Catching up on 2013

I’ve been doing National Novel Writing Month, and as such have been collecting together some thoughts (naively) on how it’s done. (Particularly naively as today has been appalling for wordcount. Anyway…)

But I thought that might be tricky without running through what I’ve already been up to this year, as the last time I posted about that was in February, and I’ve ended up writing a lot of other things.

Sitcom

I had been writing the action screenplay at the start of the year, but was prodded by the wise and fashionable Richard Hurst to have a solo-written sitcom in my drawer. So I wrote one.

Peace Love Death Metal is a sitcom about a Viking Metal band. It needs another draft, with more jokes added in, but what sitcom doesn’t?

Play

I’d been toying around with an adaptation of The Beaux Stratagem by George Farquhar for ages, and this summer I finished it. It’s now – sacrilegiously – called Gentlemen Gone Wild. It needs a bit of a final brush-up, and then it should be ready.

It’s been quite an interesting process – it felt less like writing and more like Sudoku, going through the text, rewriting it, and reassembling the scenes in a way that made sense. A fun dramaturgical exercise, for sure, and hopefully there will be some jokes in it at the end.

Novel

The novel I’ve been writing for Nanowrimo is called Orphans. I’m not really saying much else about it at this stage, other than it’s about orphans. It won’t be finished by the end of November. The plan will be to do more writing and rewrites once November is over and then we’ll see how it turns out.

Old Things

I’ve also had a couple of reminders this month that unmade scripts never really die – they can suddenly lurch back into life from nowhere. The two projects are ones of which I have very fond memories, so it would be delightful to work on either of them. We shall see.

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Thank God for February

Well, January happened. Lots of day job shenanigans going on, which meant I mainly spent January angry and writers-blocked and frustrated. I guess it wasn’t writers block as much as non-writing stuff becoming too prominent in my head.

But this, dear reader, is February. Sweet February. All change.

Screenplays

So on Monday, after a week off work, I started writing again.

The “skeletal action script” I mentioned back in November got slightly fleshed out over December, to the point where I had about 31 pages. Then came day-job upheaval – the only way to explain it, really, is to point you to some really apposite Dilbert cartoons.

When I sat on the bus on Monday, I started by writing a few scrappy bits and pieces… feeling my way back into the story, and adding a few ideas – single lines, recurring themes – that can sit in my draft until I have to flesh them out.

I also took the decision to scrap a scene that was in the 31 page draft, to reduce the scope of the climax a little. This is another large, silly action film like my first two screenplays, but I want to focus it a little – to bring the restraint of The Secret Society into the expansive set pieces of God Save The Queen.

Essentially it’s a base-under-siege story, and I had thought the climax might happen somewhere very far away from the base. Now I think it’s walking distance.

So after five mornings of writing, I’ve added twelve pages to the script, and it feels much better as a result.

I’ve also got into a funny pattern of writing the set-up expositional scene and the payoff scene in a pair, and then slotting them into place in the script. It’s quite an interesting way of doing it, as it works like a joke – setup and punchline – but you’re doing it across the expanse of time.

That was actually the first thing I wrote after my January break. A piece of dialogue by the antagonists, which is then brought back around the end of Act Two, and then at the climax of Act Three. It’s almost inconsequential – two lines of dialogue that demonstrate how two characters relate to each other, but the lines paired across the whole story makes it quite satisfying.

So, we’re at 43 pages. Good progress.

Other writing

I did a little script editing for a short film that my frequent writing partners Sarah Dean and Kate Chedgey were making, and found that fun to do. I hadn’t been involved in the conception at all, so it was easier to spot the ways it would hang together better from the perspective of an outside eye.

We’ve also got a first (might be second, actually) draft of the team-written sitcom that Sarah is showrunning. I’m a bit down on it, but we’re considering broadening the team for a 30 Rock-style joke pitching session. That might be interesting.

Other stuff

Given day-job frustrations, I’ve been feeling I need more creative opportunities, so I’ve signed up for a puppeteering course. It was on a whim. I’m looking forward to it, though. It’s an evening course, designed for adults, and is a good opportunity to meet some new people.

I’ll also recommend again the Comedian’s Comedian podcast. Full of insight on the writing process, masterminded by my lovely former landlord Stu Goldsmith, and home to some of the brightest and most open people on the comedy circuit. The Mike Gunn one is a great place to start.

November Break

[I’m now keeping Keeping Track posts here.]

Screenplays

After only light further editing, I submitted The Secret Society to 4Screenwriting, and we’ll see what happens with that.

I had two other ideas for films over the weekend, so they get noted down in a notebook and mulled over for a while. I might try to move onto the next screenplay quite quickly, and that will be one of two – the action script I’ve been planning out with Coffee Break Screenwriter and a thing I started a while back, which I have 15 pages of skeletal structure planned out.

The exciting, fun bit of screenplay writing – for me – is first pass at dialogue scenes, where things can surprise and delight you. The planning stage is more ponderous and feels like procrastination – but actual hard work at this point can save you later down the line when the thing falls apart. The bit at the end, rewriting stuff and trying to make your first-pass nonsense make sense, that’s not much fun either.

So you have three parts – No Fun, Fun, No Fun.

And the problem with finishing a script – No Fun – is that the next bit is planning – No Fun.

That’s two No Funs in a row. So unfair.

Sitcoms

We had another meeting last night about our team-written radio sitcom, so that’s now broken into 16 scenes, and we each have six to write. After attempting to write an A plot, B plot, C plot each between the three writers, we’re this time trying out writing six sequential scenes. I have the final six to write, so will be wreaking havoc.

Also thinking again about a radio sitcom I started writing a while back. It’s a bit conceptual – there’s a topical element that makes it a bit tricky to write a pilot – but that might be fun too.

So maybe the sitcoms can be the Fun in a No Fun sandwich.

Other

After much recommendation by Kat Sommers, and then my wife Sarah telling me all the good bits, I read On Writing by Stephen King in about four days. Thrilling, cheeky and totally inspirational, I can only add my recommendation to everyone else.

It made me consider getting up early each day to do writing. That’s how good it is. I haven’t quite made the leap yet, but I am thinking I could take some time at the beginning of the day to write before work. That’s clearly the best bit of the day, the writing.

And the Stephen King book, combined with my friends doing NaNoWriMo have made me think about writing a novel. (I know, I know… I hate myself too.) I think at the moment, I don’t read enough novels. I watch films all the time, so am subconsciously sucking up structure and style, but not novels. Never really got the knack. But maybe at some point. Who knows.

Keeping Track: Post 4

A weekly blog post was always a noble intention, wasn’t it?

Screenplays

Okay, big week. No Fun is complete. At least, I have a complete draft. It’s 99 pages long and it’s called The Secret Society. I’ve added it to my CV. It’s a thing now.

I now have to get a draft that I’m happy to send by Wednesday. In an ideal world, I’d like to hear it read out loud. I’m not going to have time. My wife Sarah has a copy and I might send it to a few other people for a basic sense check.

Getting other people to read stuff is a bit traumatic, as people rarely have time to sit and read other people’s scripts. Especially when they’re 99 pages long. That’s why a table read is much better. You get to drink wine and eat crisps, and spend an hour and a half larking about, rather than having to sit and focus. It’s pretty agonising for me, though. We did a table read of my first film in the living room of the flat I was living in, and all of the stupid and immature things that you write become huge and obvious. That’s why table reads are good for your script and bad for potential heart attacks.

Oh, and Tom has become Pete. That was strange. I’ll write about that some other time, I think. It was like your dad had been replaced by some guy who said all the same things, but was a bit tubbier.

Sitcoms

But wait! That’s not all! We had a meeting about our team-written radio sitcom on Tuesday. Myself, Sarah and Kate had all failed to do as much writing as we should, and that was basically because of bad notetaking on all of our parts at the last meeting. Plus, we always meet up after work, and generally have – at absolute maximum – about 90 minutes of productive brain-time before our heads melt.

So we spent our Tuesday 90 minutes doing a careful scene-by-scene breakdown of the first half of the script, and we’re planning to meet up again to do the second half. It’s feeling a bit clearer now.

Other stuff

Oh, and also, I went with the truly splendid Julie Bower to the book launch of The Creative Screenwriter at the BFI. The book is a fascinating collection of writing exercises to think more creatively about writing, rather than following the formulaic version of screenwriting espoused by other books. We did a couple of the exercises in the launch workshop, and then drank a glass of wine. I managed to spill quite a lot of wine on the shiny metal floor of the BFI. I was carrying too much stuff.

Keeping Track: Week 4

I’ve felt very tired and busy this week. One might have led to the other. So I missed last Monday’s post.

But really, in terms of writing and creative things, I’ve had one thing on this week. No Fun is only two scenes away from complete, but I’m still running a bit scared of them. So I did some procrastinediting.

I printed off the 95 page draft one of the No Fun screenplay and I’ve been doing an initial “shame edit”. This is trimming out all of the bits that I am ashamed of, but have left in for sheer bulk.

The trim added some stuff and took away other chunks, so I’m glad it’s come out at  95 pages again. Some slight restructuring, some making things clear. Some interlacing two scenes together, so you’re intercutting between the two. This is what we do when we’re worried it’s not moving fast enough.

At some point, some point soon, I’m also going to have to change the names. One of the initial sparks of the film was seeing two actors that I love that could easily play brothers, and writing with them in mind. They’ve still got those names. (The first names only, obviously. I’m not writing Star Stories.)

One of those names is also my name. Tom. The character is not me, it’s the other Tom, but it would cause confusion for readers, wouldn’t it?

So Tom needs to become something else. Maybe Pete. Something pretty blank.

And you know how screenwriters are supposed to use a ticking clock to make things go quickly? Here’s mine. Deadline 7th November.

Keeping Track: Week 2

Screenplays

I’m now at 91 pages of Project “No Fun”. Getting past 90 pages is always my “wall”. Once I’ve got past 90 pages, it’s then a proper length, and feels almost complete. Quite important for having the end in sight. Still about four or five scenes left to write, but getting closer to a full draft. Rewrites will be No Fun.

The one I’m planning with Coffee Break Screenwriter feels like it has moved forwards a little – I’m going through this book pretty methodically, so I’ve gone through Chapter 1, which basically gives me a bare-bones plot, a log-line and some basic character intentions. I’d already planned the fundamental structure before starting the book exercises, and I’m finding that original structure rubbing awkwardly against what I’m coming up with now. Mostly, I’ve discovered that my main character is super-passive. They literally hang around waiting for stuff to happen. Also, I’ve got no real idea why the antagonist(s) are doing what they’re doing. They’re just all maraudy and vague. So I might have to take a little break from book exercises and just sit down and try to come up with what these bastards are actually doing

The passive thing is a bit more tricky. You see, I quite like passive characters (being a bit of a passive character myself). I like people placed in extraordinary circumstances and kind of going with the flow, but the rigid structure imposed by screenwriting books (of which I cannot read enough) doesn’t really allow for that. So this is all good discipline. Discipline like a mouthful of bran.

The other issue that I’ve come up against – particularly with “No Fun” – is that I’m not particularly great at writing conflict, as I avoid it so much in real life. I’m English, that’s what we do*. So it is a bit of an effort to write conflict. Again, it’s a bit of a mouthful of bran. Write the horrible turgid conflict so it can be refined later.

Sitcoms

No new work on radio adaptation sitcom, but we have a meeting about the multi-writer sitcom tomorrow, so I’ve written two pages on that today, and we’re all doing some last-minute deadline work and posting it into the Google Doc.

The nice thing about writing a radio sitcom with three of you is you only have to write seven minutes each. Everyone can write seven minutes! For this one, we’ve split out the A, B and C plots, and each of us write one. We’ve tried to minimise crossover between the plots on this first draft so we don’t complicate each others’ plots  – and then we’ll spend a lot of time complicating each others’ plots. The first scene I’ve written, I’ve ignored this self-imposed rule, as I had the C plot, with only one major character to work with, so I’ve at least given her something of a cipher to spark against.

Other

That’s sort of been it this week. We were away at the weekend, blah blah blah. I did see Rob Delaney last week, and that did kick off a strange little Twitter story in my head, but too many people believed it. My brother asked if he could come and visit the Game of Thrones set, and his little face fell when I told him I was lying. Heartbreaking. No good at conflict, as I said before.

* Apart from colonialism, etc. etc.

Keeping track…

Hey. I’m trying to keep track of what I’m working on a bit more; to be a bit more up-front and accountable about what I’m working on. This is partly inspired by the word-count on Kat Sommers’ excellent novel-writing blog, and also to remind myself about the things I’ve actually produced.

Of course, the line that we walk is that this will sound a bit braggy, but fortunately years of misuse have seen the readership of this blog dwindle, so we’re pretty much on our own here. Good? Good.

So here goes. A regularish rundown of what I’m working on, and how it’s going. Maybe we can learn from this, or something.

Screenplays

I haven’t mentioned here that my last completed screenplay – God Save The Queen – got into the Top 500 of the Nicholls Fellowship, the screenwriting competition run by the people who run the Oscars.

My script didn’t get into the quarter-finals. At that point, the Nicholls people put up a list of the quarter-finalists on their site, and people contact them and read their scripts. That isn’t happening to mine. There are 368 quarterfinalists, and mine was in the next hundred. So – in the top 468 of 7,197 scripts. That’s not bad.

So I’m now rushing to get something ready for next year. I think that means it should be ready by January or February. So I have two on the go.

One is currently at 88 pages. It’s a domestic-ish drama. I’ll get to describing it better soon. I have a rough guideline for the remaining scenes. I’m putting off writing them because they’re hard. I should really stop putting them off. Maybe by next week.

One is very very new. On the guidance of the lovely Paul Birch, I’ve purchased a copy of Coffee Break Screenwriter by Pilar Alessandra, and I’m working through the ten-minute exercises in that book to get to a point of writing a bunch of scenes. I have a basic storyline already mapped out. The key word for this one is “fun”. The key word for the domestic-ish drama was “no fun”, which mainly meant listening to “Lodger” by David Bowie over and over again. Maybe that’s why I’m a bit grumpy at the moment.

Sitcoms

I’m writing another sitcom with Sarah Dean and Kate Chedgey, with whom I’ve written two before. Today I’ve written one page of A4 for the C plot. I reckon another page should be enough to get the very basic arc of that story completed. There’ll be a bit of wrangling later on, but that’s unavoidable.

I’ve also got a concept for a radio thing that I want to write on my own – a sort of semi-adaptation of a screenplay I was writing two years ago that turned out to have no antagonist. I’ve written a page and a half of A4 of the second scene of that – the first scene is a bit more tricky to write – and I’ll type that up tonight.

Reviews

I had a review of Channel Orange by Frank Ocean published in Third Way in the most-recent-but-one issue. Nothing else here for the moment.

Songs

I haven’t been writing songs. I used to write them all the time, and I want to get back into it. So I wrote one song this morning. It lasts about a minute. It’s not very good. But it’s at least off the starting blocks.