Taking the helm of the Rondo Writers’ Group

Taking the helm of the Rondo Writers’ Group

Rondo Writers NetworkWhat IS the collective noun for a group of writers? A murder of crows, a sleuth of bears, a flange of baboons and a flight of dragons. Take your pick what would we like? A blot? A tippex (for writers of a certain age)? A row? A bin?

But that’s merely an intro… I’m very, very happy to announce that I’m leading the Rondo Writers’ Group in Bath this coming term.  We’re under the aegis of the brilliant Rondo Theatre (Bath’s new writing home and local home of touring comedians such as Mark Thomas, Robin Ince and Rob Newman), but will be cranking up our writing brains elsewhere in the city.

You can get info on us in various colours:

The Rondo Brochure (which just happens to have a show called GlitterKnickers in it, too – see the post before this!)

The Rondo Writers’ Facebook page
And you can book yourself in here.  What a superb New Year gift to give (yourself).
First night, 18 Jan – venue tbc.
Good, better, best

Good, better, best

V chuffed to report that “Hard Men’, my pilot show script, developed through last year’s Channel 4’s 4Screenwriting programme, has got through the quarter-finals of the Screenwriting Goldmine Awards 2013.

It made for a lovely afternoon, with writers galore getting in touch to check that I knew! Just goes to show what a community we are.

I’ve also been reading for Theatre Royal Bath’s Nova playwriting summer school, supported by their Engage programme for artists in the community. This has been a great experience, following not too far on the heels of reading for Butterfly Psyche / Rondo Theatre’s “Making Trouble” competition.

Reading other people’s scripts is a great learning experience. I recognise my own habits, particularly in writers who are just starting out. It’s like an experienced seamstress spotting the tell-tale stitching of someone starting out (and knowing her own stitching habits are glaringly obvious to her own teachers).

This isn’t always the case; and it doesn’t mean that we all have the same “beginner traits” by any means. Just that it made me smile to read/hear echoes of things I now realise I used to do. Things that are so subtle they might not even have a name; things that, if carelessly addressed in the reader’s report, could really put someone off moving to the next draft.

I remembered and tried to emulate the most helpful feedback my scripts had been given, stuffed with lines like, “the X raises intriguing questions that the writer could have more fun in answering…”, or , “the writer doesn’t do themselves justice by rushing the last few scenes – it would be worth really exploring their dramatic potential without worrying at this stage about running times.” IE, although these are made up, you feel the gentle support and encouragement of someone who wants your script to succeed and can see some ways in which it might.

Needless to say, I’ve had my share of feedback that is less helpful than this: “I only kept reading as a favour,” being one of my favourites. Thankfully, a few years into this writing lark, I’ve realised that every reader is different and that their judgement and taste is wholly subjective. The script that was only completed “as a favour” reached the top of one national theatre’s reject pile – perhaps that’s a B+, as opposed to the FAIL of the earlier critic. And that’s fine.

Drama is about horses for courses; it is subjective by its very nature. The best we can do is to do our personal best and hope that it chimes with someone, somewhere.

To return to my own competition entry, I know where ‘Hard Men’ falls down. I’m just hoping my stitching is better than I think it is…

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Developing this oniony play – in pictures

Developing this oniony play – in pictures

I sometimes feel I don’t get visual enough on this wee blog. So I thought I’d try to raise a Friday afternoon smile from you (I just hit 7 hours with only a short breather, working on this oniony play’s structure/s and need a break).

I’m going to show you my scribbles that have taken me from maelstrom to today’s Draft 1 beat sheet (60% of one, anyway) and 30-odd pages of “usable” text so far.

Exhibit A: some time in March. Was it one play? Was it three? Ummm. Well, this spawned an offshoot, so there’s two in there, at least…. (like those flowcharts? dead easy, great app for messy scribblers like me: PureFlow. Gorgeous.)

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Exhibit B: April. This is all about that man called Bob and his dilemma that I mentioned in yesterday’s post. Peeps who know me and my writing will have heard me blether on before about how I use Buzan’s mindmaps for all kinds of things. This is with a paid version, but you can get free (keepable) downloads from the Buzan website.

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Exhibit C: Last Friday. Had some actual text. All very loosely related. Bit of a jigsaw, to be frank. So that’s what I did – laid it out, found what was related, what wasn’t, what mattered, what fell out and where gaps needed thinking about (but not necessarily filling). Deeeeply satisfying and big help in getting rid of the heebie jeebies. You also don’t need special software for this one. It just makes you tidy up.

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The last one (that “exhibit” thing got a bit annoying): A few hours ago. The play has several inter-connected stories in it (colour coded, no less – except yellow is for 2 different tales, my post-it rainbow being a tad limited). And yes, it’s a woolly spiral. I wanted to see / feel where the resonances between the stories are. Each post-it note is a shorthand for a scene or event, or perhaps just an emotion or comment. The stories grow from the centre outwards. So this is just me testing what might work with telling tales in different orders. Since this, it’s been transcribed, and re-ordered – twice.

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And now I really have to stop so I don’t dream about this stuff. Hope you liked them. TTFN!

The heartbeat of an onion

The heartbeat of an onion

The play I’m working on has turned out to be an onion of a piece. Except that the layers seem, at first glance, to have very little to do with each other.

It started with some Keith Johnston-inspired automatic writing (long story).

Under that layer, something ridiculously epic, galactically so.

Get through that one, and find a man called Bob and his dilemma (a really good one).

Under Bob lay his alter egos.

And under them, I think, is the real play.

I was writing through the filter of some hard-core personal bumpf, hence this accidental process. It’s only called any kind of “process” because I didn’t throw the first thing in the bin, but kept going. Again and again.

But I think it’s proving to be a good way forwards. Using my dissatisfaction as part of the process instead of despairing or telling myself I’m rubbish has been really productive and let me play with some unusual ways of working (and unusual ideas, too). I’m loving it.

I’ve also been using a method I fell into with the 4Screenwriting rewrite: detach the scenes from one another. At this early draft 1 stage, where you just need to get the block of stone out there (for chiselling later), it means that no scene owes anything to any other. Get a collection of meaningful scenes, or shit ones, and then review.  Keep going, see what comes out – resist the urge to get it right.

It does mean now that – with a decent number of pages – I’ve got to do a jigsaw puzzle and think about some craft. I’m putting bits to one side, making interesting connections, rubbing out others. I’m finding that it isn’t what I’d thought it would be – but I can hear its independent heartbeat.  It’s turning out to be – at this stage – a play that looks at my lifelong obsessions; it’s got me all over it, without me planning it that way.

Now, please, Muse, help me turn this into the Exciting Thing it looks like it could be….

 

Gnash, gobble, splat: the sounds of a new script hitting the genre wall

Gnash, gobble, splat: the sounds of a new script hitting the genre wall

It is a fine thing to get the teeth into a new script. Delicious, clean pages. Fresh bodies waiting to spurt, the splatter marks on the walls giving us the story to decipher, like CSIs of dramatic fiction. Does that make the writer a bitey vampire or besplattered detective?

Either way – and I suspect it’s a bit of both – it feels very good to be back at the clean page after several months of personal busy-ness, rewrites and pitches.

I’ve just completed draft 1 of a short monologue which might prove the basis of a character with much more to give, and in the back room of Cranium Kirk, I’m fermenting what I hope will become a feisty wee brew if I can only work out what kind of bottle, keg or test tube to store it in.

This slightly tortured vessel metaphor is my way of handling my current genre musings. I have An Idea and how best to present it is giving me pause for thought.

In Robert McKee’s inspirational how-to bible, ‘Story’, he says you should always write in the genre you love: “every time you read your script, it should excite you.” Fine advice. Thing is, I love many genres.

So how to work out which genre is most true to your story idea? Should it be deadly serious? Wryly funny? Bitter-sweet rom-com? Thriller or action?

Script doctor John Truby gives some good advice:

“When you look at your premise, you can usually imagine a basic action that the hero would take throughout the story. For example, is the hero essentially a fighter (Action), a lover (Love), an enforcer or criminal (Crime), an endangered investigator (Thriller) or a victim (Horror)? […]

“Each [genre] asks a different central question or force the hero to make a crucial decision. The key question in thrillers: Is your suspicion justified? In comedy: do you lie or show your true self? In action: do you choose freedom or life? In fantasy: how do you live with style and freedom? In detective stories: who is guilty and who is innocent?”

In the case of my own early-days idea, I know these are the questions I have to examine, that I have to mine down to discover the story’s true kernel. As Truby points out on the Raindance site, “The secret to choosing the right genres is buried in the story idea itself.”

And when you’ve done that, mastered the beats of the genre, hit each one – just make sure you’ve transcended your chosen genre (or genre combo) to produce something completely original.

I’m looking forward to this….

 

A voice is for….?

A voice is for….?

Tale Man tell me what’s wrong with my life, am I only here to question? No, sir, you are undoubtedly here to cajole and make suggestions.

Julian Cope – “These Things I Know” – ‘Black Sheep’ album

Excellent day yesterday at the Soho Theatre, where they held (yet another) great training session for writers, in collaboration with Spread The Word.

This time, it was about developing your writer’s voice. I don’t want to undercut them when you could be going yourself (£40 for the day: pretty unbeatable value) by spilling all the secrets, but suffice to say I feel charged up with some really sensible advice and some great tips for making sure what I write is true to my own style, taste and serves my urge to write.

We touched on one of my favourite issues for playwrights: having something to say (this game ain’t about collecting brownie badges or filling time). We looked also at how asking questions can help us talk about our work – so, instead of saying

“This is a ground-breaking work of genius about what a cat can do to a ball of string,”

we might say,

“What happens when an everyday tabby cat finds it is inexorably attracted to string, in spite of the opprobrium of its peers and a chronic household string shortage?”

I came home and caught up with some telly before falling fast asleep (it had been another travel & baby-related 5-am-er). I watched Horizon’s clips show (ahem) all about Science v God. (You can catch it til 17th Nov ’11 here). Looking at the legal challenges in the US about teaching “intelligent design” rather than evolution in schools, it was clear that good scientists keep asking questions and ignore their prejudices and their faith.

As an artist, then, “with something to say” (and believe me, I have enough), I felt a bit ashamed and thought, where are my questions fitting in? They mustn’t just be plopped in after the script’s completed, as a way of selling a piece (and that is absolutely not what the course was suggesting, before you get the wrong idea).

We have to start with our questions: and that is a big lesson for me. The BBC Writers’ Room’s Paul Ashton said yesterday that with great writers, you can see an ongoing internal conversation (or debate) running through their work. Questions, questions, questions (beyond those that vital questions about your craft and form)- and that, I think I realise, is what I need to use my voice  for, more than just saying what I think.

So, a quite intense thanks, Soho Theatre, Nina Steiger & Paul Ashton, and if this interests you more, here’s what it was and keep your eye out for more…

Re-writes

Re-writes

Oh, loathsome rewrites: the most important thing, and the hardest. They’re my main preoccupation right now – even though there are many budding ideas shooting their way through, and an incomplete full-length thing which is chewing the back of my brain.

But without them, without nips and tucks, excision and the bin, the thing’s not going to get anywhere, is it? Sad to note, but I was like this even at school….