13 September, 2007

Red Planet Prize Project - 11

Yes, I thought I'd finished as well.


Was I the only one surprised that the Red Planet Prize had only 2000 entries? That might average out at, allowing for multiple entries, about 1000 writers. I get more visitors to my blog every week and my blog's crap!

Perhaps the negativity about the contest and about the various encouraging efforts towards it put people off. I mean, the BBC rejects nearly 10,000 scripts a year and if you times that by the past few years that's a lot of scripts just lying around, waiting to be re-written (or not) and emailed off. No fee, no printing or postage costs. Puzzling.

"One of our chief needs as creative beings is support. Unfortunately, this can be hard to come by. Ideally, we would be nurtured and encouraged first by our nuclear family and then by ever-widening circles of friends, teachers, well-wishers. As young artists, we need and want to be acknowledged for our attempts and efforts as well as for our achievements and triumphs. Unfortunately, many artists never receive this critical early encouragement. As a result, they may not know they are artists at all." Julia Cameron, The Artists Way

According to research our brains have a negativity bias. Bad news is going to have more of an impact than good news. The problem is that, like football, writing is a confidence game. Other bloggers have talked about receiving a BSSC rejection while they were writing their Red Planet script, which didn't help. Luckily, I didn't receive my 25 Words or Less rejection until after I had done a first draft or I might not have started. I had a wobble but I didn't fall down.

I believe Spleeny illustrates what many of us were going through

My Project

I actually didn't start my script until two weeks before the closing date. I usually leave it late but not that late. While the negativity affected me, there was something else blocking me that I couldn't pin down.

Time pressed on and I had no choice but to start. I had to go to the library in the end, away from phone calls, the Internet, the football and other distractions to get started on the script. I wrote half of the full script on the Saturday and then the rest on the Sunday. It was quick because I was working from an outline and the story had been in my head for a few weeks. It was about the copper with father issues who finds a dead kid. I used the example from the Project.

I submitted the first ten pages to my writer's group and I got some nice comments which showed it didn't suck too much but there were complaints about it being too slow. I love a good slow-burning drama and there is nothing wrong with that at all - except I was meant to be writing a cop drama for TV that wouldn't look out of place next to Holby Blue.

Someone said they didn't believe the father issues story. Then I realised the main reason for my delay in starting to write: subconsciously, I didn't believe it either. The main problem is that he was being a copper because of pressure from his father but he's in his mid-twenties, gone to university and done two years of probationary training and still feels compelled to do a job he doesn't want to. It's possible but it made the main character too much of a wimp and unlikeable.

That original script still sort of worked but I felt I had to raise my game. In the Projects example I suggested that maybe the copper and wife couldn't have kids as it would make life hard for them. My first draft had the wife getting pregnant and lots of witty banter about it. I wanted a contrast between the joy of having a baby and having to deal with the death of this other kid. But that was too dull and predictable and most importantly lacked real conflict and drama.

The one thing I was confident about was my dialogue - give me an outline and I can do a good first draft in next to no time. But 'good' isn't good enough. It was pointed out that I could lose 30% of my dialogue as I was repeating beats and telling not showing. I made a copy of the original file, so I could put my lovely dialogue back later if need be, and set about trying to cut 30%. Finding 20% to cut was surprisingly easy but I had to have the other 10% pointed out to me. Hopefully, I've learnt to spot it myself now.

Of course that left me with three new pages to write as well as re-write the rest to my new outline. It was fun but I kept having to assure myself that if I wasn't having a pain down my left arm, I was only having a panic attack and not a heart attack. But I managed to finish it, the fourth draft, with time to spare.

Although smugly pleased with the re-write, some of the scripts in my writer's group alone were excellent so I have adjusted my expectations of winning accordingly. I'd be pleased just to make that first cut.

But for me the worst case scenario wasn't not being asked for the full script but not trying at all in the first place. The competition has given me a kick up the arse to produce a new spec and I've learnt a lot doing so. Not only by writing it but by peer review.

I heard some grumblings by people annoyed about having to complete the full script in September - having only written the first ten pages - when they don't know if they're going to be asked for it or not by Red Planet. Surely, no writing is a waste of time. At least they will have a completed perfected spec for when the next opportunity arises.

I'm about to start re-writing my script, which is practically a page 1 re-write (well, page 11 re-write). It would be annoying if it's not requested after all the effort but, after further re-writes, it's destined for the BBC writersroom. And should the writersroom be nonplussed, I'll just start a new better one. I'd be well pissed off, no doubt, but if I want to be a writer I have no choice but to move on.

Pitching a new series

As well as writing and re-writing our scripts, I think we should also take some time to think about new series ideas to pitch, should we get that far. Worst case scenario is that we don't get that far but we have things to pitch to someone else (or to Red Planet later) when we have a better calling card script. In fact, we could write the first episode of that series as a new calling card.

It doesn't have to be a returnable series, it could be a serial (or mini-series) or a one-off. If you're not keeping a notebook then this might be a good time to start. Someone mentioned, in the UK scribosphere somewhere, keeping more than one book on the go, I believe, for characters, story ideas and dialogue. Good idea, if you're that organised.

When you brainstorm ideas the crucial thing is to write everything down and wait before judging them. The more ideas the better as it's quantity and not quality that's needed.

Think about combining ideas. If you have a 'florist' idea and you have a 'duck' idea, how about "The Duck Florist. A duck moves to a village to sell flowers but faces hostility due to his species." I know there's no copyright in ideas but if you take that one, you're dead.

One possible way of approaching it is to go back to your own interests and passions and then think of ways to make that entertaining to an audience. Can you pitch the concept in 25 words or less? Look at series on air at the moment or your favourite series and try pitching them. Can it be done easily? What's interesting about them? What makes them different?

So think about the premise and, crucially, the main characters for a while. You might have a good pilot idea but what will episode 6 be like? What would the second series be like? Does the premise have legs? Once you're sure it's a good strong concept with popular appeal and good strong relatable characters then try writing short storylines of about half a page (the same as Red Planet requested for the prize) of the first 6 episodes.

If you've done that, you've got a series bible, more or less: Title, logline, premise, main characters, episode synopses. That's all you need. The odds of a new writer getting their own series on is quite high but it's not impossible. However, it is impossible if we don't try in the first place.

By the way, Red Planet has just inked a development deal with Hollywood studio Sony so they are now actively looking for content for two continents.



Steps to Overcoming Negativity and Pessimism

You Can't Create from Negativity

The Short Attention Span Screenwriter

Time Management for Writers - Lianne

How to get into the writing flow - Jurgen Wolff

Hack your way out of writer’s block

MyRay - free online CBT program

More stress busters

The Power of Positive Thinking

Beyond Self-Delusional Positive Thinking


Soyouwanna Pitch A TV Show?

The Pilot Pitch - Background - Kung Fu Monkey

The Pilot Pitch - Prep - Kung Fu Monkey

The Pilot Pitch - the Room - Kung Fu Monkey

How to pitch a TV Show idea or script

Bad Bible - Alex Epstein

Writing the Pilot - Alex Epstein

How to write a killer TV show pilot script - Paul Lines


The Secrets of Effective Brainstorming - Jurgen Wolff

Brainstorming - Mind Tools

Brainstorming by yourself without the need for a group

Three Step Creative Writing Process


far away said...

Nice post Robin.

BTW are you in the position (as I am) that the first 10 pages have now evolved into something completely different? Hmmm...

Robin Kelly said...

Thanks, far.

Yes, my core police story remains the same, in the main, but the main characters and their personal stories are completely different and have more depth and complexity.

Jason Arnopp said...

Nicely candid post sir, as always. I had similar development hurdles with a potentially unlikeable main character. My last coupla drafts were concerned with making him more likeable - including a last-minute tweak which I'll write about on my blog one day, as it was quite amusing. God knows if it'll work. :)

Robin Kelly said...

Cheers, Jase

Paradoxically, it was the fact that my copper was too nice that made him unlikeable. He was too much of a goodie-goodie. Look forward to reading about yours.