Saturday, April 29, 2006

The Politics Of Writing

This is about writing for episodic TV, but there may be something here for the spec writer also.

In the U.K, where we don't really have 'team writers' and 'show runners' you will generally work to a script editor.

All script editors want to be producrers. That is a fact [ Unless they can become writers, which most can't]

In order to become producers they have to impress the executive producer. The executive producer [and producers] don't want the script editor coming to them with problems. They want the script editor coming to them saying ' this doesn't work but I've spoken to the writer and we can do this, this and this instead.' Time really is money as far as execs are concerned.

Very few people in the industry apart from writers actually understand the writing process. They know what they like and what they don't like. And as they are paying for it, what they like is pretty important.

But what 'they like' is one of the reasons you were hired in the first place. So pick your battles. Everyone in the chain has a different agenda. The succesful writer gives everyone what they want while still retaining his/her individual voice and passion for doing it in the first place.

It doesn't matter how many books you've read or which film school you attended, you have to remember that although you are writing in isolation, the end product has to be like a 'one size' pair of nylons as far as the organisation paying you is concerned.

Spec writers will find something similar. When your opus is optioned, that is just the beginning of the process. There will be many re-writes. Not tweaks or polishes, re-writes. It's the nature of the business. If you seriously want people to invest the cost of a hospital in your story then you seriously need to consider what they have to say.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Write Like You Mean It

I've had a run of bad luck over the last year. It started last summer when my step daughter had a nervous breakdown and ended up in a secure hospital for a month. Worrying times, especially the first week or two when she was like a total stranger.

I had a script to write bang in the middle of it. I actually looked forward to the time I had to sit down alone and write it. It was like an escape from the pressure. I sent it in and guess what? The notes came back that basically it was whale turd. In fact it was a whales' communal toilet.

See, no matter what I thought at the time, I clearly lacked focus. Yes I escaped some external pressures by doing it, or rather maybe cranked them down a couple of notches, but the clarity and focus that good writing requires just wasn't there. And there is a very thin line between acceptable and non-acceptable as far as pro writing is concerned. A couple more like that and I might be searching for alternative employment.

Since then, my father in law has developed Dementia and had to be put in a home, my Grandmother whom I was close to died and a few weeks ago my wife informed me she wanted to seperate.
Lucky white heather anyone?

At each of those times I've also had to deliver scripts. They were probably some of the better ones I've written. Because I learned my lesson. If you can't write like you mean it then don't. If you can 't banish everything else from your mind for those hours at the keyboard then go do something else for a few hours, or even days if you can spare them. Focus and clarity. Without that the chances are you'll be writing drivel anyway.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Out of character

So you've got your bones of a story. The boxes are ticked, inciting incident, good act breaks, nice reversal, exciting and fulfilling climax. Yoohooooooo. Now all you need to do is create the characters who will project the story in the best possible way. Then you've cracked it.

Well not quite. Then you have to write those characters and give them believable voices and actions and motivations.

I've seen several 'plug-in' character questionaires aids doing the rounds. You know the kind of thing. What colour of socks does he like? Does he have cereal or toast for breakfast? Does he love his mother?

Can't be bothered with all that. Here's why. In real life things happen one after another. In screenplays they happen because of each other. So unless the story is moved on by the fact that he's wearing the wrong colour of socks, develops a wheat allergy and his mother dies, then who the hell cares?

In my view, character and story are interwined. Jimmy Stewart, a cop with vertigo? Interesting character. But unless the vertigo is integral to the story, then it is a frippary.

Of course I'm not saying you shouldn't 'know' your characters. But to me that doesn't mean knowing which side of his face he shaves first. It means knowing what he'd think, say or do in the situations afforded by the story to make that story as smooth, satisfying and believable as possible.

And that's how I approach developing characters. What is it about them that makes them an ideal protagonist, antagonist, foil, buddy or love interest for the story? What quirk or personality can they have that provides a neat, organic plot point? What do they want and why, and how does the story create conflict with this?

It is symbiotic relationship. Character and story/story and character.