Monday, April 30, 2007


This from Jon Mcgregor's If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things:

The boy with the wide trousers is quiet, he's looking at the girl next to him, a beautifully unslim girl with dark curls of hair falling down over a red velvet dress, he's looking at the laces and straps and buckles and zips of her complicated footwear and he looks up at her and says so how long does it take you to get those boots off then? She looks at him, this girl, with lips as red as the fire inside a chilli, she looks at the tight spread of him across the bed and she says

I don't know I've never taken them off myself.

First of note, I believe, is the Hemingway style of rolling on the sentences with the use of and, which keeps the reader going, and despite the length of the sentence as a result, the reader doesn't pause or lose interest. We're caught up completely.

Secondly is the characterisation of the girl, first through her chilli lips, which sets up the notion of who she is, and then the pay off of her words, immediately taking us back to the thought of chilli's and hot. It's like setting up a joke and her words are the punchline - our payoff.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

A Night at the Orchestra

Went with friends to see The Cinematic Orchestra last night at the local Art House South Hill Park which was really amazing - they have a six piece band that focuses around a drum and bass style instrumentation with the infusion of seemingly freeform Jazz. It's the kind of music that draws you in and sets your mind off on thought tangents, wondering upon if's, and but's, and why's.

I've had their music for some time... I've just never listened to it. Too many MP3's I guess :). Anyhoo, they had two opening acts: Eva Abraham whose soulful talent opened the night brilliantly. Just her on guitar and her friend on the biggest double bass in the world. Her songs are predominantly happy, but they're played through a really thougtful set of melodies, seemingly downbeat, and yet they draw you in. Acoustically driven, like a downbeat KT Tunstall, and as beautiful voice as Norah Jones, without being over-produced. I had to buy her CD then and there.

Second opening act was Patrick Watson who fused Coldplay and Radiohead in a way that at times was absolutely amazing, and others, your typical boys-on-stage rock-band music out-of-control, where all the instruments play at once, and someone to the side tweaks all his knobs (yes, the lucky boy has more than one) to create special effects of madness. But for all the weirdness, and the funny way he sang out of the side of his mouth, like a permanent disfigurement, and when he really got into his "oooohs" and "arrrrrrs" he jigged on the spot like he needed the loo, there were moments of absolute brilliance.

His band started with a somewhat funny "Oooooh" that interlaced their voices, in an embarrassing way for the audience (uh-oh cheap-chumps on their very first gig), but it opened out into an amazing tune. A few songs in and the saxophonist from Cinematic Orchestra brought his Clarenet out, bent his right leg around the end and began to blow and suck, whilst the Patrick pulled on the lips of a balloon to make it squeak - I kid you not.

But, outstanding from Patrick was his last song, where he, his guitarist and drummer came out onto the floor, amongst those standing (we had seats at the top of the theatre, which gave us the best view of everything - we didn't want to be on the ground with the riff-raff). The drummer set down a detachable drum and flicked at it with his brushes, the guitarist was unplugged into acoustic mode and Patrick sang through his hands, like a megaphone - silence but for these three at our centre - really beautiful song too. Like Eva, his voice was really distinctive (so, I've had to order his CD too).

And of course the Cinematic Orchestra - 10+ minute tunes of blissful chill. Why is it that the more interesting, diversive artists have to nibble at the edge of the creative industries?

Friday, April 27, 2007

An Evening With... Salley Vickers

I continued my irregular series, Wednesday night, by attending Sandhurst Library's author event with writer Salley Vickers - which was quite a good night. I jumped on her (not in the literal sense) as soon as she arrived, taking her to the loudest part of the library to conduct my brief interview for Litopia's Podcast, and my NAW course (I need evidence for my Professional Development module - I think a one-to-one masterclass with a successful author has to be better than having to drive all the way up to Birmingham for one of their prearranged masterclasses, at least upon my weariness).

Whilst she chewed on her evening snack and sipped tea, trying to forget her M4 journey, and getting lost in the rabbit-warren's of Sandhurst, I gradually dropped my questions in. I have to say, she was a really nice lady, easy to talk to, and only too happy to discuss the finer points of writing that she doesn't usually get to talk about (author events are 99% decked out in readers, who are more interested in character and plot... I wanted something more).

In the early moments before I shoved my dictaphone beneath her nose I bored her with where I was in my own writing, the NAW course and my wife's degree in English and Classics (Salley's studied and taught English too; my wife is annoyed that she couldn't make it because the two of them could have chuntered on about Euripides, Aristophanes and Sophocles until the cows came home). I told her that I'd been attempting to write a novel on child abuse, and there she stopped me - and this is perhaps the most pertinent point of the evening for me - and said that a writer should never attempt to cover an already existing topic, certainly not child abuse with the current trend of non-fiction child abuse books in the market. Point well taken; I'd best stick to the Young Adult book then.

You can read the evening's write-up (which includes my 13 minute on-to-one interview): Salley Vickers night

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Monologue Revisal

Okay, next response from my tutor:

This is vivid and gripping, and you’ve thought about how it’s paced. I
think it would work even better if you told us more about the acts of bullying; as it stands, we have the uncomfortable and not very rewarding sensation of standing inside the head of a maniac with little apparent motive. Make us sympathise with the speaker more before you show us how he takes it out on the bully. That will give you a better tonal balance, too. At the moment you are over-explaining – it’s a very difficult trick in a monologue to reconcile performance of a mental state with the need to narrate, and in this draft there are too many moments when you are in prose fiction mode (especially looking
around the classroom). Think seriously about ditching the beginning and ending, which give too much away and try to buy our sympathy instead of earning it. I would start from the ‘primal scene’ – the classroom and the things that happened there. Make your audience imagine the place, and things will follow.
So, positives:
  • Vivid and gripping
  • I've worked out my pacing

And the suggestions:

  • Work in the bullying more - relate the acts to the audience; to build upon his motive and gain the audience's trust and identification with the protagonist
  • Change the order, removing descriptions of the place - possibly talk about the Dictators' faces and pasting the bullies over the top, but develop the tone over the original plot
  • Possibly ditch the beginning and ending - as these give too much reasoning - buys audience sympathy... I guess through telling
  • Think about beginning with the 'primal scene' - that moment when it all turns for him:
    "I was sitting here, minding my own, you know, whispering to Rose in the first row that I'd heard she'd put out for Julian Satiety, when Mr... answered the door to a year 7 student with a note.
    'Excuse me,' he said, and I replied, 'You're excused, Sir.'
    I hadn't meant anything by; it got a laugh from the class, but when Mr... came back in he looked fuming. 'Your mother says when you return to the Bates Motel tonight,' he said, staring right at me, like he'd had enough, 'keep your socks on, she's fed up of your cold feet in her bed'...

Monday, April 23, 2007

How not to foreshadow

So, I've still been watching Heroes, and episode 3 led to some students having a party some 30 miles from home in the middle of nowhere, where we see them having a bonfire, drinking kegs and enjoying themselves.

Now then, we've been building up to Claire Bennet (the cheerleader) and her boyfriend's (Footballer Jock) relationship, with Claire's father advising he'd rather she dated a nerd. Boyfriend has a heart to heart about wanting to cheer Claire up, and the two go off to a secluded area to talk.

Now then, I personally had some sense that what was coming wasn't going to be pleasant - suspecting him trying to have his wicked way with our little protagonist (she's already been set up as popular, but with her new responsibilities she's trying to keep her head down and just survive the school day; meanwhile another cheerleader keeps trying to get Claire's boyfriend's attention, so... hmm). As far as the boyfriend goes, we have no concrete evidence that he might try to push the limits, just that he's a guy.

That's all fine and good, except for the fact that as soon as Claire and boyfriend walk out of shot, a lonely, distressed-looking girl steps into shot and watches them leaving, her expression pained and troubled.

What the?

Even before we see further events unfold between Claire and her boyfriend, we have suspicion of the worst kind. Why? Because it is blatantly obvious that the writers are setting up something untoward to happen. Making it this obvious ruins suspension of disbelief and really makes the mechanics of story visible.


The outcome is that the boyfriend tries to rape Claire - other things happen, but that would be over egging the spoiler - next day, the lonely girl reappears and has a brief talk with Claire that the same thing happened to her. Later the boyfriend admits the other girl was a "slut" and he's called her that to other people, just as he will about Claire.

This could have been done far better, by showing the lonely girl from the beginning of the episode, being outcast by the other students, name calling, and the such like (not necessarily by the boyfriend, as this would take away any audience identification from him too soon), perhaps Claire could have raised the point - 'Is it true that you two... did it?' 'Yeah, I didn't want to, but she forced herself on me. I don't want to talk about it, because so-and-so said she's been putting herself round a bit.'

Etc, etc, not quite like that, but you get the idea. The audience doesn't need such clear markers.

Enter Late, Leave Early

Sticking to the thought-thread of anticipatory suspense, this, I believe, goes hand-in-hand with ELLE, as Robert Gregory Browne puts it:

When writing a scene, rather than start at the “beginning,” you
come in after events are already in motion. And you make sure you get out of there before said events have concluded.

For example, John and Mary decide to go for a jog. Instead of cutting to the two of them throwing on the jogging shorts, pulling on the running shoes, and hitting the road, we cut straight to John and Mary running
side by side, in the middle of a conversation. Then we cut away from them AFTER the point of the scene has been made, but BEFORE they finish their jog or their conversation. To compel the reader forward, it often helps to use a line of dialogue or prose that’s a springboard into the next scene.

Many people think this has to do with brevity, keeping the scenes as short as possible, but that’s not quite true. Yes, when writing screenplays it’s important to keep scenes short (if the story calls for it,
there are always exceptions), but, to my mind, ELLE has more to do with keeping the reader (or viewer) interested. It’s a neat little trick that cuts the waste and keeps the story moving.

It also has a lot to do with pacing, because any good story should have rhythm, aided by the ebb and flow of your scenes. ELLE is one way to
maintain that rhythm.

I think this applies to novels as well. I certainly applied it when I wrote my first. And I’m still doing it with the second. Get in, make your point, then get the hell out.

How does this work alongside anticipatory suspence? Scenes serve a certain purpose. As undisciplined writers we tend to write a scene from the point of story - lets throw in the character doing this, travelling this path, interacting with that character, performing that feat; without giving any thought to reasons to show this, that and the other, with no idea about what a character really is - my wife finished an essay on Greek tragedy characters at the weekend, regarding "How sharply drawn" they are, which I want to share at some point, but even back in oldy Greeky days, the likes of Aristophanes, Sophocles, Aeschelyus and Euripides knew how to show character development, arcs and inner conflict for the purposes of plot.

ELLE helps us understand that when a writer writes a scene it MUST serve a purpose. And, to Leave Early help maintain anticipatory suspense by, as most often seen these days in TV programs, one character asks a majorly important question, and either, as shown below, a distraction occurs, or, the scene ends, and we cut to somewhere else.

The audience is left in one of two positions:
  1. The audience, already being aware of information themselves (dramatic irony), know that one character has imparted the new knowledge to another character that is important to the plot and the audience had an inkling of before. The audience have a small sense of catharsis - Thank God the new character knows - and also, the audience doesn't have to sit through the knowledge again - so, they don't lose interest over repeated material - We only need to know that the information is to be transferred. There is a sense of relief; the audience are happy that there is one more person on side.
  2. The audience doesn't already know the information (dramatic suspense), and when we cut away from the scene we are held off knowing the vital clues around which the plot, or subplot, is hinging - maintaining/sustaining our interest a little while longer.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Doubling Up

I'm going through on the second pass... of the first 13 pages... of my screenplay for the screenplay module of NAW, and I'm beginning to see the wonder of doubling up my dialogue and action (not action-action but what is actually happening-action, like visual exposition or plot).

I'm seeing now that a script needs to run quickly with its dialogue and plot. Scenes are usually about a minute or so in length, rarely running any longer than 5 minutes (in extreme circumstances), without breaking to other scenes, external movement to other areas (for example, a car chase, or movement from location to location). In my own screenplay we focus solely upon the protagonist. We follow him waking, in distress, waking from distress (still with me?), being dressed and working on a project, arguing and conciliating with his wife, him and wife driving to work... and having spent all that time with just the two of them, I then spend a further 5 minutes in the car with them, dealing with little more than character exposition that doesn't serve much other purpose.

How to get round this? Doubling-up.

The actress on my NAW course pointed out that screenplays eat up plots and subplots, exposition, and storylines like nothing else. You can fill a screenplay with plot after plot after plot and still it will be hungry with more slants, angles and questions. If that's the case then I need to reduce the travel in the car from five minutes down to, I guess, roughly two - three at a stretch.

The first step is to give them actions that occur whilst the dialogue happens. For example, they are discussing everything from karma to christening to him pre-empting what she has to say... then, after they're in a near-miss, I have a text message come through for him that she picks up and is from a mysterious J. The wife doesn't admit that she's read the message (Can't work the phone, she claims), and she drops the phone in her bag to follow it up later, without his knowledge.

That text must come earlier - during the conversation on karma and his pre-empting - doubled-up. The christening conversation could wait till later. Or maybe, it isn't right for this episode. I will consider pulling it to build up speed for the next scene.

The benefit Heroes has is that it covers several main characters, and intercuts between scenes involving each of their disparate stories, able to come back to where it left off a previous scene. So, realistically their scenes are longer, they're just able to cut to maintain audience interest (cutting at the anticipatory moment of course)... but I don't have that luxury with only one main character who I am stuck to because of the rules I have set for my world. At least for this episode.

Other uses of Anticipatory Suspense

There's more to this anticipation thread...

Episode 2 of Heroes: Mohinder is explaining his dead father's thesis on the human genome to his father's neighbour, showing the map of the world upon which coloured pins and coloured string has been attached. Mohinder is developing some exposition when... the phone goes, the answerphone picks up. The caller leaves no message but the neighbour sees that there are saved messages.

She plays them - the first regards Mohinder's father's lizard - which was due to be taken somewhere, for something - probably back to a lab... They're about to discuss it when the next message plays - it's from Sylar (we've already heard about him through another plot strand involving a murdered couple - one skewered by lots of household implements, the other frozen with his head sawn off... his brain missing. Sylar is blamed). On the message, Mohinder's father picks up and they have a short conversation developing the serial killer element. It finishes and Mohinder begins to talk about Sylar, and his father's "Patient Zero". Now then, patient zero is the key to understanding the subplot of Heroes regarding certain humans becoming special in some way. But, as he's about to go into more detail, there's a loud crash and both Mohinder and the neighbour spin around... to find the lizard has made an appearance.

So, we change tack. We'll have to learn about Patient Zero later... meanwhile the neighbour puts the lizard back in his aquarium thing and discovers a USB memory stick hidden there.

The lizard has served two purposes... to stop the conversation on Sylar and Patient Zero, and to help uncover the memory stick - which yields Mohinder's father's genome detection utility (which tracks special humans), and is purportedly the reason why the sinister people are after him and probably killed the father. Actually, there's three reasons... the third being that as Mohinder and the neighbour search for the lizard on the floor, they bump into one another, and regard each other for a moment - possibly foreshadowing of a burgeoning relationship... maybe not, but you get the idea.


One of these many tomes I've read over the past year talked about the most important kind of suspense being anticipatory suspense (I think it's a few posts back on here actually). I thought, having read that point, that it was good to bear in mind, but like the adage: 'Write what you know', I didn't really apply it generally, but rather I applied it to those moments when I would want to squeeze tension into my works, raise questions, consider plotting, etc...

But, just as 'Write what you know', actually refers to writing about scenarios, descriptions, genres, etc that you know - as in, not just a topic that you know, but try to meld every part of your experiences into a book, because you will be better informed over your choices and topics; Anticipation as a suspense tool doesn't just relate to end of chapter moments, cliffhangers, and the such like. It relates also to use as a distraction, an almost had, almost understood - to keep the info from the character or audience that little while longer.

Anticipation can be used to keep the audience/reader involved by holding off on providing information through the use of distracting characters - taking tangent to what is being discussed through use of new characters introduced to a scene, an outburst, ramping up action, increased tension through sudden developments, one character's agenda over-riding another, etc.

I was watching episode one of Heroes with my wife this morning and I noticed for the first time the use of Anticipation to hold the audience, whether it was opening, ad break, midscene, end.

The use of timing in these matters is crucial, and it goes hand in hand with beats - the use of changing a character or situation's objective. This is also cleverly used to get the writer out of a tight spot, lull in dialogue or action. When the Japanese character, Hiro, stops time and then goes to tell his friend. They play off of each other - Hiro explaining what and how, and his friend disregarding it. Their conversation comes to its end, there isn't really anything left to say, but rather than end the scene there, the writer gets Hiro's boss to intervene and drag Hiro back to his desk - it's kind of Deus ex Machina, but helps to show the environment they're in as well as give the scene a natural end.

Take this example from midway through episode one of Hereoes: where Niki and her son Micah have fled their house. Niki takes Micah to a friends house. He moans about how he hates the place, Niki calms him and rings the bell (key point in the scene regarding setup), she kneels beside her son, waiting for the door to be answered and answers his questions briefly on being in trouble. But then he asks his key question: 'Why'd you break that mirror, mom?' (Sorry, this is from the original script - the scene on tv is slightly different).

Anyhoo - If Niki were to tell Micah the truth, then the cat would be out of the bag. We'd have no more setup, or moments of audience questioning. At the moment Niki knows more than us, and whilst she holds off telling us, we still want to know.

So, how does the writer get out of answering the question? The door is answered - character distraction.

Simple but effective.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Like a deck of cards...

The admin lady came in this morning with something to give me. Sometime ago I boxed up all my Uni materials for my Degree in IT, my assignments, snatches of worksheets and user guides, and gave it all to the admin lady's daughter. I had no use for them anymore, and she was just starting her degree - it's a great way to shift crap without the hassle of having to dump it yourself.

Anyhoo, the admin lady says, 'I've got something of yours,' and she reminds me that I leant this box of rubbish and how her daughter hadn't taken it to Uni afterall and it's spent the last two years still boxed up... 'Untouched.' She wants to be clear on that point, before presenting me with something she'd pulled from the box last night and wanted to return.

I guess her an her husband were looking to get rid of rubbish and my donation was an easy thing to think about dumping.

She hands over this deck of cards, used, pink cardboard case, has a naked lady on the front and is titled... wait for it... Transexuals.

Which is nice.

How do you convince someone that the cards aren't yours? You can't. There's nothing you can do to avoid the embarrassment, nowhere to look, no place to throw the cards away. You're in work, and you're going red (or at least trying not to, as much as deep breathing will help that), and you're being asked your sexual persuasion.

Even joking about it doesn't help the embarrassment of, 'Well, shucks, I don't know where that's from. It looks used, have you washed your hands?'

Thank God for shredders is all I can say. Why he can't make them accept greater throughput without jamming is beyond me though. We just managed to get them all in before the health and safety lady stopped by.

Transexuals for crying out loud! Transexuals! What do you say to something like that?

'Thanks, my lady-boy-friend was looking for those!'

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

2 Monologues & Some Language

There are 2 different monologues available here:
Showing different use of tone and beats. Anything goes, as with other forms of writing... just, I need to get mine right. Somehow, I fear I'm missing a trick. Perhaps the language.

Also, there's no conceit. My character comes across as fully aware of what he's doing and where he stands. Is that realistic?

In Alan Bennett's Talking Heads - Bed Among The Lentils - the dramatic irony with Susan is that she's not aware of her alcoholism until late in the monologue. It's the fatal flaws of the characters that help stick them in the minds of the audience. I need to flavour my piece up a bit (ooh, flavour my piece - weird language).

I need to develop a proper 15 yearold's voice, like DBC Pierre's Vernon God Little:

I sit waiting between shafts of light from a row of doorways, naked except for my shoes and Thursday's underwear. Looks like I'm the first one they rounded up so far. I ain't in trouble, don't get me wrong. I didn't have anything to do with Tuesday. Still, you wouldn't want to be here today. You'd remember Clarence Some-body, that ole black guy who was on the news last winter. He was the psycho who dozed in this same wooden hall, right on camera. The news said that's how little he cared about the effects of his crimes. By 'effects' I think they meant axe-wounds. Ole Clarence Whoever was shaved clean like an animal, and dressed in the kind of hospital suit that psychos get, with jelly-jar glasses and all, the type of glasses worn by people with mostly gums and no teeth. They built him a zoo cage in court. Then they sentenced him to death.

I just stare at my Nikes. Jordan New Jacks, boy. I'd perk them up with a spit-wipe, but it seems kind of pointless when I'm naked. Anyway, my fingers are sticky. This ink would survive Armageddon, I swear. Cockroaches, and this fucken fingerprint ink.,,1044003,00.html

Why is it that the first time I tried to read Vernon God Little, I gave up after the first couple of pages, and yet, this looks quite good?

Then, I need an adult, female narrator for It Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time. I'll look to Lionel Shriver's We Need To Talk About Kevin:

Childless, I'd imagined baby crying as a pretty undifferential affair. But in motherhood I developed an ear. Oh, I imagine there are as many reasons that newborn babies cry as that grown ones do, but Kevin practised none of these standard lachydermal modes.

With me, once you left Kevin was not to be bought off with any thing so petty and transitory as milk or dry diapers. If fear of abandonment contributed to a decibel level that rivalled an industrial buzz saw, his loneliness displayed an awesome existential purity; it wasn't about to be allayed by the hover of that haggard cow with her nauseating waft of white fluid. And I discerned no plaintive cry of appeal, no keen of despair, no gurgle of nameless dread. Rather, he hurled his voice like a weapon, howls smashing the walls of our loft like a baseball bat bashing a bus shelter. In concert, his fists sparred with the mobile over his crib, he kick-boxed his blanket, and there were times I stepped back after patting and stroking and changing and marveled at the sheer athleticism of the performance. Jr was unmistakable: Driving this remarkable combustion engine was the distilled and infinitely renewable fuel of outrage.

About what? you might well ask.

He was dry, he was fed, he had slept. I would have tried blanket on, blanket off; he was neither hot nor cold. He'd been burped, and I have a gut instinct that he didn't have colic; Kevin's was not a cry of pain but of wrath, He had toys dangling overhead, rubber blocks in his bed. His mother had taken six months off from work to spend every day by his side, and I picked him up so often that my arms ached; you could not say he lathed for attention. As the papers would be so fond of observing sixteen years later, Kevin had everything.,,1501526,00.html

Interesting that I've picked off the top of my head examples of students who may/may not have killed their fellow students - given the topic of Winter Kills.


So, here I am rewriting one of my short stories into a Monologue, whilst bearing in mind what my tutor has told me:
... you will need to do a lot of filtering to pitch your work for speaking actors... you need greater economy in indicating space and time, and you need to pace the pieces around what playwrights call ‘beats’ – the changes of direction which give a performer a clue to mood and keep the audience on their toes... has this to say about beats in a Monologue:
Divide your monologue into "beats." Within each beat, analyze your
character's objective, actions, and emotions. A beat changes every time the character's objective changes. Beats usually work best when analyzing an entire script.
But, I also found the following on:
‘Beats’ are the dramatic structure of your scene. They help build to the
point and purpose of what you want to establish.

Perhaps a better example would be the Ghostbusters scene I referred to a few posts back when we meet Peter and Ray for the first time. The purpose of the scene is to introduce them as characters, show that they’re involved in the paranormal and get them to the library where the ghost has appeared.

But the drama/comedy of the scene is played out with Peter trying to impress a vacuous blonde with his paranormal test and Ray coming in spoiling his moves before they go on their way. The scene has three beats.

Beat 1: Peter tries to impress the blonde by favouring her answers over the geek who he supplies with electric shocks and the geek, fed up, leaves.

Beat 2: Peter moves in on the blonde, buttering her up for his seduction.

Beat 3: Ray bounds in, interrupts, and forces Peter to dump the blonde so that they can check out the ghost in the library.

It's important to note that a 'beat' is not an exchange of dialogue. They're mini-beats if you like, to help progress to the proper beat. For
example, Peter, the blonde and the geek go through a few funny exchanges but the beat is for Peter to impress the blonde and be alone with her.

In writing for soaps, quite often you are given the “story beats” of the serial element. For example, you may get the story line: “John goes to tell Sarah that he’s impotent but he can’t quite summon the courage. Sheila and Maria prepare to adopt their first child together.” Etc. So, as the writer, you’re looking at this outline, and these story beats, and thinking of how to break it down into small dramatic beats of action so that you can do each scene justice.

I don’t know a lot of writers who actually take the time and bother to write a full ‘beat sheet’ (where you list the scene’s purpose and its relevant beats). Crikey, sometimes an outline and treatment can be hard enough without having to go to this much detail. But if you attempt a scene by scene breakdown or a ‘step outline’ then this is essentially expressing the key beats of what’s happening and how it’s going to be dramatised.

In writing for TV, it’s invaluable and obligatory, and perhaps if we all took the time to do it with our features then our scripts would have that extra edge of efficiency, drive and purpose to make the characters and drama truly stand out.

So, I need to pay heed to this in my screenplay also. Gah! Should have guessed this... McKee's been talking on and on about it in Story. It's about time I re-read that too.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Pulled, and returned

Faced with your own blog, the possibility that you only write on it to feel special, and a slap in the face about your lack of responsibility over what you've posted... leading to realisations over copyright/plagerism, and gah! Just what it must be like to read about yourself in someone elses blog - despite them not naming you.

So, I deleted the copyright material and pulled the whole blog... for a day!

Is that all? Is that enough to make reparations?

How can you continue to blog with an awareness that now, you're being watched?

I guess you just do. With thanks to, I'm glad to say, my friend whose work I showed no respect to, who told me to lighten up over my writing... and everything I guess. Shadowed also by Solvey, a writer doesn't give up, a writer struggles through the phases of depression, picks themselves up and gets going.

Now, I can't help but sound self-concious, but I am addressing you the reader, for once. If you want to write, you get on and write... sound advice, I've much needed.

Now then, onwards with the Monologues!

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Screenwriting - Characters

As part of the discussion on our screenplays, Andy had constructed a powerpoint slideshow with our main characters coloured in with the character types we'd referenced - which was really kind of cool to discuss your piece in relation to physical human beings. Here's mine:

Incidentally, Nicholas Hoult (Danny) recently passed his driving test (whoop-dee-doo), or so the local press decided to tell us. Anyway, a friend is a gym instructor where Nicholas is a member... and he often turns up with a nice looking girl that my friend hopes is Nicholas's sister.

Well, he's going to attempt to ask her out anyway - good luck with that!

A dog with 8 bones... er... 6!

Okay, let's recap. I've got several balls about to fly up in the air. I need to prioritise:
  1. The Library Book - I've begun another rewrite on chapter 1 - I need to increase pace, focus the viewpoint and develop suspense through better choosing my descriptions
  2. Dark Machine - My screenplay now needs writing
  3. Monologues - it looks to me as though I'm not going to get these done. I need to rewrite Winter Kills and It Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time (entries to the previous two Litopia compos) into monologue format, and write a new one as my third element - the theme of the Arts festival being Identity... hmmm
  4. Litopia's 4th competition is up and the clock is ticking - The Reckoning - based upon previous winners I need to pay attention to the zeitgeist. The last winner was a comedy (It Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time being in its very nature a comedic suggestion). My previous effort tried to subvert that. The Reckoning, is clearly horror based, and though people say you should avoid horror because it always ends up being a chase and evasion with possibly murder of some grotesque nature at the end, I have to push myself to try.
  5. The first Litopia podcast went live, and is really amazing. I WANT to be able to do something for the next one... or at least for a future one... but what?
  6. Author Salley Vickers will be attending Sandhurst Library in a couple of weeks - I wonder if, as well as doing my usual write up, I might be able to interview her? Possibly for a segment on Litopia's podcast? Would my dictaphone be of good enough quality?

Script Meeting

So... last lesson of the screenwriting course yesterday - a full day to go over everybody's plots, characters, plans, pitches, motivations, structures, etc,

The nine of us sat down with Andy and went through, one by one, each of our pitches and the planned layout of our work, in what was, actually, quite a fun day. Just like you often see on DVD extras these days, the script writers of one comedy/drama/movie sat round a big table talking to each other about how they evisage the development of said script. Though we only had 30 minutes each, it came out quite inspirational. Certainly, for the nine of us, there were nine very different ideas, very different themes, genres, styles, from lesbian farce, to terrorist-family drama, to coma-based fantasy, to European multi-strand movie, to social dramedy.

I wasn't quite sure what feedback I'd get, especially since I'd personally hit a dead wall (that's a dead stop and a brick wall - for added effect), with where to go with my piece. I knew my characters, I knew the basic plot, and I knew where I'd originally started the idea, and now where it had ended up, but what I didn't know was the focus. As with most of my projects I'd added complication upon complication, and got to a point where I had two separate worlds, and was confusedly going to try maintaining both of them.

The key to the whole day was accepting that I should stick to one pov: main character Sam (soon to change name because of the similarities with Sam Tyler from Life on Mars - you should be getting an idea of the plot by now... I swear I'm not copying. My idea originated about 4 years ago, though admittedly Life on Mars began life as an idea 8 years ago... bygones)!

So, POV = Sam. The world should remain as the coma world, and we should follow Sam through trying to lead his life, but with hints of something very strange and untoward going on. I'd made the mistake of holding back at the beginning of the script on really delivering one of those nice plot-point question marks for an audience, but Andy advised me to put that in as it gives immediate pay off to the teaser section of the story.

Everyone agreed that I needed to focus on this real world situation through the eyes of someone slightly messed up, unhinged. We can then lead the audience with questions about what the reality is - this ultimately takes me a million miles from the original concept, but that is specifically why you are told never to adapt your own material from one form to another... you become precious about it, and you don't see the restrictions that you set for yourself, simply because you refuse to change an ideal to suit a better story framework.

The Litopia Podcast

New feature to Litopia, courtesy of Peter Cox is the first edition of the Litopia Podcast, either available here:

Or, by going to ITunes, and searching for Litopia in Podcasts.

Sheer class, and this month includes the winning stories in the latest Litopia competition, an interview with Andrew Gillman on directing for TV and film in the UK... and, well, I haven't finished listening yet.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Screenwriting 105 - The 1 Page Pitch

A One Page Pitch is used when pitching a TV series to a Commissioning Editor. It comprises of the concept, but not the plot. The plot is the enemy of the pitch. Instead focus upon the tone. It should comprise of the following necessary elements:
  1. Title
  2. Type of TV show, length of series and episode length
  3. Tag line
  4. Opening paragraph detailing the relevance of the project to the real world (possibly its themes)
  5. Make references to everything/anything that is similar (preferably successful and that you like) making subtle mention of the elements of their stories
  6. Set up the main characters, giving their traits.
  7. Make references to the type of world this is and the type of places frequented/visited by the characters.
  8. Give a brief about issues and conflicts.
  9. If there is anything specific about you that makes your insight into the project more powerful, add it here.
  10. Show the zeitgeist. Why does this fit? Is the time right?
  11. Sum up the tone and genre.
  12. Give a call to action (maintaining the tone).
With a feature film you'd give the conflict, the setup and the conclusion.

Screenwriting 104(4) - Dramatica - Problem Quad

What must be understood about Dramatica, is that the process is all about drilling down through the layers of quads to get to the root causes and solutions to characters and their problems. Having passed through the issues, we reach the Problem Quads - out of a total possible 256 Problems.
So, the Problem Quad exists pretty much like this:

As with our previous assessments of Quads we place one layer over the framework of another. However, we are now working so deep that we must deal with each of our original Storylines (Throughlines - Main Character, Overall Story, etc) separately. So for each of the four, we have four Problem Quads. And each looks at Problem, Symptom, Response, Solution.

Taking Rick's Main Character Throughline from Casblanca, we have drilled down to a Problem Quad (if you follow my previous posts and the Dramatica guidebook) of Control, Feeling, Logic, Uncontrol. So, for Rick, his problem is that he has to control everything. The symptom of which is that his feelings for and toward Ilsa have led him to this end... well, Andy Conway sums it up best:

Well, Rick seems to be a hard-bitten, cynical guy who sticks his neck out for nobody. That’s a very logical attitude to take to what is happening around him. But remember that Renault recognises him as a rank sentimentalist. He’s adopting this attitude to cover his emotions. It breaks out now and then, but mostly he manages to hide it.

But his real Problem is ‘Control’ and the Solution to that is ‘Uncontrol’. What does this mean?

When we open, Rick is one of the most powerful people in Casablanca. He is in total control of everything. He runs his bar and controls the prefect, even the Nazis, everyone. But this is a false empire. It’s not what Rick should be doing. What he needs to do is give up all that Control and choose to walk away from it. And that’s exactly what happens at the end of the film. He walks away with nothing but the clothes he stands in, at the mercy of the world again.

The key to use of this system that after all your domains, situations, problems and characters are mapped out you are provided with a list of what needs to be shown by your script or story in order to help with deep characters, plot arcs, and a tale that works on all levels. Furthermore, looking at this depth allows you to generate stories that end on different notes - for example Casblanca ends on a positive for Ilsa and Laslo - they escape. Rick however, though he has left behind his control, suffers the bittersweet ending. He's stuck in Casblanca, without Ilsa, but he's prepared to move on.

Now, if that isn't an oscar winner... I don't know what is!

So, what comes next for Dramatica? Well, there is the character archetypes, and the complicating of their natures to create superbly rounded characters that function to serve the plot in as many ways as necessary, there's the 12 point plot notes you need to be aware of... and more. But that's up to you to investigate...

Friday, April 06, 2007

Screenwriting 104(3) - Dramatica's Concerns

Okay everybody, this is where things begin to complicate... and at this point you should begin to wonder why all this effort is necessary. Surely it's just distracting from writing? Well, yes and no. Dramatica can be used either at the beginning of a project, mid way through, or at the end. Its purpose is to help fill the gaps, bring out inconsistencies and develop the more rounded product.

So, concerns...Dramatica has 16 Concerns, based upon the framework of the 4 Domains (hope you're still with me). What we're doing is drilling down through a matrix (imagine a multi-level chessboard). Here each Domain becomes split into 4 Concerns. So, for each of the Throughlines, we now have 4 Concerns. In Casablanca, Rick's Main Character Throughline, which fell upon the Domain of Fixed Attitude can now be separated out into Memories, Impulsive Responses, Innermost Desires, and Contemplation.

BUT! But, we don't use all 4 concerns... we can't because we must avoid too much confusion. Each of the Throughlines/Domains may only focus upon 1 Concern, and in respect to Rick, his Concern for his Fixed Attitude is Innermost Desires.

And, what that means for the other Througlines/Domains is that their Concerns must/do fall upon the same relational square, ie: Rick's is the bottom-left, so the other three Throughlines must fall upon the bottom-left square of their own Concern quad. With me?
  • Rick (Main Character Throughline) - Fixed Attitude (Domain) - Innermost Desires (Concern)
  • Ilsa (Impact Character) - Situation (Domain) - Future (Concern)
  • Visas and escape (Objective Story) - Activity (Domain) - Obtaining (Concern)
  • Rick versus Ilsa (Subjective Story) - Manipulations (Domain) - Changing One's Nature (Concern)

Screenwriting 104(2) - Dramatica's Domains

Moving onto the next quadrangle we see that along with 4 Storylines, we have 4 Domains. The Domains are the context through which the Storylines operate. The writer puts the framework of the Domains beneath the shroud of the Throughlines so that you have one Throughline for each of the Domains.

It is theorised that every "Grand Argument Story", that is every damn fine story, has all four of these Domains present. So, we have:
  • Situation
  • Activity
  • Manipulations
  • Fixed Attitude
It is also theorised that for a story to feel rounded and complete, these elements all need to be present and working together, or against one another.

What does this really mean? It means that one of your Throughlines will line up with one of the Domains, meaning that the other three will, likewise, have to fit into one of the other three Domains. Take this example from Casablanca, for... er... example. (From the comic strip about Dramatica):

So, we can see what fits where:
  • Situation - Ilsa (Impact Character) is locked in a situation (she's stuck in Casablanca with no way out)
  • Activity - Everybody (Objective Story) is trying to get visas to escape Casablanca
  • Manipulations - Ilsa and Rick (Subjective Story) are playing mind games with one another; Rick out of bitterness, and his need to control everything; Ilsa because she needs to get out of Casablanca, despite her feelings for Rick.
  • Fixed Attitude - Rick (Main Character) has a fixed attitude. He's seen the world, and lost the girl. Now he's bitter and thinks the only way to live his life is by controlling everything.
  • Situation - The Objective Story (Shark terrorising the Waters of the local populace)
  • Activity - The Main Character (Brody is the one who takes action, to pursue the shark, and stop its devious teethiness)
  • Manipulations - The Impact Character (Hooper, the guy with the money, the education and all his beliefs about sharks and the such like)
  • Fixed Attitude - The Subjective Story (Hooper and Brody's conflicts - Brody must learn from Hooper to reach understanding)
The Storyform
We now have storyforms to work with from Domains and Throughlines. Andy Conway developed the following way of looking at Storyforms... which goes into more depth than presently necessary, but it gives you the idea:

Screenwriting 104(1) - Dramatica's Throughlines

Dramatica is the deep theory of story, and simply put is a framework upon which you can place your story idea, themes, characters, and the suchlike, to ensure you have all your bases marked for a well-rounded story - be it a novel, film, stage play.

Consider Dramatica to be the DNA of story, where "the whole brain is having a debate about inequity".

My previous Screenwriting posts have been the analysis of film through the separate paradigms, but with Dramatica, as my tutor, Andy Conway, pointed out, to understand Dramatica you need to analyse the paradigm through film. As such, this could get complicated (but is well worth sticking with), and I might resort to regurgitating what Andy has already written... why rewrite the wheel?

Dramatica works on a principle of setting everything out into quads. There will be four of everything, arranged as four squares within a square. This provides the basis for relations between objects, such as helping to assess conflict zones.

Dramatica's first principle is tht of a Story Brain, in which exist four Throughlines (not one simple story). These four Throughlines are four separate stories integrated into the whole, providing the audience/reader with the most interesting route through the Story Brain from opening to conclusion - this is something I've pondered for some time in my own writing. That there is a need for lots of mini-stories, flashbacks, anecdotes, that flesh out the world. Though this is on a more specific level.

So, we have 4 Throughlines:
  • The Main Character throughline
  • The Impact Character throughline
  • The Overall Story throughline
  • The Main Character versus the Impact Character throughline (Subjective Story)
Here you can see that the Main Character and the Impact Character are diagonally opposed, as is the Subjective and Objective Stories - Conflict!

Think of it like this:

In Star Wars, Luke (Main Character) is taught by Obi Wan (Impact Character). Their Subjective Story is the training of Luke to become a Jedi, whilst the Objective Story is the wider world of Rebellion versus Empire and the destruction of the Deathstar.

In Casablanca, Rick (Main Character) had a love affair with Ilsa (Impact Character). Their Subjective Story is their relationship ("We'll always have Paris.") and Rick's bitterness over Ilsa leaving him, and now turning up with Laslo. The Objective Story is that everyone is trying to get visas to get out of Casablanca.

It's the relations between the Main Character and Impact Character that are most important to the story whole. The clash between the two results in 1 of them changing (Character arc), and one of the remaining the same... steadfast.

In Star Wars, Luke comes to believe in the Force, and to trust that ability within himself. Obi Wan doesn't change. In Casablanca, Rick learns to let to of his control of everything and helps Ilsa and Laslo, whilst Ilsa doesn't change. Amelie, in Amelie, learns to allow herself to help herself and not to stand in the way of her own goal, whilst, the glass man remains steadfast. In An Officer and a Gentleman, it is Zack who changes, not Paula.

That is not to say it always has to be the Main Character who must change... consider Indy Jones and most Bond films.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

It Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time

Always the bridesmaid, never the bride!

I was going to write my woes on here about failing to make another grade (Litopia's latest compo), but other than simply logging it here, I'm going to let this one slide.

I think it's fair to say that those of us who've been at Litopia longest, and those who have come with far more experience are now working on instinct and inspiration - take Osc's assertion he was one drunk skunk when he wrote his winning piece... hang on... DRUNK? It took me three solid weeks to write mine, he did it in a couple of hours... drunk?


Anyhoo, with what I've just said, we now reach the realms of subjectivity - and I suppose that's why I don't want to bother with bigger compo's, such as the Bridport short story prize.

But then, what am I turning down here? Surely it's not just having to pay money to enter a compo... surely, it's turning down the opportunity to submit to an agent, with my next book, should I ever write it. All I require is inspiration now, and room to manoeuvre inside my own ability.

Zoiks! Just read your comment there Es! Where you been man? Thanks for the positives, and your nice thoughts. I hope you are well?

So, the next step is to move on. With this all in mind, it's time to pick up those books on Monologuing, finish reading Dramatica, write my screenplay, and redraft my shorts for the monologues, and get on with the rewrite of my novel... erm, all after Congo has finished on Film 4 - I wouldn't watch it, but for the fact I last saw it in the cinema, and I love to get all nostalgic. Here's to the future... now, where's my Malibu?