This is the end…

Well, nearly, anyway.

My final submission is in and now it is just a waiting game (well, as this blog also accounts for 15% of my final grade, I’m gonna keep up with this). The last few weeks have been really eye-opening when it comes to my writers process. How?

Well, here goes – I’ve gone through upwards of twenty drafts over three episodes of my final project and I’ve received feedback which has been absolutely invaluable from some very helpful friends. I’ve not actioned all of it for several reasons – personal taste, time availablility, etc. – but I’ve ended up with something that I’m really proud of. Could it be better? Yes, everything could be. All art can be improved upon, but it can also be ruined by too much tinkering. How it is right now – maybe not its final form forever – is what I wanted to create and a little bit more.

What have I learned? Well, many things and I’m not going to be able to get it all down in one blog post but I’m going to attempt a succinct, hopefully revealing snapshot of the major things.

Planning – some writers just sit down and start to write. A famous example is JRR Tolkien when writing The Lord of the Rings. There are other examples from within the scriptwriting milieu. Well, it can work but – like Jazz music – may only really be effective to those who are extremely well versed in structure and character and plot. Even Tolkien redrafted almost the complete book several times and, unless you’re already earning a living by writing, who has the time? So, planning – creating outlines, treatments and so forth is hugely helpful and redrafting a treatment or an outline will cut down on redundant tinkering later.

Feedback – everyone likes different things. There is no right or wrong. Two different, equally trustworthy and knowledgeable people will give you two very different pieces of feedback or will like different aspects of your script. Scriptwriting, at my level, has to be tailored to a specific audience. I cannot write for myself just yet, maybe never. So when writing, drafting and editing it has to be for a specific audience, whether that is from a single person (I.e. A marker) or a theoretical target audience (when working on a piece of genre fiction). I will make sure that when I seek feedback, I try and make sure it is from the audience that I am aiming at.

Art and comedy – Comedy can be art. Comedy IS art. Just because I write something that is, hopefully, funny that does not mean that it is not a legitimate piece of artistic craft. It requires the same level of care – which I’ve always tried to give – but I need to make sure I do not get paranoid that people will think less of it because it is comedy.

There’s more, of course there is more. But I think these three points are short and pithy enough to do for now.

So where does my career go now? First, I must build up my slate and my back catalogue of completed works. Thankfully, I still love writing so that should be fine. Secondly, I must get my stuff out there. Cometitions are one way to do that, so now my MA is over I can focus on that. Another way is to produce my script. I have two more scripts to finish of FantasticA’s first season, then I’m going to gather a troupe and record it, then get it online. Then, on to the next thing. I’m really looking forward to it.

What to do with this blog? It shall remain as an online calling card, or a repository of my current and past work. I might also create a separate page as a kind of online/public notepad detailing the progress of FantasticA, a project that is dear to my heart and that I do not intend to put aside.

Finally, I like writing for radio. Well, Audio. The Podcast is the new Radio, but the word Radio works better. Like ‘taping a programme’ even though tape is rarely if ever used these days.

I’m waffling now, so I’m going to stop, think about what I’ve done and learned, and post again soon.

-B

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Final Residential – What comes next?

So, our final residential weekend has occurred. My scripts have been read by professional actors. And it was… brilliant. Mostly.

I wouldn’t be doing my job on this introspective blog if I didn’t record the failings of my work (absolutely fine, I’m still in draft) and I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t overreact and blame myself for all the ills of the world because of some things I’ve done wrong (in relation to what I wanted to do).

I am the patriarchy. I am Gamergate. I am a misogynistic man-writer who forgets that women are more than props. Alison Bechdel would be ashamed of me.

No, not really. I’m not a misogynist, I can keep my ‘Social Justice Warrior’ badge and the Left half of twitter aren’t going to come and ‘dox’ me.

However, one thing was clear and apparent – especially thanks to the wonderful work of Carrie and Seren – and that is that women are underserved in my script. This is the main focus of my redraft.

It was weird sitting around the table for the readthrough, hearing professional actors speaking my lines. I’ve been there, I’ve been the actor, but I’ve never had professional actors with, like, opinions and stuff, read and then analyse my work. It really allowed me to hear my story as an audience would/will. What really stood out for me, as an area for improvement, was how little there was for the women to do. I was keenly aware, more and more so as the time ticked on, that they were sitting waiting for far longer than I had intended.

FantasticA – my major project – started life as a script for me and a friend to do together to try and get work as actors. This is back in 2003. It grew and evolved in my head over the years and on the recommendation of my lecturer became the focus of my final MA thesis. It has become a proper script, a real story, not just a sequence of jokes and inverted fantasy tropes, but the ‘boys own’ adventure aspect remains and while that does not make it a ‘bad thing’ it is no longer what I want.

There is a character, The Princess, who – in the liberal part of my brain – is the third part of the troika of main characters. However, she appears not to be in the finished script. We spend so much time with the two male characters that The Princess is shoved into a supporting role and I want better.

Everything else got some excellent feedback – the dialogue, the humour, the character and story beats. For that, I am very satisfied.

So, my redraft will be taking my duo and turning them into a trio, giving The Princess the time and treatment she deserves, bringing her forward and making her an integral part of our Heroic Team. Onwards!

Editing, or ‘Killing your darlings’

Okay.

Wow.

That has been fucking excruciating.

I want you to do something, please. Take a look at your hands. Both of them. Just now. Now, choose a finger. But wait, before you choose it – here’s what you’re gonna have to do. Cut it off. That’s right, go and get a sharp knife, choose a finger and chop it off. Wait, no, don’t really do it – this is just a blog. Mutilating your own appendages because a blog told you to do it is… madness. It wasn’t fair for me to suggest it. Put the knife away. Good.

Allow me to explain;

So, I can be pretty down on myself sometimes. I realise that I can be high maintenance, and I crave affirmation. I’m trying to work on that.

But I genuinely fucking loved some of those lines. Some were jokes, quips and zingers. Some revealed character. Some were expository (but, hopefully, still quite organic. Eh, who’s gonna know?)

And now they’re dead. I have been forced, by the process of improving my script, to cut off a finger. If this sounds like a massive overreaction, an exaggeration of diva like proportions, that’s because it is. Of course it wasn’t that bad, and of course if I can find a way to work the material in elsewhere it will live again, but…

The purpose of this ramble…

Is that Editing is emotionally draining! I can absolutely see what my tutor was getting at with his recommendations, of course I can. It all makes sense, it improves pacing, and it makes what it hopefully, a more commercially and artistically attractive script.

So, what have I learned? What am I going to do next time, when I am un-enfortuned by the presence of a guiding hand?

Well, some of my scenes (all right, most of my scenes!) have a tendency to ramble on. I enjoy writing that, I enjoy holding those conversations in my head and writing down what my imaginary friends say to one another. But that does not make a good, dramatic or comedic scene. So, going back through and removing as much as you can that does not move the scene forward, is essential. Does that sound obvious? Well, it’s easier said than done if you’ll indulge me an old cliche.

Also, I have to divorce myself from the audience – until I have amassed enough capital to fund my own production (or win a significantly large sum on the lottery) – I have to temper my own preference with what I think a larger audience will enjoy. Not everyone is going to get my sense of humour. If/When I’m more established, perhaps people will trust me, come with me on my journey – but while I’m one of the rank and file, I need to appease more than myself. Sound obvious? Well, yeah. I suppose it is. For every Stanley Kubrick, there are a million Albert Johnson’s. You’ve never heard of Albert Johnson? Exactly.

Finally, there are a few bits in there that are unchanged. Because fuck it, you’ve got to trust yourself sometimes. Right? RIGHT?!

-B

Residential 3

Okay, so my head is officially fried.

Residential weekend 3 was very good, extremely useful in some places and brain mashing in others. The BBC Writers Room held a Writers Festival at the Chapter Arts Centre which was pretty damned cool – was really good listening to Andrew Davies (lovely, interesting man and what a career!) and I particularly enjoyed listening to him talk about the process of working with his script editor and the challenge of working on adaptations with a big production company.

The Radio seminar was also very interesting – there was a very useful piece of advice on how to contact people with a project which I shan’t go into here for fear of increasing my competition. I greatly enjoy writing for the Radio and it seems like a… viable career option, perhaps.

The Comedy/Drama seminar was less useful – didn’t really learn anything useful either towards my writing practice or on a more practical level. Interesting, sure, and the two writers who spoke were great, but it wasn’t as useful.

Tutorial with Stapes was good; nothing earthshaking, no major changes, we’re both happy with the direction and pace of my final project. There is a BBC Writers Room comedy submission deadline coming up, so we’re gonna get a decent (no, EXCELLENT) draft of my radio comedy done in time for the end of April. I’m really excited about the prospect, even if I don’t show it externally.

The next day we had a visit from the Bafta winning Claire Peate (a personal friend of mine) who gave some very practical and useful advice on ‘the industry’ and a rundown of her great success. Can’t wait until she’s a megastar and I can brag to people that I know her. 🙂

Finally, Jesse – man, that dude is a clever guy. We’ve been studying screencraft, and after last session my brain felt like an arrow ready to fly – I was so energised and buzzed after what we’d discussed, I was ready to get on my keyboard and let my fingers gallop across the dusty plains of my keyboard. I felt like I was on the verge of becoming a great writer. Y’know? Like the secrets to the dramatic universe were about to be unlocked. After this session, I feel like a toddler. Like I can barely string together (dramatic) sentences. I’ve thought through NOTHING! I’ve got so much LEFT TO DO!!! I’m over egging the pudding. It was a simple enough exercise, but one which engages the cerebral part of the writer so fully you get exhausted just thinking. I love Jesse.

Anyway, I’m off to go and try and turn my funny little fantasy story into the greatest piece of comedic drama that your ears have ever witnessed. Remember, dear reader, it all started here.

But I’m keeping the narrator.

No, actually – he’s gone.

Y’now what, f*ck it, I’m keeping him.

I’ll maybe decide later.

-B

The Process continues…

Now, this might sounds really obvious – and if it makes me look like a blind idiot, then I beg your forgiveness – but something occurred to me as I rewrote my Major Project treatment today.

The treatment is a sales tool, designed to make someone want to make your story. That much I knew. That’s not it.

I know what some of my scenes are going to look like. I know what my characters are going to sound like (at least in the first draft). I know what my story is, and why people will want to hear it.

What I didn’t realise until today is that the treatment is actually a piece of writing. Now, I know that is the most stupidly obvious thing in the world. I know that know, and if I could go and slap Past Ben’s head in a bit, I would. But I can’t.

It isn’t just a map of the plot. That’s how I’ve been treating it. “Does the reader know what happens next” is not enough. One piece of feedback I’ve been getting is ‘make it more like a short story’ which confused the hell out of me, because I’ve never read a short story that can adequately turn a 30 minute radio comedy into a one page synopsis, but I think I get it now… The word choice, the placement of punctuation, the shape of the piece… it’s like poetry. You have to make your treatment a poem to your story. It has to engage the reader like a poem would, not just detail the events and the character relationships, but it has to engage like a piece of writing unto itself.

Anyway, deadline is monday, I’m glad I finally figured that out.

Unless I’m wrong.

In which case, Damn. I’m sorry Future Ben.

-B

Research

So, I am researching my major project. I predict this will be the most fun part of the whole process.

If I had to categorise what my major project is, here is how I would go about it;

It will be a SERIAL (6X30mins), AUDIO (Radio or Podcast), COMEDY (Satire or surreal), FANTASY (Inverting tropes of the genre), ADVENTURE, aimed at 18-35 y.o. Men and Women with an existing interest in Sci-fi/Fantasy, Comedy and Spoofs/Satires.

What do I not want it to be? Here are some examples of programmes – some of which I like, and some of which I don’t – that I don’t want it to emulate; Little Britain, The Mighty Boosh, Green Wing, Late era Red Dwarf.

I don’t want the characters to ever be aware that they are in a comedy. Even the fish-out-of-water protagonist. I don’t want the world to become inconsistent for the sake of a joke. I don’t want the story to suffer because its meant to be a comedy. I want to write an interesting adventure story that just so happens to be set in an absurd world where things consistently happen the way we wouldn’t expect them to happen in a swords-and-sorcery world.

I am currently in the process of researching similar texts, and I will list them below along with what I want to take from them as inspiration, and what I want to avoid copying;

H2G2

Discworld

Hordes of the Things

Elfquest

Krod Mandoon and the Flaming Sword of Fire

Dirk Maggs’ work on H2G2 and Good Omens

Treat yourself!

So, I’m in a place right now where the episode treatments are coming fairly fluently out of my brain and through my keyboard. They’re getting easier, though I hope without a dip in quality. They’re also getting more concise, although that could just be because I haven’t thought the stories through enough (might need to take a few days break to distance myself so I can look back on them with fresh eyes).

It’s amazing how much the keyboard you use affects how you write. I never really considered it before but many writers have, historically, had a favourite typewriter or laptop. The keyboard, or the pen, we use is absolutely out instrument as much as the right piano or guitar is to a musician.

The Uni have a radio station who were looking for Radio Dramas to produce, so I’ve put FantasticA forward – Great if its gets made, in whatever draft form, but having to actually pitch the damned thing got me deeper into my own head that I’ve been before with a pitching task. For the first time, I was truly looking at this little bundle of words as a tool, a thing with which interest in my script would live or die. I wrote a whole bunch of them, changing things slightly each time. They were never below 50 words – don’t know if a fantasy/comedy could without losing so much, but there are a million ideas in my head and I had three lines. It was doing this, putting it into a practical situation, that really made me understand how important the pitch is.

Outlines and Treatments

I think I’m getting the hang of this.

I’m quite happy with the basic outlines, the 5 point story breakdowns of the various episodes of the audio comedy I’m working on. I’ve been unpacking them – bulletpoint style – to try and expand the story, but its tricky to avoid adding too much detail at this stage.

A treatment is not supposed to be a scene-by-scene, so detailing the story in a more general fashion is the aim. It’s tough – my brain immediately goes to a scene by scene place, so I’ve got to keep pulling myself back and thinking about the bigger picture.

I’ve added the outlines (work in progress!) to my current projects tab. Please feel free to check them out – any advice is welcome!

-B

Making progress?

Okay, so my brain is buzzing and in my spare moments I’m living inside this fake world I’ve created. I’m falling in love with the characters, starting to see the details of the world and trying to lead the story from point A to point B in a way that is both interested and unexpected (or expected, but subversive). It’s a fantasy, so I have to make more decisions about the world, but it’s also a comedy, so those decisions can be bollocks (as long as it works.)

To be honest, I’m a little lost – my task is to create a draft series bible, with 1 page outlines for each episode, but before I do, I want to try and get as much creating done as I can. I’m using Lajos Egri’s bone structure (thank you, Jesse!) to help develop the characters. I’ve never done this with an entire dramatis personae before, though I did use bits of it for my Adaptation unit. What do you reckon, dear reader? Does this level of psychological detail help for a rather absurd comedy?

Once the characters are in place, I’ll have a much better idea of what they are going to do and their action, or more reactions to the events in the story.

Anyway, I’ll come back when I’ve done and whinge about trying to get the story to fit together.

-B

And so it begins…

So begins my Major Project. I’ve actually been working on it, on the advice of some trusted colleagues, singe Gregynog. Of course, after our first residential weekend its all changed now, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing… I think.

I had wanted to work on an idea that I have had for some time about a cynical gumshoe in late 90’s Blackpool, a sort of Film Noir pastiche set amid the illuminations, donekys and cheap sticky arcades for which I have a nostalgic fondness. A sort of Neon Noir, if you will.

It’s a project which I will, in time, still complete but for now it is back to the shelf with it, to gather dust! Instead, based upon how excited I seem to get whenever I get any small amount of praise, I am brushing off an even older idea which began almost two decades ago. In fact, it was 1995 – I was a school boy in Blackpool, my mother had just introduced me to the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, I was doing some of those choose-your-own adventure books set in a fantasy world, Ralph Bakshi’s Lord of the Rings was seeping into my mind (with the help of a creepy picture of Gollum on my brothers’ wall) and I had the idea to write this amazing television show – a Fantasy version of H2G2! Well, I was twelve, so it went nowhere but the idea was rehashed in 2003 for a competition for the BBC. It wasn’t even acknowledged, let alone rejected, and so back into the cupboard it went.

Then, maybe a decade ago, when I moved to Scotland, the idea swirled around again – this time, it would be an epic Audio Drama – the Podcast was an emerging art form, so I thought I could do it all myself, as a podcast! My ambition outreached my ability to organise, and it went nowhere fast, again except… except this time, it had been fleshed out; Not is a great amount of detail, but enough to keep the idea alive and bubbling. I would frequently bring the world back into focus and add a bit here, a bit there, a new character, a new situation. It was that lazy kind of ‘writing’ that doesn’t involve putting pen to paper, but it was working because the world was becoming more real.

So, if this was a beloved idea of mine, why wasn’t it my first choice for my major project? Because I wanted to do something more worthy. I knew I wanted to do a comedy, a pastiche on a genre, but the characters had tragedy in their lives, their struggles meant something. And I did, and in a large way I still do, consider things that are worthy to be automatically good. But that is not the case, and the more my conscious mind repeats that, the more my unconscious starts to accept it.

Any number of worthy, meaningful pieces of drama can be compared to Monty Python or Hitchhikers, and are they better? Probably not. Worthy doesn’t mean good. Funny or flippant doesn’t mean bad. Are the characters interesting, is the story good. That’s it. It doesn’t need to be about Darfur, or Alzheimers, or revenge on a businessman because his shady business dealings lead to the death of a family member. It can be about putting a character in an absurd situation and seeing how they deal with it. Can’t it? Can’t it?!