Saturday, May 30, 2009


Yesterday's train was held up for about an hour en route, which meant I got lots more writing done on Tec. Now on 34 pages so I could, theoretically finish by tomorrow - writing 21 pages in two days is feasible - but I suspect it's a bit much with my weekend schedule.

I do sometimes wonder whether I'm justified in travelling First Class, I always use the cheapest option of First Class, but it's still not cheap. (Except when it's cheaper than standard, which does happen.) But then I think: I would be wasting hours of my time if I didn't. And I cannot work in the press of people that is Standard Class. So it's that or do nothing except maybe read.

Reading is fine, except: Because the train was late I missed my Manchester connection and had 50 minutes to kill. So I found myself in WHSmith desperate for something to read. I looked at the magazines: Nothing inspired me. I looked at the books. Nothing. Even though there are writers that I like with books I hadn't read, like Bill Bryson. I just had no enthusiasm for anything on display.

I was just walking out when Astronomy magazine caught my eye. I've always been interested in space, but my knowledge of current cosmological thinking was many years out of date. So I bought that, quite cheap too. Excellent, I could bury myself in some interesting cosmological theories and ideas including how a more accurate measurement of Hubble's Constant (the rate at which the universe is expanding) has ruled out various theories as to the nature of dark matter. Cool.

My Shooting People pitch of Monsters has yielded a communication from someone who hadn't read the script for that yet but had read Air and really liked it. Which was nice. There may be a future in that contact, we shall see.

Regular readers may have noticed that I have not mentioned the comic book version of Monsters for a while. This is because the illustrator has had to go off to Ireland for a while.

The Boy has been at SpaceCamp all week, building rockets that really go up. We had received a phone call from the school saying "don't go you haven't got a place" but the Teacher hadn't picked up the message. Since other kids hadn't turned up anyway the Boy got in. And his team came second out of 22 by the end of the week. (They had to do Dragon's Den-type presentations and all sorts.)

And then he got a call from CBBC saying that he was through to the next round of the Bamzooki TV show, so a good week for him.

The Daughter has been revising for her final A-Level exams starting on Tuesday but went to give blood yesterday (something she's been trying to do for several months). It all went reasonably well although, like the Teacher, she has veins that like to hide. Making it difficult to get the needle in. (I am physically incapable of giving blood - look, I just can't okay? Just writing that previous sentence about the needle made me feel woozy.) However the Daughter almost fainted three times afterwards so the Teacher had to go and collect her. She was advised to drink a lot more water before giving blood next time.

I was underwhelmed by the level of interest on Inktip yesterday and I'm seriously doubting anything else will happen before the end of my free trial.

What's on the turntable? (The daughter is talking about The Odyssey.)

Friday, May 29, 2009

The Business #2: Is there anybody there?

So you've got your goal and your plans and a place to worry about the legal stuff. Now what? Is it time to write yet?

Not yet.

In a business things come in and things go out; and there are customers who exchange things that are valuable to you for things that are valuable to them - money and scripts, for example.

But for any of that to happen they have to contact you. Generally they won't come knocking on your door, but they will email and they will phone and they may write. So you need a place for that - when I say "place" it's not necessarily a physical location could be just the time when you deal with phone calls and emails.

This should not be all the time. When I'm on my day job I switch off my mobile and don't have access to my main e-mail address. It's distracting and reduces my productivity. If it's an important call they'll leave a message. It's worth turning your answerphone message into something friendly like "I'm really sorry to have missed your call but I'm in the middle of something right now. Leave a message so I can get back to you."

Being a business means being organised and setting aside time for stuff. It doesn't matter whether your writing time is spent staring out the window. You and I know that that is valuable staring time. It is part of writing. But that's not the time to be doing something else, because that's your writing time. (If you know that ironing will help then feel free, it's the business part I'm talking about.)

If you feel bad about cutting off your phone and email lines - then perhaps you really need to. Twenty years ago nobody thought twice about not being in constant, obsessive communication with everybody they know.

Anyway, have a time and a place to handle communications. Another point is that if a letter comes in that's financial put it in the financial pile, likewise emails, or calls. This is not the point at which you deal with financial things, this is just the time and the place when you look to see what communications have been sent.

When you work in a larger organisation you have a time to be at work and you try to do that because it's the right thing to do. Keeping a schedule is good even when you're "just" a writer on his/her/its own. You need to be disciplined in your schedule, and in how you deal with your business. It isn't easy, and this is one of the reasons why writing in particular isn't - it's just between you and the words.

You also need to have a plan as to what to do when a potential client communicates with you, how will you handle it? What do you need to find out from them? Better a bad plan than running around like headless chicken. For example, your first step would be not to reply, but see what you can find out about them. If you have an agent you contact them about it. Never be rushed, it has the potential to lead to big trouble.

Anyway the long and the short of this article is you need to have a place when you deal with external communications, when you put them in the right pile not answer, and only do it at specific times of the day.

Next time we look at the next part of being in business, and it may not have much to do with writing either.

What's on the turntable? "Amarok" by Mike Oldfield

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Inktip Trial: Day #2

Not much happened today on Inktip. In fact nothing.

Except I got an email telling me that my listing would be removed in 7 days, so the system is quite efficient. It also offered to let me pay some money to have the listing there for 6 months. ($10/month isn't really that bad.) They also offer lots of help in improving your logline.

Now one reason why I didn't get read today is that as more people put in their titles your one goes down the list. However you are allowed to bump it back up to the top every 6 weeks. So it's not a major issue - plus you are not fighting against everybody on Inktip because the listings are accessed by searches so the more details you can put in about your script the better your chances of appearing in searches. (So if someone wanted SF, Martial Arts, Female protagonist, TV - I'd be up against Joss Whedon - I'm cheaper than he is.)

In other news...

Popping Monsters into the Shooting People Script Pitch bulletin boosted the number of people that had read my profile by 11. Which is pretty good considering how few people read it previously. However there is no way of telling how many people have downloaded the scripts to read.

I wrote about 6 pages of Tec last night which brings me up to about 28 pages. I am not, realistically, going to finish by Sunday but I did have the hiatus caused by reworking Air for the Writersroom/CBBC competition. That's my excuse and I'm sticking to it.

The day job has become pressured, the new project requires me to finish something with the power of Google Analytics written from scratch in 10 days. I suggested that their specification was a little ambitious. Still I shall do my best - which is usually quite good - and do have some help.

What's on the turntable? "Incantations, Part One" by Mike Oldfield from "Incantations"

The Business #1: I Have A Dream

All businesses start with an idea - almost a story idea since it's "What if...?"

"What if I wrote scripts, people turned them into productions and people saw them?"

That's where your business model starts: with you and your idea. It is the fundamental, the thing that drives everything else. All to often someone starts a business producing one thing and life happens, it changes, they bring on other people who modify the basic idea. And suddenly you're working in a business that you didn't want and not enjoying it.

It happened to me. And for 4 years I was miserable trying to convince myself it was the right thing. But it wasn't.

So that basic idea needs to stay pure. This is your goal (or goals), something like "Writing highly successful scripts that are in demand". You can review your goals from time to time but that should be from the viewpoint of "how am I doing" and "is there some way I can write this goal better?" rather than changing anything.

All businesses have legal stuff they have to deal with, and it's important that this is separated out from the rest of the business. Otherwise you get distracted. As a silly example: The cleaner has business contracts dumped in his lap to approve.

Of course if you're on your own it's harder to separate these things out, but you need to. It doesn't mean your ignore final demands from the electric company, it does mean that you allocate time to deal with these things and when it's done you put it aside.

If you're lucky enough to have an agent then the contract side of things fits in this section.

Finally you have Planning and Management: What you need to plan is up to you, but it should be a set of steps that will lead you to your goal. These steps need to realistic, they might involve getting training, the bigger plans could span years, but the key point is this: do they lead to your goal(s)? The management bit is organising things so that you can achieve the steps and ultimately achieve your goal. Reading, or seeing in person, Adrian Mead would certainly help you see what your plans ought to be.

Things you could do:

Write down your overall goals, the big ones. Don't be afraid of big goals. Better to shoot for the stars. Look through your current life, are there any legal things that could do with handling? Write those down in a list, see which one you could deal with first (probably the most pressing) and deal with it. Now that you've got your goals have a go at breaking them down into smaller steps, different stages, and then break them down further into smaller steps. Get Adrian Mead's monograph "Making it as a Screenwriter" for other excellent advice.

Next time we'll look at some basic organisational bits.

What's on the turntable? "Barrytown" by Steely Dan from "Android Warehouse"

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Inktip Trial: Day #1

(Cue: Law & Order "blong-blong" effect)

Logline views: 4
Script downloads: 1

One of the things you get back from Inktip is who downloaded your script, though it's just a courtesy, a protection, and a great promotional technique as Inktip protocol says that you do not contact anyone who viewed your script for 3-6 weeks and then only contact by snail-mail. (Though I might get away with e-mail since I'm over here and they're over there.)

So, who downloaded my script? A manager - obviously looking for talent that he could promote - luckily, as I have an IMDbPro account I could look him up, and he is there on IMDb with clients who actually do stuff.

So that was a good start.

Also, today, I had Monsters in the Shooting People script pitch bulletin though it has not, as yet, made any appreciable difference to the number of hits on my Shooting People profile. Maybe people aren't looking for TV.

However my linking up of all my business profiles multiplied the hits on this blog by 4.

Which was nice.

What's on the turntable? "Take the Long Way Home" by Supertramp

The Business

I am not qualified to write about being in the writing business because I've never had anything produced (yet). On the other hand I think I am qualified to comment on your business, because I have been involved in various successful (and unsuccessful) businesses.

I said "your" business for a reason: If you are working to become a successful (by which I mean, paid and produced) writer then you are running a business - whether you like it or not, and you better like it otherwise you'll either fail or run into trouble.

So I thought I'd write a little series on the subject. (Which is really good timing because I've just realised it's May 27th and I'm only 20 pages into Tec and I targeted to finish it this month. So I'll just have to do both.)

But this isn't going to be a didactic, you must do it this way, kind of thing; more about business in general and what business functions you need to have in order to have success. Some will be obvious, some less so. And obviously I can't guarantee success but hopefully this will help.

As a first step let's forget the idea that any business model destroys creativity - that's just nonsense. What a good business model does is organise the business functions that allow the creativity to expand and actually achieve its goal. It allows you to prioritise more easily and to reduce the chaos that the real world tends to hit you with - which gives the creativity more time and fewer distractions.

If you don't organise your business finances, for example, one day the Man from the Inland Revenue will come knocking on your door and then you really won't be able to finish that next masterpiece. But having your accounts organised will keep him happy and you productive.

So, this was Part 0, the Introduction, there will be another seven or eight easily digestible parts over the next couple of weeks. Hope you find them useful.

What's on the turntable? Not a sausage

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Quick Guide to Inktip script registration

As part of my ongoing shameless self-promotion (shameless? No one else is going to do it) I have registered a script with Inktip, with their 1 week free special offer, just to see what happens.

Before you can register you will need several things:
  • A PDF of your script (you can use other formats);
  • A synopsis (up to 450 words);
  • A logline (up to 60 words);
  • A script registration number (see below);
  • A resume (which I didn't have, see below).
  • A good idea what your scripts about (hope you do), number of locations (roughly), main characters, level of special effects (none, a lot, a bit);
Script registration: The form requires you to have registered your script, although you could lie and use the "Other" option and put in a random number. But Inktip is for professionals, not silly people. So I registered Monsters with the WGAw which cost about £15 for 5 years. For this registration you need an ID number - I used my UK NI number, which is fine.

So that took about 10 minutes.

Then off to Inktip and filling the forms which took quite a while because there are lots of things to fill in especially lots of genre, sub-genre, theme stuff - so that your script will match the correct searches.

There's quite a bit of online help and places to put any competitions you've won or been shortlisted for. However when it came to a writing resume I didn't really have one, so I jotted down some bits about my screenwriting and past writing experience.

Because Inktip has certain standards they check all the script uploads (not the actual script) to ensure you've filled everything in appropriately. So we'll see whether they like my resume.

This took about 30 minutes. Though having done it once obviously it will be easier, plus you can store your resume on the system (in fact, multiple resumes).

So we shall see.

(Slightly over an hour later I received an email saying my "placement" had been approved. So, it's on - for a week.)

What's on the turntable? "End Credits" by Vangelis from "Bladerunner soundtrack"

Monday, May 25, 2009

Diary of an attention-seeker

I was thinking about why I write this blog.

What I write here is essentially a diary, mostly about my attempts to get into professional screenwriting by going on about what I'm actually doing on a day to day basis; plus stuff about my family, work and life in general. Hopefully being entertaining on the way.

I could never write a private diary: my own inner thoughts on a page at the end of the day; I can't think of anything more boring. Except that's exactly what I'm doing publicly. Huge dollops of me spread all over the screen.

But the truth is very simple: I love an audience. I've done some acting, some directing, poetry performance, a little bit of stand-up (in front of a known-to-be-friendly audience), our family life is filled with humour mostly stolen from TV shows but occasionally original. It's all performance.

And, when it comes down to it, this is just another type of performance.

Knowing that you are there, means that I put on a performance.

But enough with the navel gazing, onwards and upwards with the writing.

What's on the turntable? Next door's jet-wash power cleaner thing.

Friday, May 22, 2009

What which? Eh?

I have popped my 15 min test script combining Being Human and Torchwood characters on to my Shooting People website for anyone to read - click the link of the left - don't forget it's just for fun.

What's on the turntable? Nuffink

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Gone all commercial

I decided to do some web promotion - well sort of "passive" web promotion.

I'm a member of the Shooting People website and for about £20/year you get access to lots of lovely stuff including a place to store your scripts and make them available for reading, should you so wish.

So I have expanded my profile on there to include Monsters and Air, which you can read in full if you are a member - and even if you're not you can read the first 10 pages of both. Aren't I good to you? (Hm, depends on whether you like them or not I suppose, well, it's the thought that counts.) I also spent some time putting together the pretty pictures to go with the scripts.

I'm also a member of LinkedIn which is for professionals (any sort) and has all sorts of discussion groups and such like. So I had a revamp of that too.

Then I crosslinked everything, you can see the links at the side there.


Tomorrow it's back to Tec.

What's on the turntable? "Heartsong" by Gordon Giltrap from "Perilous Journey". Not sure why but I've had GG on repeat play for the last week, and I only have two albums. Easy on the ears when writing I suppose.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


Got my feedback from Jez last night on Air. Excellent stuff - thanks.

As I need to get this sorted out for the CBBC competition I've temporarily shelved Tec to make sure Air is just gleaming with polish (yes, I have 6 weeks but if I do it now I can send it and forget about it).

I also went back to the report from Dave Bull that I got back in February because I knew there were some changes I hadn't made that he had recommended. At the time I didn't want to make them, but by comparing them with the latest feedback I could see more clearly whether the changes were needed.

Jez brought up some interesting points, some of which tied in with Dave's comments, so I had a good old analyse and wrote a list of changes. Some were no-brainers, just make the obvious change.

Others needed a bit more thought about how they could be done sensibly. But I usually find that these changes have other beneficial knock-on effects - if they are something that should be done.

Anyway it took me about two hours in all but I'm happy with the changes.

I'll print it out at the weekend and give it a run-through with the red pen to ensure it flows and I haven't done anything silly. Then it'll be in the post and forgotten.

'Til next time.

What's on the turntable? "Visionary" by Gordon Giltrap from "Visionary"

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


...and I probably am.

Thanks everyone for your kind words.

As I may have implied the Teacher and I don't actually expect much from other people (not meaning that in a critical way, but other people have their own lives). But that doesn't mean we aren't delighted when we receive something.

We certainly weren't expecting a present of any kind. I sent flowers to the Teacher's school, of course, although they apparently arrived in a box which was ignored - until the Caretaker noticed the box was a bit damp, then noticed "Interflora" and thought "Flowers".

At the weekend I had gone shopping as usual with the Boy early Saturday morning, and got him choose a 25th wedding anniversary card for him and the Daughter to give us. I had also spoken to the Daughter about "Doing something" - she had whined at me "but I don't know what to do, I haven't got any money".

Did I mention she wants to be an actress? Well, she had me completely fooled. (And, yes, that does take some doing, the Teacher and I can usually read those two like an open book.)

The Teacher was given a pair of tickets this morning. To "We Will Rock You", in two weeks, in Manchester.

The little sweetie had organised it and got my younger sister to buy the tickets, the money being contributed by parents and siblings.

I'm sitting here with a silly grin on my face.

What's on the turntable? "Morbio Gorge" by Gordon Giltrap from "Perilous Journey"

The Confidence Trick

Today is the 25th Wedding Anniversary of the Teacher and I.

We've been so busy we hadn't even thought about what we would do to celebrate. In some ways we don't really think it's necessary - we don't need to celebrate because we are who we are.

Does that make any sense?

Celebrating is what is expected, but both of us have spent our lives not doing what's expected, we don't need anyone's approval - except each other's.

Which brings me to the title of this blog.

You see, the Teacher said something to me which was, quite honestly, the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me in my entire life. A mere eight words. Not especially private but so packed with subtext that I was stopped in my tracks. She writes the best dialogue. Did wonders for my self-confidence. I won't say what the words were because they mean very little out of context - in fact they would seem corny.

There are several reasons we've lasted 25 years, but there's no "trick" that anyone else can employ: One is that we agree on almost everything (not to say we don't argue sometimes, but it's quite rare); we are so stubborn that we both decided long ago that nothing would get in our way; never taking each other for granted; and then there's the "L" word, though the word "Love" doesn't do any justice to what's between us.

So what's love got to do with it?

We met at a student party in Manchester (although I wasn't a student any more) - we were both friends of the person who was running it. My first words to the Teacher (she wasn't actually a teacher then, of course) were "I'm getting over a bad affair." "Oh, really?" she said, and left quickly. It was one of the two times in my life I've been drunk - though I was never so drunk as to forget what was happening.

It wasn't love at first sight but there was something about her. I did talk to her a bit later on but didn't ask her name. The following day I asked our mutual friend who she was. The mutual friend (who had been a girlfriend of mine at one time) seemed to think that we would be right for each other so gave me her number.

So I made dinner for the Teacher. She told me afterwards she'd had a long chat with the mutual friend about me and apparently I got a decent reference. I was safe to have dinner with, although the Greek mushrooms didn't work.

We spent a few months getting to know each other and then the Teacher went to India for 6 weeks. When she came back I proposed (for the third time) and she accepted.

Is it love? I don't think so, at least not what most people think of when they say "love". It is more than love - more like a crystalline certainty and an unquestionable rightness. Impossible to describe.

We married less than a year later (we met December 1982, married May 1984). Neither of us could ever see the point of long engagements. An engagement is "an engagement to marry" so if you don't get married then you're living a lie. (We are two of a kind and can be very unsympathetic.)

The Teacher has no family (I mean no family) which is very sad, but I have more than enough for both of us. But then given our tendency for self-reliance this has never been an issue. Apparently I wouldn't have liked her mother (who had died shortly before we met), and her mother wouldn't have liked me.

The rest is 25 years of marital bliss ... well no. Who in their right minds wants "bliss"? Bleaugh!

Twenty-five years of stubbornly doing things our way. Making huge mistakes and pulling ourselves out of the holes we dug ourselves into.

But, you know, to hell with what's expected. Play the game your own way.

What's on the turntable? "White Fool" by Clannad from "Pastpresent"

Monday, May 18, 2009

Opportunity slips a note under the door

Paul got it from Laurence who got it from the Writersroom website - a CBBC writing competition no less ... and they want 30 minute scripts.

Oh frabjous day!

I done got me one of those: Air!

Philip Shelley liked it so much he had only two minor suggestions. David Bull described the first 10 pages with the word: "Wow!". And I asked Jez Freedman to have a look at it just last week.

Of course this is why it's recommended that one has a portfolio of different types of work ready to go at a moment's notice (one of those things recommended by Adrian Mead). Something which I was not entirely enthusiastic about but it paid off this time.

Anyway, if you've got something - brush off the dust and let fly.

(18 pages of Tec now complete but nobody's dead yet. Soon though.)

What's on the turntable? "Quest" by Gordon Giltrap, the orchestral version from "Perilous Journey"

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Sounds like...

If I had any criticism of "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip" - and I should like to point out that I loved it, Aaron Sorkin is a genius - it would be that every character was smart, each one had a wise-crack on their lips. Every single one of them.

But then I didn't watch it for realism I watched it for satirical brilliance. And that's what I got.

But sameness of characters is something that has bothered me recently - not sameness within a script, I know I don't do that but sameness between scripts. I have been creating these scripts and been concerned that my lead characters are all the same. I mean they're not actually the same but they have similar mind-sets.

Then something occurred to me this evening: they won't be played by the same actor (unless my cunning plan to have my daughter play all the lead roles comes to fruition). And every actor will bring something different to the different roles - so it really doesn't matter. (Heaves sigh of relief.)

I'm now up to 13 pages of Tec. It's going to need some tightening but this is only the first draft.

On the home front: The Boy's audition for CBBC show Bamzooki went very well yesterday, as far as I can tell. He's very calm, genuine and has no problem treating adults as equals (because most of the adults he knows treat him as an equal). Anyway he took the leadership of the group he was put in, without being "controlling" - he's a natural leader, like his sister, and his mother - fearlessly did the presentations that were required. And had no problem working with the camera - he'd had some previous experience of that when he auditioned for "Are You Smarter Than a 10 Year Old?".

I was in the other room with the parents who were all nice people - decent and caring, wanting their child to succeed but no pushiness, and happy that they've "had the experience".

Apparently the latest we'll hear is July.

What's on the turntable? Nothing, forgot to put some music on.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Friday Night Saturday Morning

Midnight as I write...

10 pages of Tec completed. I need to insert a scene between two others just to break them up, otherwise it's corny. There's been lots of muttering about writing sequences in the scribosphere of late - someone released a book about it I think.

Doesn't work so well for TV, at least not for me, I cut back and forth a lot. I write two or more sequences together. Helps maintain the pace and interest I think.

Tomorrow the Boy does the next stage of the audition process to get on CBBC's Bamzooki show.

Oh, just remembered what I wanted to say: writing resource idea #87643 - I needed to write a little bit about Styal Women's Prison, having decided that was where my protagonist was incarcerated.

I did lots of reading on the HM Prison's website but I wanted to see what it looked like. In particular I wanted to see what the entrance looked like. I realised that I could do it on Multimap using its "Bird's Eye" option. I searched for Styal and then switched to Ordnance Survey view to find the prison. Then zoomed in and switched to Bird's Eye and got this. (I'm not sure this takes you exactly to the right place but one has to try.)

What's on the turntable? "Here Comes the Rain Again" by Annie Lennox - singing live on Jools as I write, yummy

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

That "Once Upon A Time" Moment #2

A funny thing happened today.

I was at lunch, mulling over the plans and outline I'd sketched out for Tec when someone came up and hit me over the back of the head. And I realised that I had THREE (count them 1 ... 2 ... 3) coincidences in the set-up for the first episode.


Luckily the handling for it was quite simple, make them conscious decisions (based on previous activities not seen in the show) on the part of the protagonist. Then suddenly they aren't coincidences any more.

It isn't a coincidence that Mara (the protag) gets a job with a detective - she's already got it planned and applied for the job before she's out of prison. Entirely reasonable. It also means I can probably dump a character - namely her parole officer who was going to provide the links for the coincidences.

There's still one coincidence but one is allowed to get the party started, and even that is mitigated by the protagonist being more causative. (The protags real name is "Tammy" [not even "Tamara"] because her mother loved "Tammy Wynette" - she hates it, of course, so calls herself "Mara".)

Anyway the upshot of this revelation was that I became fired up, on the walk home, with the characters coalescing in my head (finally realised who the real antagonist is) and the time had come for that "Once Upon a Time" moment, otherwise known as the Linehan Poo.

I have written 6 pages this evening (10% of the script), and I like 'em.

What's on the turntable? "Heads We're Dancing" by Kate Bush from "Sensual World"

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Oh. My. God. #5

Yes indeedy. Things have been quiet on the OMG front recently but Monsters has done it again.

I made it through to the Screenwriters Festival Scriptmarket 2009 based on tagline and synopsis for Monsters alone. Yes! (Punches air.) You may recall the trouble I had getting the synopsis done, if not you can read about it here, here, here and here (that's in date order).

The next thing is a meeting on June 11th in That London.

Better make sure that I've got Tec and Running wrapped up by then (to go with Air) so when they say "what else have you got" I've got a good answer.

Oooh. It just occurred to me that you might like to read the tagline and synopsis. Would you? (I'm not sure I want to tell you - I just read it again - it's a bit boring.)

Manchester 2065AD. After terrible epidemics fifteen years earlier, Britain has been left in "post-war" poverty. The country is run by the Purity trying to eradicate "S.I.D", a retro-virus that turns people into monsters that die insane and in agony.

Chloe Dark, 16, wants to make life better, defeats the school bully using Jujitsu. She works with Miss Kepple, the school Purity teacher, so she can join the Purity herself. Then her friend Melinda disappears, like two other teenagers before her.

People around Chloe tell her she can't do anything; she should leave it to the Police and the Purity. But she can't, though she doesn't know what to do. The Police interview Chloe and she admits Melinda was pre-occupied: if only she'd realised!

Fighting the bully inflamed Chloe's back trouble; she goes to her chiropractor, Ali. He scans her back but, after she's gone, discovers she's growing wings: she's an S.I.D infectee. He's scared; he should report her but the Purity kills freaks publicly.

Ali deletes the scan in panic but it's too late. Someone monitoring the medical network has noticed and knows Chloe is a freak. Her kidnap is ordered, and Ali's death.

Ali decides to tell Chloe's parents but when he meets them her father is violent and won't believe him. On his way home Ali is run down by a lorry and killed. Meanwhile Chloe is attacked by the men who took Melinda; she manages to escape, but only just.
The tagline was something like: The coming-of-age story of a girl who’s turning into a monster - literally.

Props, guys and gals, to Dave Turner for making it to the Top of Twit Parade - I agree with his sentiment completely (including defending their right to talk garbage - not that they'd offer me the same freedom) though I don't Twitter.

What's on the turntable? "King of the Mountain" by Kate Bush from "Aerial CD1: A Sea of Honey"

Monday, May 11, 2009

Future blogging

I've spent most of this evening composing the blog that will appear next Tuesday (19th). It's an important one for me but I shall leave you in mystery as to its contents.

I have been working on my outline for Tec and I have a feeling that 60 minutes is not going to be enough. I shall just have to write it and see how it turns out. If it's only a little bit over I can cut it back, otherwise it might have to be 90 minutes instead. (Although it would be better to make it 60 otherwise it may look as if I can't write to length which would be unprofessional.)

Working on the outline has also given me pause for thought on why some of my scripts (like Air) have flowed easily and been given the thumbs up after just two drafts, whereas Unit X failed so miserably - well, it's okay but needs a lot of work.

And I'm pretty sure it comes down to how well I know the characters. With Unit X I wanted the female army doctor to be the protagonist, and yet the base commander came out as more like the protagonist. But in Air the protagonist was never in question. I believe a major reason is down to how well I knew the character. The doctor was not sufficiently real to me therefore it was impossible to write the story from her perspective - I didn't really know what her perspective was.

On the other hand the setting was also an influence. Since she, the doctor, is not in charge she is not the one making the decisions. She can only go where she is told to go, and do what she is told to do. Which is why Unit X needs a lot more work, more than I can afford to give it. This is, perhaps, the reason for the ever-recurring "maverick" cop - if he's not a maverick then he'll just do as he's told, and not be the actual protagonist. So I'd have to make her a maverick for it to work - there you go, a writing revelation on the fly.

Luckily the setting issue does not arise in Tec though I have to be sure I know the character well enough before I write (although it's an iterative process - develop some - write some - develop some more - write some more and so on).

Went to see Star Trek at the Manchester IMAX yesterday: Very good. Only one sequence felt wrong/unnecessary/too coincidental, but even that was handled boldly, so who cares. Enjoyed by the whole family. I like J. J. Abrams.

Watched Ashes to Ashes this evening. Superb. 'Nuff said.

Did some catch-up on Robin Hood last week. The writing and storylines are better. But still doing stupid things, watched three episodes. Gave up. It feels like a similar problem to Demons which is to say that the production team think fantasy is a joke and don't take it seriously. This show lost 1.3 million viewers in one week.

Primeval, on the other hand, is getting very good indeed. They've really managed to get it together for season three. Like very much.

What's on the turntable? "Almost seems (Too Late to Turn)" by Clannad from "Pastpresent"

Pig sick

While I do actually understand the potential concerns in regard to Swine Flu, I revolt heavily against the ridiculous fuss and deliberate terrorist activities of the Media. (Am I being a little extreme calling the media "terrorists"? They are deliberately terrifying people. What else would you call it?)

The facts are that pretty much anybody who is healthy will get this flu (which has symptoms no worse than any other type of flu) and recover from it without any medical intervention. (New strains of flu do have the problem that people with very strong immune systems are most at risk - because they cause an overreaction that causes the body to attack itself.)

The main (genuine) concern is that, later this year, this strain will return when the weather is colder, people are more prone to getting ill and then cause rather more trouble. Having a fast spreading flu to which most people are not immune would be inconvenient - might cause problems with transport, policing, health service, etc etc.

This I understand and it is a legitimate concern.

Which is why I'm not sure I understand the purpose of trying to contain it now. Surely having people getting it and building up their immunity would be sensible? It would reduce the spread and impact later on.

Didn't they used to have chicken pox parties so that children were guaranteed to catch it young, because catching it when you're older is a bad thing?

What's on the turntable? Nuffink.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

My body is my tool

(Title reference: "Not the Nine O'Clock News", Rowan Atkinson as the mime artist called "Alternative Carpark".)

Among all the forums, newsletters and blogs that I read about screenwriting, I've noticed a recent trend - the promotion and complaints about writing tools. Someone will say how a particular author's method for screenwriting is really great - so much better than Brand X. And then someone else will come back with how anything like this stifles creativity blah blah blah.

An instructive instance of this appeared on the "Artful Writer" forums only yesterday. I've just joined Artful Writer on a recommendation from James Moran , who had quoted an interview with Scott Frank. Someone had asked Scott whether any experienced and professional writers actually use the sequence approach to writing features, Scott was a little sarcastic in his first response. But a couple of postings later he said he'd check it out.

I use a lot of writing tools, mostly those from the book "Writing a Great Movie" by Jeff Kitchen. Apart from one, these tools weren't developed by him, they are things written by Aristotle, Polti and others. They actually include the so-called "Sequence method" but only as part of a bigger technique and without the more prescriptive additions that seem to have appeared.

I set great store by Aristotle (who never wrote a play), and this is why: Where Aristotle lived they had an annual play competition for which the subject matter was fixed - every play had to be about the same myth with the same characters. Aristotle observed that some plays were good and some weren't; and because they were all about the same storyline with the same characters he could separate out the plot elements to analyse them. Which is how he came to write the Poetics which describes the plot elements that existed in the successful plays.

I use writing tools that I know can help me put together a better story, and help me remove those things that won't work.

I remember when Desktop Publishing tools first appeared back in the late 80s. I was editor in a magazine publishing company at the time and our company was one of the first to move to computer-based layout. The layout and typography guys adapted to the new computer-based tools (mostly) and turned out better-finished work at a faster rate than previously. They were professionals and were now using better tools.

But the DTP revolution had another effect, obviously anybody could buy these tools - and they did - and they used them - but they had no training and usually no talent. And what they produced was garbage. They broke the rules of typography (like having a maximum of three font styles on a page) - because they didn't even know such rules existed.

Then companies began to include cookie-cutter designs with their software, for things like newsletters and pamphlets, so these untrained people could choose designs and fill them in - it meant that the designs looked reasonable. And yet, without a true comprehension of the rules of design and typography, these things are lacklustre. No sparkle. No real talent.

This is what happens with screenwriting.

You can follow McKee's monomyth for example and create a mythic story with all the right beats in the right places - even if you have minimal talent. The result will look like a proper story but it'll be lacklustre. No sparkle.

The thing is this: Each tool has its place, it has a purpose and an end product. But the tools themselves will not generate a good product. (You can't put an uncarved block next to a lathe and chisel, and expect to come back next day to find a beautifully turned chair leg. Not unless you know Rumpelstiltskin.)

If you are writing a story for which the monomyth structure is the way to go then fine. Utilise that tool to assist you in producing a better story. If you find that your story has illogical jumps and you can't quite make things connect use Jeff Kitchen's effect-cause tool to fix it. If you find that your protagonist does not engage with the reader, use Aristotle's Dilemma tool. Apparently the Sequence method is good for helping you through Act II and keeping things going.

But this requires you to know and understand the tools at your disposal. A professional does not reject a new tool out of hand, he checks it out, he sees if it will be useful. Is it a real tool, or just something someone's invented to make a quick buck? You can't know unless you look - which is why Scott Frank said what he said on Artful Writer.

I admit I do not understand people who reject all writing books, and other teaching, out of hand - it strikes me as ignorant. I have read Seger's books - I didn't like them and didn't feel they had anything to offer me. But I read them. Jeff Kitchen, on the other hand, provides a plethora of genuinely useful tools. (Apart from the character stuff - which I don't like and would never use. I have my own tools when it comes to character and have zero interest in pop psychology.)

I would contend that every professional writer (when I use the word professional I'm talking about attitude, not whether they've been paid for a script) has a toolbox. It might contain homemade tools, it might contain learnt tools, or a combination. But the toolbox is there - because writing is rewriting and when you are rewriting you're using something to analyse what's already been written and that something is a tool.

I must admit I have ended up saying something different to what I was going to say when I started - and I have convinced myself I need to read McKee and Campbell even if I never use them.

As a final note about the stifling of creativity: No tool will stifle creativity if used correctly. Just as woodworking tools are entirely safe as long as you understand them and how to use them.

In regard to Tec I didn't end up writing any scenes, I started an outline instead. I needed a different tool because stories of this complexity need to have their detail worked out first, otherwise they are not going to work.

PS: I'm not going to mention the Writer's Guild of Great Britain's special membership offer because everyone else has. (Doh!)

What's on the turntable? The Boy is playing "Yellow Submarine" on the saxophone...

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Totally plot-tastic


I had got as far as I could with the characters and needed to do some more plot for the first episode of Tec.

Tricky things pilots, all that exposition that needs to be seamlessly melded into the plot, but first you need a plot. Up to this point I had the memory of the plot as figured out by myself and the Teacher all those years ago (I've been saying two years, but I suspect it's more like five or six).

Stories are driven by the antagonist - and in the case of of crime stories, by the crime as committed by the antagonist (or -ists, as it may be). Since I'd really like to experiment with writing a scene or two tomorrow on the train home I needed to get a deeper understanding of the crime to be investigated.

The 36 dramatic situations are helpful here, though I just used them from memory. There are five main characters intimately connected with the crime: Two of them have become brother and sister, because that adds a nice dramatic dynamic.

There is murder involved, but not just anyone will commit a murder - it has to be believable that the murderer really could do it. So there are lots of things to consider but I think I have it sorted - murder, jealousy, blackmail, fraud, greed, illicit sex, more blackmail, more murder. All the fun of the fair.

Now I just have to get my protagonist involved.

What's on the turntable? "Robin (The Hooded Man)" by Clannad from "Pastpresent". Many moons ago the Teacher and I went to a Clannad gig, it was a very civilised affair at the Opera House in Manchester. (We also saw Paul Nicholas as the Pirate King in "Pirates of Penzance" there 5 times.)

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Plan 9 (from Inner Space)

If you've never seen the real Plan 9 from Outer Space it's an experience that you shouldn't deny yourself. It is, arguably, the very worst film ever made - which makes it a classic, of course. It's not just the awful script, the awful acting, the totally awful "special" effects; it's the appalling direction, the appalling editing and the fact that on some of the days that they were filming the night scenes they forgot the night filter for the camera. But they filmed it anyway and cut it all together so that sections of the film flip from day to night and back. Truly bad.

But this isn't about that. It's about the fact I can't write short stories or short films.

I have been planning Tec. This is supposed to be a detective TV series, you know, the sort that has a new story every week. And I have that, I have the setting arranged so I can have a different story every week. Honest.

But those damn characters make a bigger story. I've been making notes about the various lead and supporting regular cast, bits of background and so on, so that when I start I'll have enough to be able to hear their voices saying the words I give them.

Writers deal in consequences "if that happens then that other thing will happen and then..." We guide those consequences in the direction that we want them to go for the most part.

So I'm writing back story: The protagonist is the sort of person who really wouldn't end up in prison, but she did and now she's out. She committed a cyber-crime that, while it doesn't actually hurt people (and certainly not in this case) Governments are paranoid about it and you get banged up for a long time in a high security prison.

The implications of this, and how she got there, are enormous. The consequences are huge. She's an interesting character with a hell of a past, which she can't escape from.

The end result of that is a story arc across all six episodes, intermingled with the story of the week. I'm not planning to write the entire series, as with Monsters I'll just write the pilot, but everything will be connected so I have to know what it is before I start.

So I'm planning and it keeps getting bigger.

Beyond character backgrounds I'm also doing ideas for plot arcs. Lots of this won't ever appear, and might become cancelled out by something else in the story as I write it. And new things will very definitely appear as I write.

There's still lots more thinking to do before it's time to start writing - after all I'm still wavering on the opening scene. I need that crystallised before I start. On the other hand I already have the final scenes at the end of Episode 6 decided.

Writing's a funny game.

In other news: The Boy has been cast as Fat Sam in the school production of Bugsy Malone next (academic) year. He already knows most of it as the whole family loves that film, it can be watched as many times as you like and still be fresh. The Daughter failed to get into any drama college for next year (though she met people who had been trying for years). The Oxford one she didn't like - they barely listened to her audition; RADA were too serious and completely failed to appreciate the humour in her contemporary audition piece; The Bristol Old Vic liked her a lot, told her she had excellent comic timing but said she was too young and weren't entirely happy with her Shakespeare interpretation (they also said come back next year). So she'll be going to Borneo instead, to push baby orangutans around in a wheelbarrow.

What's on the turntable? "Coinleach Ghlas an Fhómhair" by Clannad from the compilation "Pastpresent"

Monday, May 04, 2009

Searchamafacation #3 and stuff

So my monthly look at how people have got to my site. Though, to be honest, very few people come here from Searches, mostly its direct or from references from other blogs. This means that, this month there are lots of searches that have scored the same. I was going to take searches for lil ole me out of the running - it's a bit obvious - but if I don't then I can't have a top ten.
  1. Me. Yay!
  2. Jointly: Imagination Cubed and Red Planet
  3. -
  4. Jointly: Inktip and "lost in time lost in space". Curious how many people are interested in the latter.
  5. -
  6. Jointly: Celtx, "Google Gadget Progress Bar", and "Tiddly-Pom". It goes on snowing for Pooh and perhaps I really ought to work out a full version of the progress bar.
  7. -
  8. -
  9. Jointly: "fun script" and Merlin.
  10. -
Not very exciting on the whole, however strangest search of the month: "girls looking for pt telesales job in Birmingham".

Great stuff.

I have decided that I won't work on the secret spec script this month. Instead I'll continue according to plan and write the detective TV series pilot of Tec. This did take a lot of thinking about but in the end came down to the fact that, while I love writing SF and Fantasy, I need to have something that isn't one of those in my portfolio.

The secret spec is fantasy and wouldn't help my overall goal this year to get commissioned while Tec will. (And Tec will help with agents, though getting an agent isn't a goal.)

What's on the turntable? Nothing as I'm on the train.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Coming of Age

I have done almost nothing for the last couple of days - well, when I say "nothing" it's not really nothing. Just not writing.

Today is the Daughter's 18th Birthday, she was out with her friends yesterday, seeing "Wolverine" followed by an all-you-can-eat Chinese. Then back for a sleep-over. She doesn't do clubbing and doesn't drink alcohol at all. Today we're off to a country fair, mostly horses and dogs. Tomorrow we'll all go and see "Wolverine" as a family.

The Teacher is working today, of course. Good teachers do rather more work than people give them credit for. (She was particularly annoyed at the report that came out last week about education "That's what good teachers do! And we've been doing it for years!" was her (edited) response.

In fact I didn't get to post this before so we went to the fair. We didn't have coats or hats and it was windy and rained a bit (we are usually better organised than this). But we decided to have a good time, so we did. As this is a country fair with dogs it means that dogs are allowed. So we took the puppy with us. I say "puppy", he is only about 1 year old but he's a good size and full of energy. Someone suggested the word "doglet" for a dog that's fully grown but not mature. We decided to put Toby in for one of the dog classes: the Teacher chose "Friendliest Dog".

The Daughter took him into the ring and encouraged him to wag his tail. That's not hard, he is a super-friendly dog and his tail is a dangerous weapon. He came 4th and got a rosette for doing the only thing he knows. Wagging his tail.

That's a terrible lie, for a dog he is very intelligent which is a bad thing in a male dog: The intelligent ones are the ones that try to take over the pack. And he often tries to move up the pecking order by arguing and has to be slapped down hard - for his own good. On the other hand he is very sweet-tempered.

Personally I really am more of a cat person, but I don't have a problem being the pack's alpha male for the sake of keeping the puppy happy. (Interesting fact: A wolf pack's alpha female won't mate with any male except the alpha male - which essentially makes it her choice if there are two equal contenders, which occasionally happens.)

On the writing side I have been thinking very hard. Although I am very keen to write Tec there is another spec script which could be very beneficial to my career - perhaps more so in the short term and it's potentially time critical. I'm not sure of the best course of action so I shall have to consult with my consultant.

What's on the turntable? Nuffink