out, there was this discontinuity. So there was more pruning which freed up enough words to allow me to make the flow clear.


Then there was 50 words to explain why I wanted to talk to agents (as opposed to directors, producers, financiers and so on, which I could also choose). But let's be focused: I know that the probability of Monsters being produced is minimal. No matter how much I love it. It's a spec script. So why bother meeting with producers, directors and financiers? What I need is an agent to help me sell myself. I can come back to Monsters another day.

This is probably the most expensive script competition to enter in the world.

Except, of course, you do get 4 days of one of the most brilliant screenwriting experiences you could possibly have. With an opportunity to make zillions of contacts.

I probably give the impression I find it easy to talk to people and network.

That would not be true. Writing is easy. I've had lots of experience in writing so can write in a very relaxed and friendly tone (had you noticed?). Face-to-face is another matter. Having said that you need only adopt a "oh what the hell" attitude and just do it anyway.

Anyway, that's SWF'09 out the way for the time being.

I'm also contemplating whether to enter Unit X for the Scriptapalooza TV competition - trouble is you have do this complicated Brad-binding thing that they like in the States - and they probably want it on foolscap - quaint. And I'd have to send hard copy from the UK. Question is: Can I be bothered?

Mind you, it would be amusing to have success with Unit X in the States, it being a US series written by a Brit. Just like my mate Roger Ellory and his brilliant US thrillers. Hm, I've just noticed, from the photo of Roger on the Sky Arts Book Show, that he's started to sport a beard and moustache just like mine. He may be more successful than me, but That's My Facial Hair Design.

You can tell I'm bored, can't you? It's too late to start writing now and I'll be up at the usual time tomorrow to go to work so that this website will be launched on time in full working order.

Right. I shall do a little reading and then it's off to bed.


What's on the turntable? "The Morning Fog" by Kate Bush from "Hounds of Love" (extended edition with great extra tracks of which this is one)

Red Planet at last

Well, it wasn't me. The e-mail...

Thank you for entering the Red Planet Prize. The standard of entries this year has been exceptional and you have done extremely well to make it through to the final round. Unfortunately, on this occasion, you have not been successful.

We will be inviting some of the finalists to attend workshops over the summer, but will be in touch about this separately as the numbers are sadly limited.

Thank you once again and keep writing – we will be launching 2009’s competition soon!
No shorter list.

So ... was it a member of the scribosphere who made it?

What's on the turntable? Nuffink

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Which witch is which?

As you can see my progress bar is nearly at 50%, I wrote about 5 pages this evening. This section is a bit dialogue heavy and will need some re-writing to trim it and look to see how to clarify the intentions of the various characters within the scene. (Currently it's a bit wishy washy.)

But the two groups have now met. Handling six major characters is quite tricky but we shall see how it goes. This evening on the train I spent some time looking at the different relationships you can have between Gwen, Ianto and Jack on the Torchwood side as opposed to Annie, George and Mitchell from Being Human.

How could the characters interact? What are the similarities and what are the differences? Where will they agree and where disagree?

There's lots of really juicy character stuff you could do, but I'll have to limit it. There's one particular thing I have lined up, poor George he always seems to end up in pain and poor Jack, always winds up dead...

My US Army expert, we'll call him Robert (because that's his name), got back to me today though I haven't read his notes apart from the introduction. Since I'm working on Which I don't want to get side-tracked back to Unit X until I've got the notes from Philip Shelley as well.

Still he was reasonably complimentary "There are many times that you get the military attitude just perfect. What the soldiers would say, how they would act. This adds to the authenticity, believe me."

Which was nice.

But I know there's a bunch of stuff in store for me, that will be less nice. But I want to get it as right as I can within the framework of the story.

It's also interesting, and this has happened with readers on other stories, how on offhand remark about something they don't consider important reveals that you, as the author, have failed to communicate something critically important.

I tore my hair out in Monsters over the fact that every reader assumed that the main character, Chloe, was supernaturally strong - when she was just using one of the simplest Jujitsu moves to immobilise someone, that anybody can be taught in a few minutes. I'm not 100% sure I ever solved it.

And, with Robert, there was a throwaway comment that showed I had got something wrong. It should be relatively easy to fix - much easier than the jujitsu thing. Of course, not being a proper script reader, Robert is offering solutions as well, but I was expecting that so I'm not offended. I asked for his advice and he's giving it, for free.

So. Tomorrow is Friday and I'm not heading home in the afternoon as I usually do because I shall be in work on both Saturday and Sunday. Not a delightful prospect, it can be very lonely here. On the other hand, lots of time for writing in the evenings. Should get Which wrapped up.

What's on the turntable? "Tubular Bells Part Two" by Mike Oldfield from "Tubular Bells".

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

All the fun of the fair

Well I finally managed to stop procrastinating about 10:00pm this evening, because I really really had to start writing Which.

And I did.

Oh, what a jolly time I'm having - and I've chopped out one of the TV shows I was going to incorporate.

Just because I'm writing something fun doesn't mean that I'm not applying all the tools at my disposal, because it still needs to be good (hopefully).

The TV programmes I'm combining are Being Human and Torchwood. And I've started the story by echoing the opening of Ep.1 of Being Human (script). Cutting to a brief scene in the Torchwood Hub (Cardiff), then an all-action sequence in Bristol.

But the writing tools? As Lucy mentioned on her blog the other day, consequence is everything - everything in your script must flow logically, and as a dependent action, from the previous event. Aristotle, over 2000 years ago, warned against episodic stories, so this has been known about for a while.

In his book "Writing a Great Movie", Jeff Kitchen expounds a technique which helps you to write consequential plot lines. It involves starting at the end and working backwards. You write down the end you want and say "which is caused directly by...". You do this at a high level for the overall action. Then do the same for each sequence within the story. And then even down to individual scenes.

I applied this technique to Which as I came home on the train today. Obviously it didn't take very long because I'm only aiming for 10-15 pages. But the important thing was that I had planned to include The Sarah Jane Adventures in the story as well but, using this technique, it was found to be surplus to requirements.

So there we go. Fun fun fun.

What's on the turntable? "Amarok" by Mike Oldfield (58 minutes in)

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Blog me a river

What a day ... turns out I will not be going home this weekend because I will be working on the day job website, launch is in less than two weeks. It's coming together and I now have two designers to make the things I'm creating look pretty. It's going to be close, but it always is.

But I won't see the boy who, after his jaunt to Norway, is now off to France for two days. (He's going to Italy in a year with the Scouts.) Nor will I get to hear him playing some of the new music I bought him for his sax (100 Sax solos and Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah). What an instrument the saxophone is, it sounds good even when he's not playing it well.

And I don't get to see the daughter who's heading for her first Drama college audition next week, Bristol Old Vic - which is the course she'd really like to get on to, they do tons of real performance throughout the course. Second choice is Oxford (not the University) because they only take about 15 students per year. Finally RADA - not that she'd object to being offered a place at RADA, but you're not even allowed to do any public performance for the first two years.

And I don't get to see the wife which is no fun at all.

Had a conversation with Philip Shelley today about my stupid idea.

For UK TV you are supposed to create something powerful that demonstrates your own unique voice. You are not expected to produce spec scripts of existing shows (unlike in the US). However the chance of you getting your own original work produced is rather small, so someone has to take a chance that you can write with correct voices for someone else's show.

This very thing was mentioned by Toby Whithouse in his Q&A - for the episodes of Being Human that he didn't write he chose two experienced writers that he knew could duplicate the character voices. And that is totally sensible and logical.

In the UK and the US no one will read a spec script for This Brilliant Show if they are the producers of This Brilliant Show because of the potential legal problems. But in the US you can write a spec for That Other Brilliant Show and send it to This Brilliant Show. Because it can be safely read and the producers can see whether you got the voices right for the other one.

But not in the UK. They don't want spec scripts from any existing show they want Your Original Voice. Which means new writers have a difficult time proving they can duplicate voices from existing shows.

So I had a stupid idea.

What if, I thought, I wrote a short script combining two sets of characters from different shows in a plot that could never happen? Something completely ridiculous that demonstrates I can write other people's characters? (Or not, as the case may be, but let's be positive.)

I asked Philip if he thought I could do that. He thought I probably could.

So, what the hell, I damn well will. It's currently called Which of the West? and is loosely based on the Wizard of Oz but combines three (yes, three!) popular UK TV shows in a 10 minute script. When I've finished it (and if I like it) I shall make it publicly available.

What's life if you can't have fun!

It also turns out that Philip would like to introduce my writing to people who don't produce SF and Fantasy TV, which means he can't send Monsters or Air. So I shall be writing the pilot for a series my wife and I have been kicking around for a couple of years - which isn't SF or Fantasy but is my other favourite genre: Detective. It will have the working title: Tec. (And that's a pun.)

Running is on hiatus (again) basically it's just not ready for the Linehan Poo. Hm, I've checked the reference but it doesn't really explain the Linehan Poo very well: Comedy writer Graham Linehan compared writing to having a poo - if it's not ready then you will have a hard time producing anything, but when it is ready ... you get the idea. It's a perfect analogy. I hate it.

What's on the turntable? "One Vision" by Queen from "A Kind of Magic", the soundtrack to the brilliant Highlander - though the TV series was better.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Pen and Ink

I finally managed to get a printout of my 1st Draft of "Unit X", I haven't touched it for about 6 weeks and went through it with the red pen on the train yesterday.

Actually it was better than I remembered. Even a section I wrote when I was feeling completely rubbish was pretty good.

Which was nice.

So I made the changes that I marked down, started on the train, and finished that up this evening.

In fact I was happy enough to send it off for comment to Philip Shelley, and also to my newly acquired US Army advisor in the States. My advisor will read it and tell me if anything stands out as being intrinsically wrong. Finding him was a doddle. If you need an expert just go to Yahoo!Answers, and look for someone who regularly answers questions on the subject you want, then e-mail them.

Do you subscribe to InkTip? If you have finished work of decent quality then you should consider it. Just getting the free newsletter is fascinating, it gives you a feel for what's wanted (at least, in the US) and there are so many opportunities.

I just got a personal e-mail from them, I've been joined for a year, asking if there was any reason I hadn't put a script up on their site. I explained that I was unsure because most of their stuff is feature or Movie of the Week, and I'm in the UK. But I got a nice e-mail back explaining how they have the different categories including various ones for TV, plus people from all over the world etc.

I know - they want me to give them money. But that's fair enough, InkTip is a highly reputable site for producers and directors to find writers, they provide the service and if we want to use it then we should pay for it. In fact they are so reputable that if someone breaks their rules (like claiming they have a finished script when they don't) they get kicked off so fast they won't see it coming.

Funnily enough I had been contemplating putting something up on InkTip so the e-mail was very timely. Perhaps fate is telling me this is the time[1].

What's on the turntable? "You Take My Breath Away" by Queen from "A Day At The Races"

[1] I don't believe in fate, but nor do I believe in coincidences. I do believe we make our own luck.

Unimportant meme

So I'm hurt nobody memed me, then I'm going "oh damn" because Laura did.

1) Put the link of the person who tagged you on your blog.
2) Write the rules.
3) Mention 6 things or habits of no real importance about you.

Oh dear. I am so arrogant I'm having trouble thinking of things that are not important about me.

a. My feet are the same size. (Unusual but not something I think about.)
b. I like mint things: mint chocolate, mint ice cream ... mints. I'll eat a packet of extra strong mints without a thought. (I have a mint Aero in the fridge...oh that's no good, that's important.)
c. I can get a tune out of lots of different sorts of instruments, but can't play anything well.
d. I'm 50.
e. I go a nice shade of olive when I tan.
f. I used to listen to the Archers avidly and still try to catch up occasionally.

Now I'm supposed to tag some other people ... Paul, Scaramanga, David Lemon, um um um, and anybody else who knows me who hasn't already been tagged.

What's on the turntable? "Stairway to Heaven" by Led Zeppelin from "Led Zeppelin IV" - the greatest rock track ever written.

Only 36?

The Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations is a book by Georges Polti written in 1868, available free in its 1916 translation by Lucile Ray (published 1924).

It was written by surveying a huge body of literature and classifying the dramas that Polti found therein. Apparently there was an attempt to disprove that there could be so few, but that only yielded 24 situations.

Jeff Kitchen includes the 36 Dramatic Situations in his book “Writing a Great Movie” as one of the techniques you can use to improve the drama in your work. As regular readers will know this is one of my favourite books on writing screenplays. Though most of it applies to any form of dramatic writing, not just movies.

The biggest mistake people make with the 36DS is thinking it is somehow proscriptive – by which I mean it is limiting. Or prescriptive - you must use one of these. Nothing is further from the truth. The people who make these criticisms obviously haven't read the source material.

Yes there are 36 major divisions, there are at least 3 subdivisions of each one, and some have sub-subdivisions. And you can combine two or more dramatic situations. Which makes the number of possible permutations a very big number indeed – far more than you’ll ever write.
So, to suggest it is somehow limiting is silly.

You can read any of the abbreviated versions of Polti’s work, but it’s worth reading the full translation, partly for Polti’s sense of humour and partly to gain a much better of understanding of his thinking behind the work.

Let’s take an example picked at random:

“Enmity of Kinsmen”, each situation lists the elements which make it up, in this case “a malevolent kinsman and a hated or reciprocally hating kinsman”. This is a dramatic situation which we’re all familiar with. He chooses several subdivisions: Hatred of Brothers sub-subdivided into one-to-one, several-to-one, and so on. (Not explicitly listed are all the different brother/sister combinations.)

Then there’s father-son (and all the versions between one generation, not explicitly listed); between two generations; between in-laws, he explicitly mentions mother-in-law/daughter-in-law conflict; and then there’s infanticide.

But here’s the key: he doesn’t list them all and points out in his introduction that this is a survey of dramatic situations that he found. He states that this survey shows areas that have not yet been touched by drama.

In other words you could go through his lists and come up with something completely new and original that has never been done before. He wouldn’t mind.

There are some situations that seem a little odd, like 31: Conflict with a God. It’s important to understand that the “God” can be interpreted as anything that, compared to the individual is godlike – it could the State, for example: immortal and untouchable (effectively).

So what value does this have? Well, it’s a tool for the toolbox. If your story is lacking drama you pull out the 36 dramatic situations and see what you can add to the mix. Your overall story will be one (or more) of the 36 but, since every scene should contain drama, every scene will also have something from the 36, and if it doesn’t you can add it.

What's on the turntable? "Go! Spastic" by Squarepusher from "Go Plastic", as I've said before my tastes are eclectic

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Moving Finger

Dave Turner, I think it was, had a sort of non-accusative meme about "how you got into writing". I've covered bits of this in various places but I thought I'd try to nail it down in one place.

I have always created stories for as long as I can remember, a habit I have to this day is that when I see a situation which looks remotely interesting I will create a story for it, instantly.

For example, woman standing on street corner, dressed to the nines: who is she, why is she there, who's she waiting for, what's going to happen?

But when I was young, pre-teen, when I put anything on paper it was always drawings, mostly space battles which I'd keep adding to until the sheet was full. I never wrote stories.

At grammar school (oh yes) things changed a little, I used to draw space battles with friends - we took sides and took turns adding something. At this time I was reading every SF and Fantasy book I could find, regardless of quality.

My Dad had given me a good start by reading the Lord of the Rings to me at bedtime over three years. (I returned the favour with my children - separately.)

Then there was the time that using a Super 8 (?) film camera a friend and I tried to create an SF animation using spaceships we had made.

At the age of 14 things suddenly changed: I read "Cider with Rosie" by Laurie Lee. Until that point my English language had been so-so, (my English Lit never got good). But with this book I discovered the beauty of language and I wanted to make it myself.

It was my mock 'O' levels at 15 when things really started to move. In the first place I was chastised by my English teacher to produce something less "obscure" in the real exam. I had written the opener for a fantasy opus. And at this time I began to write my first novel - during the time at the end of the exams after I'd finished answering the questions.

It ended up handwritten in exercise books at around 30,000 words. Then I re-wrote it, typing it at home in the evenings and it grew to 50,000 words. Of course it was rubbish. But I didn't care, I sent it to be published anyway - I had typed it in duplicate using carbon paper so I didn't even send the original.

My first rejections.

Then I wrote a sequel. This was bad too, but it was better. And longer.

And I was writing poetry. I wrote a lot of poetry. When we got to the Sixth Form I was taking Maths, More Maths and Physics but our headteacher insisted that the science-oriented pupils had an arts lesson every week. We had a student teacher, she was female, and I was in love :-)

She asked for everyone to write a Haiku, I wrote 18 in less than an hour. They just flowed off my pen.

Then university, studying Computer Science. And I still wrote poetry. I formed my own rock band and with a friend we wrote songs (did I mention music? No? I was pretty good at that too. I'm just so clever.)

But no novels. No screenplays.

"Blake's 7" ended and I was so disgusted with the last episode that I wrote a synopsis of another episode to finish it properly and sent it to the BBC.

I went to an arts festival and wrote poetry, on order, for real money. I made £100 in one day from poems, when £100 was a lot of money.

Then I started work. I still wrote some poetry but mostly the writing ground to a halt for a few years.

Ever since university I'd been playing Role-Playing Games (D&D and the like) in fact I've been playing nearly every week for 30 years - except the last couple where I've been working away from home. I ran some of the games we played and that calls from planning the adventures, plotting them out and so forth. A different type of writing.

I also attended a Live Role-Playing centre called Treasure Trap (dressing up in silly costumes and hitting each other with swords). But it wasn't random - the adventures were written down and had plots and characters. It was completely improvised on the "player" side (the players don't know the plot) and improvised with guidelines on the "monster" side.

In 1987 my wife and I started our own live role-playing games company and ran that for six years and I wrote some of the adventures.

It was around this time that I designed the entire magical back-story and creation mythos of another live role-playing group called The Lorien Trust - though I think they like to forget the fact. But I'm only slightly bitter.

On the work side I had become a magazine editor which I did from 1984 until 2001 or so. In that time I wrote and edited over 5 million words.

I had also done some acting and my poems always worked best read aloud. There is a pattern in that my overall writing, apart from the novels, was visually and physically oriented.

For ten years from the early 90s I worked bit by bit on a new novel (I stopped at one point for 2 years). This was a vast improvement on my earlier attempts and loosely based on the live role-playing stuff. Though it left those far behind.

It was when Buffy the Vampire Slayer finished that I wrote the first "series bible" for Monsters but no script. Then I forgot about it. Then Heroes started and I pulled out Monsters and began working on the script for real.

It turned out that I do seem to have some skill in this area (something which constantly surprises me) but, looking back, it might not have been obvious where I was going to end up but there is a logic to it.


What's on the turntable? Who knows, posted in advance on Saturday morning

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Once upon a time...

(Written before my news yesterday)

I went back to study the small print on the Scriptmarket website even more closely, and discovered another discrepancy: the main text says 400 words but the form says 250 words. Sigh. I have asked for clarification. But as I was sitting on the train I thought I'd have another go.

My attempt to get inspiration from what other people had written as a synopsis of Monsters didn't really work either. I couldn't get it short enough - not even down to 400 words, let alone 250.

Something I read ages ago about writing treatments (I completely forget where I read it) suggested that one approach is to imagine you're starting with "Once upon a time" and go from there.

So I wrote "Once upon a time there was a girl called Chloe..." and off I went. And finished 230 words later. The problem is always what to leave out because it's only a full treatment that has everything. I can be vicious with my editing but my training tends to stop me completely removing things, hence the limit on how short I can make the synopsis.

Working from the other end, and using the "Once upon a time..." method, helps focus on the protagonist alone and alone including those things directly relate.

So I'm a slightly happier bunny.

What's on the turntable? Not a thing, the boy is watching Pokemon on the TV

Friday, March 20, 2009

Oh. My. God. #4

Weirdly I'd been hoping that the week would end on a high point ... and it did.

Not as high as it could go, I haven't got a commission to write for Dr Who. I haven't got a commission to write for anything at all. But I have got as close to getting a commission for a major TV series that you can get without actually getting one. (Not including shadowing schemes.)

Seriously. I have been turned down as a writer for a major TV series - because they are full up for this series. The person concerned is still very interested in seeing anything else that I write on spec and said "I'll certainly keep him in mind for future projects though, and if things go well we may need more writers for *** next time."

(There will be some who may suggest "he was being nice" well, people in his position don't say things like that unless they mean them, because the last thing they want is to be pestered by people they didn't turn away firmly enough.)

OMG. Things had been quiet so long my self-confidence was eroding around the edges.

There is hope, guys, just keep at it. Persistence is the key.

What's on the turntable? Nothing, but "Crocodile Dundee" is on the TV. Interesting film, it's one of those where the protagonist does not have a character arc (like "The Fugitive") but stays firm, while the world changes around them.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Read the small print

I haven't been blogging for various reasons. Normal service will be resumed eventually.

I have in fact spent a chunk of my "free" time working on my entry for the Screenwriters Festival Scriptmarket. When I say "spent" what I mean is "wasted".

Wasted because I didn't read the small print or, if I did read the bit in question, it didn't register.

You have to supply a 400 word synopsis with a tagline and it's that which will decide whether your script joins the fabulous 30. But the main page recommends you read two articles, one by Julian Friedmann and one by Linda M James. The latter is about writing log lines, the former is about treatments.

I've read a lot of stuff on treatments and, to be honest, I'm not good at them. I know this. I even went to the "Writing treatments" talk at last year's Screenwriter's Festival. But I dutifully read Julian's article and set about writing my treatment using his article as a basis.

Have you spotted the problem yet?

I finally finished my 4000 word treatment, I'd even sat down with the 36 Dramatic Situations to ensure that I had drama in the treatment in one form or another. I tend to editorialise to the point of cutting out everything except the skeleton, it needs some meat which I had to put back.

Spotted it yet?

I am out by a factor of 10. They want a 400 word synopsis not a 4000 word treatment. Which in my current perpetually tired state, irritated me quite a bit. Why on earth do they have an article about treatments when they want a synopsis?

Of course, I have been stupid. I should have realised but, as noted, I am perpetually tired at the moment (which is one of the reasons for not blogging - there are others, constant irritation is another, resulting in churlish blogs, like this one).

So then I had to synopsise my story instead. I contemplated trying to cut down the treatment but gave up on that. Eventually I went to some of the early script analyses I have had done as inspiration on what to leave in and what to take out. This is working better.

I tell myself that the work is not really wasted because I now have a treatment, which is a good thing. But I am still annoyed - mostly with myself for not reading the small print.

I better stop now before I work myself into a rant.

(Why did Danny Stack post about the Red Planet competition? I had got myself out of accessing my email 99 million times per day and hoping. His post put me straight back into that frame of mind. And it's been a week since he wrote "...Red Planet news will be very soon indeed. Am expecting an announcement any day now, possibly sooner!". Hah! Oh dear, I really am not a happy bunny at the moment.)

Hope your life is running more smoothly.

(Another reason for not blogging is that the launch of the website I'm working on is only 14 working days away and that includes 2 weekends - it is beginning to dominate my life.)

What's on the turntable? "Connecting Rooms" by Sky from "Sky 2"

Saturday, March 14, 2009


Went to see it at the Manchester IMAX this evening with the wife.

I read the trade paperback (it's not technically a "Graphic Novel" because it was first issued in parts) back when it was first released. I got it for Christmas this year and did re-read it, I have also read lots of blogs and reviews about the film. My wife, who also read it 20+ years ago had been avoiding trailers and Watchmen discussions.

Having said that neither the wife nor I are big comic fans, we might read a comic leant by a friend but almost never buy one ourselves.

So, the film: I liked it. I liked it a lot. So did the wife.

People said "it's too long": Sorry don't agree, there was one place where it felt a teeny bit slow, then it speeded up again. It did not feel like 2.5 hours.

People said "it should have been more like the comic": Nope, it was incredibly close anyway with sections and dialogue lifted wholesale, I don't think it could have sensibly been more like the comic. And, I'm going to commit comic heresy, I thought the film ending was more logical than the original. Though the comic is logical on its own terms. (They might have been talking about the sub-story with the boy reading the Pirate comic, I didn't even like it in the original comic; it would have been insane to add it, and lengthened the movie by at least 30 minutes.)

People said "it should have been less like the comic": It could have been but I don't think that would necessarily have made it better.

People said "You have to have read the comic to understand it": Difficult to answer, but my wife was happy with it. Thing is, you really have to pay attention, this is a film for thinking, it's not "just entertainment". There is a reason why it's in the NY Times Top 100 Books of the 20th Century.

People said "Dr Manhattan's doo-wangle hanging out all the time is distracting": This is important, because it isn't out "all the time" (in fact just a tiny fraction of the film) and the "distraction" actually says far more about the people writing these comments than the film.

People said "The watchmen seemed superheroic in the fights": Yes they were a bit, which is wrong as they were just ordinary people - except Dr Manhattan who is off the super scale. I can live with it.

People said "But they weren't really heroes": That is the point.

People said "the music should have been 80s not 60s": This is because they weren't listening to the words which was the reason for the choices. There was however one music choice that was just silly, though it could have been argued there was a deeper reason for the choice ... but it was just silly really.

All the acting is good, but Comedian and Rorschach are outstanding.

The visuals were stunning and modelled almost to perfection on the comic. Rorschach's mask was wonderful.

Would I recommend it? If you want a film that will make you think, then this is a good film to see, if you want to be a mere zombified spectator, don't bother.

What's on the turntable? Nuffink

Friday, March 13, 2009

Imagination cubed

I've read two books recently by the author Stephen Hunt: "The Court of the Air" and "The Kingdom Beyond the Waves". And I shall now review them ... or, at least, try to.

From the fly-leaf notes I can only admire Stephen Hunt as he is one of the creators of Crows Nest. And because of his credentials I almost hate to say how much I hate these books.

I hate them as much as I like them.

Let me try to explain: He has created a universe full of amazing invention (one other review I read suggested that there was too much invention) - except the closer you look there is very little actually original. Almost everything is derivative. But still, lots of invention - that goes in the plus column.

The plots do crack along at a pace (both contain at least two quite distinct sets of characters following their own stories which come together at the end) but in both cases I got two-thirds of the way through, the plots look like they're about to climax, and suddenly something goes wrong and the plot plods on for another 100 pages before hitting the real climax.

Those extra 100 pages are, quite frankly, boring. I just kept thinking "get on with it"!

Add to that dialogue and description that is totally on-the-nose and largely unnecessary. If I had been allowed at it, as an editor, I would have chopped out a very large chunk leaving something just as inventive but much terser.

Let's talk about invention: the intention is to give these books a Victorian steampunk feel, but the implication is they take place in the distant future (I could be wrong because at other times it seems to be a parallel Earth instead).

But you have the land of Jackals (Britain), Quartershift (France) and other national stereotypical analogs. There are steam-driven computers (transaction machines) and so forth. These things are not particularly new (Harry Harrison's "Transatlantic Tunnel, Hurrah!" covered this type of ground) but, of course, no reason why they should be new ideas but it's how they are used and referenced that quite simply drove me up the wall.

What's wrong, in my opinion, is the author constantly winking at the reader. Both books are packed from beginning to end with "cookies", references to existing real world items and contemporary references. I have never known a book that spent so much time breaking the 4th wall.

The absolute worst was the "Suits You" character - yes indeed, he had a character that spoke like the shop assistant's in the Fast Show's Suits You sketches. Okay, not a major character, but even so.

Every character is a stereotype. The plot is everything. Plus the writing, in the second book, becomes inconsistent: the technology the characters encounter becomes much more modern and the main characters begin to talk and behave differently. I would suggest that this is because the stories are plot not character driven.

I love pulp fiction, I mean really: I love Doc Smith's Lensman and Skylark books. These are regarded by many as "bad" though if you take the time, and remember when they were written, they are not so bad. Pure escapism.

But these works by Stephen Hunt ... I just don't really know what to say. I wouldn't recommend them. It's just my opinion, of course. They received various plaudits from the likes of SFX magazine. Although it's interesting to note that the "this is great" quotes on the back of the second book are actually about the first book.

Only read if you have a long boring train journey.

What's on the turntable? "Newgrange" by Clannad from "PastPresent"

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Sleepy in Reading

Neighbours. The real ones, not the TV soap.

Every Thursday the person who lives in the flat below me watches TV until 00:40am. He probably doesn't think the TV is on loudly, perhaps it isn't. But it's too loud for me. I like silence when I'm trying to sleep - or, at least, not something that might make sense.

I can't hear any word clearly enough to understand, but I can here that it is conversation, and it keeps me awake. Until 00:40. Then he'll switch it off.

Why? I mean, why 00:40? What is the magical significance of that time?

Still, I'm prepared this week - the 3rd week. Last week I was so tired you'd think I'd sleep anyway, but I just don't work like that.

Curiously it's the only thing about which my wife and I significantly disagree. To her having Radio 4 playing is "background". To me it is in-yer-face "foreground". To me music is background and it helps me concentrate (except when it has to be played at full volume - and let's face it, some things do). To her, it's irritating. She hates silence. I love it.

Apart from that we' re perfectly compatible - unfortunately for our poor children. We agree so completely on pretty much everything else that if a child tries the "asking the other parent" trick, they will get the identical answer for the identical reason. In fact they don't bother any more.

So I have 50 minutes to go. I made sure I got a good night's sleep last night. Still tired, of course, but not like I was last week. I've put on a CD that takes the requisite hour to complete.

Apart from during my computer-less-ness yester-eve, this week I have mostly been writing a treatment for Monsters for submission to the Cheltenham Screenwriter's Festival Scriptmarket. I wrote most of it Monday and finished it on Tuesday. This evening I took the editing pen to it and started ripping stuff out.

I'm really not sure about it, as it seems very disjointed. I do a lot of cutting between different people and locations often in quick scenes. It works well in its fully written-out form (I think it's quite televisual, and people who know seem to agree), but it doesn't seem to translate well to prose form. I'm trying to keep the flow natural and begin new scenes with something that naturally guides the reader. But I'm not a happy bunny.

I keep looking at it objectively and feeling that it really doesn't work. Oh well.

I'm going to keep writing until it gets to midnight and then post this blog. Then I shall write at least one more blog which will come through tomorrow afternoon - and maybe another for the weekend. Hm, Blogger seems to be 3 minutes behind my clock.

Another minute gone. Read "A Minute Passed".

Not long now.

(I wonder what the folks back home are doing...)

(We're not doing anything!)


What's on the turntable? "Sirius" by Clannad from "PastPresent"

Lack of brains or more brawn?

Honestly I can be a right wally.

Last night I packed away my computer, putting the cables in my bag and headed off home ... idly thinking that carrying my laptop around was clearly making me stronger as it wasn't so heavy...

It would have helped if I'd put the computer in the bag.

It really wasn't until I got back to the flat that it dawned on me that I did not have it. I have no radio, no TV and I'd almost finished the book I was reading. So I finished it. Then I did some paper work that needed doing, then I did a bit of script planning ... and went to bed early.

To add insult to injury when I met up with my computer this morning it wouldn't connect to the Innertubes. All day. Despite having 5 bars of connectivity. It would try, go through the authorisation and then "Computer says no". I worried a bit about whether my account had been disconnected for some reason but I got back to the flat and it worked! On one bar.

Insane. I shall complain vociferously if it fails at work again tomorrow.

So I had a zillion emails, none of which were important. And 28 blogs to read.

So Red Planet announcement soon? Mmm.

Right, I'm all behind so best be getting on.

Missing you already.

What's on the turntable? "Turn of the Century" by Yes from "Going for the One"

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

You'll like this

Well, I did.

From Bill Martell's blog an article about Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen.

I've been working hard this evening and don;t seem to have got anywhere, more running to keep still required...

What's on the turntable? "The Price of Experience" by Gordon Giltrap from "Visionary" - music based on the poems of Blake.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Getting the treatment

Urgle. Not blogging 'cos I just have so much on.

Currently I'm working on the treatment for Monsters so that I can enter it into the Cheltenham Screenwriters Festival - I already have a 4-day ticket. In fact I have ticket #1 for the coming event. (When I say "coming", you know, like, October. Yuck.)

Any road up. I was reading their FAQ and came across the bit that said "put a copyright message on every page". What? What am I, a newbie who thinks someone's going to steal my work?

I wrote and complained. I explained that the mere thought of putting a copyright message on every page was making my skin crawl. I spend enough time telling newbies to stop worrying about copyright.

I got a nice email back explaining that yes, perhaps they had overreacted, it was just that stoopid newbies had taken them to task over copyright. God 'elp us. They've amended it to just having a copyright message on the title page. Phew. I can live with that. Even though it's pointless and unnecessary.

So I'm doing this treatment. About 2/3rds the way through. You know, Monsters is a jolly good yarn - I can say that now 'cos I haven't read it for months.

Of course if I win (hah!) the Red Planet Prize I'll have to change the entry to Air.

What's on the turntable? More Bladerunner by Vangelis. I really must change the record. But I like it. And it's non-intrusive, so ideal for writing.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Paint me purple...

... and call me an aubergine.

I read so much about screenwriting, slowly it all comes together. (Trouble is half the time I can't remember where it came from.)

Just had a mini-revelation: In one of the WordPlay articles by the famous Hollywood screenwriting double-act Terry Rossio andTed Elliott, I think, they mention that every scene has to be a "situation". This has been going round and round in my head for a couple of weeks, I didn't truly understand what they meant by "situation" if truth be told.

Then, barely 10 minutes ago, another piece of screenwriting loveliness came to mind: The 36 Dramatic Situations (actually there are more than 36, each one has several subdivisions) compiled by Georges Polti.


I am so stupid. Them's is the situations.

If your scene does not contain one of those situations it isn't dramatic. Write that one in 6 foot high letters on the inside of your skull - well, I have sufficient room in my head to do that.

Oooh, now we can get really meaty.

Posted for your amusement and, perhaps, erudition.

What's on the turntable? "Wait for me" by Vangelis from "Bladerunner"

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Toby Whithouse Q&A: A Report

So, I went, I saw, asked a few questions. That's it.

You want to know what he said?


About 50% of my questions went unanswered - other people were asking them so I actually only asked him three questions, one of which I asked in the bar afterwards, so I'll put down the question that I wrote in my notebook and provide a summary of what he said. It wasn't always as a direct answer to a direct question but combined from "things he said". I'll keep it in 3rd person because these aren't literal quotes - although it reads a bit strange like this.

Most of the questions were about "Being Human", unsurprisingly.

Does your role equate to the UK version of a showrunner? Yes and no. He has creative input apart from just the script. He worked with the other two writers and had a say in the casting. But not quite as intense a position as Russell T Davies on Dr Who.

To what extent do you edit the other writers? He plans the episode, provides notes on treatments from the other writers, and then notes on their scripts.

What level of creative control do you have? See previous two answers.

Is the next series 8 x 45mins? (This was me being a smart-ass, the BBC commissioned 8 episodes for the next series but 8 x 45 would be the same as 6 x 60, so it would look like more while actually being less - taking credits into account) No, it's 8 x 60min.

Did you re-shoot any of the last episode because of the renewal? No, that was the last episode as originally written.

How much did you have to compromise your vision? Not much.

Do you see "Being Human" as genre as opposed to straight drama? It is genre, but it's easier to highlight human themes with something non-human. Life isn't genre, you can go from the sad to funny in a moment. You can have weird stuff happen, or have totally ordinary drama with your significant other.

To what extent did the public support of the "Being Human" pilot actually sway the BBC's decision to commission a full series? Completely. Although the BBC had kept it "in development" that didn't really mean anything. They wanted "Phoo Action", they'd made the decision. But they changed their minds. This was exactly the audience they'd been trying to find and it was now demanding they make this series.

History is now being re-written, Phoo Action is getting air-brushed out and people are saying that they always wanted Being Human really.

How long ago did you first write "Being Human"? It has been around a while and in various guises. Touchpaper wanted Toby to write a series about a houseshare between some friends, which he thought was pretty boring. He had this idea for a sitcom involving the undead all of whom were fully integrated into humanity - Mild Thing.

He and Touchpaper had a final meeting about the houseshare idea and suddenly Toby said "what if they were werewolves?". The idea went through various other incarnations until the final pilot appeared.

Toby did not want to have the pilot made and put into the series of pilots. But it seemed the only opportunity for it to be made at all. The rest is history.

Where does the writing process begin for you? Characters. He fleshes them out in detail with biographies, lots of research, and then the ideas start to arrive for plots.

Would you call yourself a disciplined writer? Yes. He works 8:30am until 5:00pm. He tries to do 5 good pages a day, and that includes re-editing them.

Do you have a character that you feel is the most rewarding to write for? Yes, the one he's working on at any given moment, right now it's Mitchell. It'll be a different one tomorrow.

How does it work with other writers for your series? Toby and the writers spend a couple of days going over the plotlines for the series, then he spends a day or so with them individually on the episodes they'll be writing.

Toby chooses the writers himself, he wants writers that he knows will be able to duplicate the voices and tone of characters and series. In the next series he'll choose writers whose style best matches the type of episode. He's writing four of the eight episodes himself so will use four other writers. He's currently storylining the second series.

Other questions that weren't on my list...

How did you get started? He was an actor and got scripts where he thought he could do better. He started writing bits of ideas, just jokes and gags, which developed into characters, which developed into plots and ended up as a stage play. He was going to put it on with some other out-of-work actors but then entered it for a major competition and it won.

He thought he wanted to write sitcoms. Then he had to write one and hated it. Luckily the series was never commissioned.

Do you ever want to write a good part for yourself to play? "There're are a lot better actors than me out there." [That one's a quote]

To what extent have you planned your career? He hasn't, he only really think in terms of "the next job".

Could you go back to writing for other people's series? He is but can't talk about it. [That'll be Dr Who then.]

Who were your influences? Alan Moore (comic writer of Watchmen and many other significant comics); and others, like the writer of Ultraviolet (the TV series). [Sorry I forgot to write their names.]

Would you go back to write for the theatre? Yes, he has an idea for the stage now. In the theatre the writer has more control but there's no money. Yet theatre is completely unconstrained, you can do anything. TV is limiting in what you can do, the content has to conform.

Having been an actor do you allow actors leeway?
Yes and no. As an actor he knows that having a character with a name is much better for the CV than "Man with Bike"; he also tries to give the one-line characters something meaningful to say, maybe a gag. But when it comes to the script, if he gets a call saying that so-and-so actor doesn't think his character would say that - he says: Really? Funny, that's what it says in the script.

On a personal note I had a quick chat with Toby in the bar afterwards. My scripts, Air and Monsters are with his script editor so I popped him a business card with the URL of the scripts on the back, just in case. However the chances of me getting to write for Being Human are slim to the point of nothingness, but ya gotta put yourself out there.

Met up with the Lord Arnopp and Rob Jones of Snowbooks and had drinkies and talkies.

A jolly time was had by all.

What's on the turntable? "One Alone" by Vangelis from "Bladerunner"

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Questions, questions...

Still preparing for the Toby Whithouse Q&A tomorrow.

I suddenly realised how I could watch the final episode of Being Human. The BBC iPlayer has a download option, I had rejected this previously because the download speed on Rubbish Internet is so bad that, well, here's an example: I'm downloading Patrick Moore's latest Sky at Night, just the 30 minutes version, and it will take over 60 hours to do the last 60%, currently doing 52 bytes/second. (You thought I was joking about my Rubbish Internet.)

But I get much better response at the office during the day - why not download during the day and watch in the evening? Why not indeed. So I did. But even then it took 6 hours!

However it worked and I watched said episode. Phew. Not as totally brilliant as the rest of the series, there'll be questions.

Yes, a lot of questions. Twenty-five (25) in fact, and I've just thought of another one for the list, so 26 questions. I hope no one else has got any. Perhaps I should write them on strips of paper and hand them out.

Still, it means there won't be any awkward silences, I'll always be there to fill the breach with "Hi ... my name is Addy, and ... I'm a screenwriter." No, no awkward silences, just awkward "Has anybody else got a question?"

On my Precautions Just In Case, I have written the URL to my scripts on the back of ten (10) of my business cards - just in case I meet anyone Important. And now I've realised I forgot to mention Monsters is shortlisted for ... some ... writing? ... prize ... I think ... can't quite remember now ... so long ago.

Rubbish Internet is now down to 2 bytes/second. Pathetic. You might wonder why I'm even bothering, well I want to download Heroes tomorrow at work so I'm hoping to get as much done of this as I can so I have time. And, to be fair, it will get better as the evening wears on, plus I can leave it going over night.

Right. Fix website, write some of Running.

What's on the turntable? "Crime of the Century" by Supertramp from "Crisis, what crisis?" (How ironic.)

Monday, March 02, 2009

Website done and dusted

Three blogs in a day? Hah, see if I care. Anyway, I wrote the first yesterday, so there.

Spent the last two hours building the pages to present my scripts and uploading to the website concerned. Quite pleased with the result considering I did a minimum of actual "design".

Maybe a bit rushed but the good thing is that it's easily extended to add more scripts as I go along ... although I'm planning to completely rebuild this site some time in the near future. If I had time. Which I don't.


Bedtime. Nightie-night.

What's on the turntable? "You're bloody well right" by Supertramp from, in this case, "Greatest Hits"

Lost in time and in space ... and meaning

Random thoughts...

(1) I am a huge fan of the Rocky Horror Show (yes, I have attended in appropriate attire, basque with 4 inch heels, I was better looking in those days - well, thinner, anyway; and The Timewarp is the only thing I'll dance to nowadays), but the headline on this blog has no meaning other than the fact that I love it as a line. (It's from the end of the film version.)

(2) Look, the progress bar increases ... I've been writing Running. It's not very good and it's been going slowly, for the same reason. The problem was that I knew the beginning and I knew the nature of the end, sort of, and bits of the middle but it wasn't a cohesive thing. On the train this evening I got out my trusty notepad and jotted down an outline of the plot so that everything became properly congealed.

(3) So I'm off to the Toby Whithouse Q&A at the Soho Theatre on Wednesday evening - anyone else going so we can have jolly drinkie[1] afterwards? (Well, I already am because Rob is going - anyone else?) Make sure you have your questions prepared.

Unfortunately, irritatingly, I haven't actually seen the last episode of Being Human, it will no doubt be thoroughly spoilered on Wednesday. C'est la vie.

(4) The enormity of my next 4 weeks at work hit home today. I have to re-skin the entire website and add functionality for one of the biggest sites in the country. Oh dear.

(5) It's my parents 60th wedding anniversary in a few weeks. Gosh.

(6) It's Pam & my 25th wedding anniversary a few weeks after that. Ultra gosh.

(7) You never know who you're going to meet at events like the Q&A, so I'm preparing a section of one of my websites and my old business cards with the correct URL scribbled on the back.

(8) Better do some work.

What's on the turntable? "On the Run" by Pink Floyd from "Dark Side of the Moon". Oh yeah.

[1] Bearing in mind alcohol is not a fan of me, I'm more inclined towards coffee. Just thought I'd mention it.

Hearing voices

This thinking stuff can't be good for me.

On the Shooting People screenwriters bulletin recently there has been discussion of where ideas, characters and dialogue come from. Popular options are the personal subconscious and some big superconscious.

I have no objection to people feeling like they've been given inspiration by their favourite divine entity (I am not an atheist) but personally I doubt it.

I know where my ideas, characters and dialogue come from: me.

But let's look at this: I do hear voices. I do hear my characters talking, and sometimes they'll do something that surprises me. But that doesn't make me think they're being powered by something other than me.

But it does means I understand why some writers may feel that their characters and their art are generated by something outside themselves. The characters very often seem to have a life of their own.

And I say, well, why shouldn't they have a life of their own?

When you were young did you ever play will dolls/teddy bears/toy soldiers? Did they talk to each other? Did they take actions? Were they naughty and have to be punished? Did they fight and die in a war? Did you not confide in your favourite soft toy as to how the world was just so unfair, and your soft toy agreed and you felt comforted?

When you see an expert ventriloquist, the dummy is effectively alive, isn't it? What about the greatest ever chat show host, Michael Parkinson? When he interviewed Miss Piggy and Kermit, the puppeteers were sitting there, visible, but he talked to the puppets - because, to all intents and purposes, they were alive.

People have, effectively, the ability to give life to other things.

So why shouldn't you be able to create a cast of characters in your head that have their own life, within the framework you've given them? It's still you.

Using Occam's Razor, it's the logical option because it doesn't require the addition of another unproven component to work (the subconscious is still a theory, never objectively proven).

So the radical idea that writers just invent characters and situations then write about them, is the most reasonable.

To be honest I do have a more personal reason for objecting to the "art from somewhere else" concept (regardless of whether the "somewhere else" is inside or outside): Responsibility and ownership. I never want to be in the position where either the blame or the credit for my work isn't mine.

What's on the turntable? "Hard to Make a Stand" by Sheryl Crow from "Sheryl Crow"

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Show, don't tell

I've been thinking about script elements.

Everybody, who calls themselves a screenwriter, knows about sub-text. You don't have the characters say what they mean you have them say something else that either implies what they mean, or by context, means something other than the obvious. And so on.

You show character by a character's actions and words - you don't have your character say "I'm angry!" You have him slam the door behind him.

Reading the Wordplay site I came across their concept of script momentum and the off-screen action. In brief this means that the forward momentum of the script is actually created by what's going on off-screen. Character A comes on screen and says to Character B "Your father sends his love" and suddenly you know that A has spoken to B's father - with everything that might imply by context.

Theme is another thing that helps to provide cohesion in a script. Especially if each of your characters express some form of the theme. But you never express the theme openly (unless you're exceptionally talented) - because that would be crass and awkward, and people would laugh.

Another item discussed on Wordplay is Dramatic Irony - in fact it's given a higher importance than just about anything else. Like when you realise that a character has become the thing they hate - that's dramatic irony. (And so are a lot of other things, read the article.)

And there's "Show, don't tell". The rule that exists to annoy, because it is both true and false. (Though it is certainly more true than false.)

So, I've been thinking. There is one thing that all of these separate items have in common and that is "audience involvement".

Sub-text: The audience translates the real meaning.

Character emotion: The audience recognises the real emotion.

Script momentum: The audience fills in the scenes they now know must have happened (in some cases they have to keep re-imagining them - key example: "The Usual Suspects")

Theme: The audience picks it up through the action - it may not be what you intend.

Dramatic irony: The audience sees it, the characters will usually not, certainly not the ones expressing the irony.

Show don't tell: The audience is the one that makes the decisions about what they are seeing, you merely guide them through the action.

When a screenplay has these elements it is considered to be "good" and "true" - it's successful, when they're missing the screenplay is less.

Just imagine a screenplay where all these elements are missing: All the dialogue is on the nose, the characters say what they're feeling, everything happens explicitly on screen, there is no theme (or worse, every character tells you what the theme is), there is no dramatic irony, everything is told and not shown. (Like the ITV series "Demons" - sorry, couldn't resist.)

Each of these elements involves the audience as an active participant, required to think, to imagine, to add their own creativity to the mix. And I think that's an important fundamental - a script, to be good, involves the audience, it doesn't treat them as spectators.

What do you think? Have I missed any other element that requires audience involvement?

What's on the turntable? Nuffink