23 May, 2008

Sharps 2

There's no greater motivating factor to finishing a script than pontificating in public that - "writing a 30 minute script for Sharps is easy and everyone should do it". But it worked for me and my first draft is complete.

I had the idea for my story when the competition launched and I could have started writing it then but my story involved using a common medical procedure used in drama and so I needed to think about the characters more and come up with an organic twist that the reader won't be expecting.

It all came together a week ago and the outline just poured out like a water from a busted dam . The characters had been kept quiet for so long that they wouldn't stop yapping and I was adding dialogue as well. I did wonder if I should just fire up the computer and start writing but I needed to be sure of where I was going and what the ending was. Rach also posted about how she was similarly tempted but it didn't work out.

My outline wasn't a detailed scene by scene and was more like an incomplete beat sheet. I knew the ending but I wasn't sure of the scenes leading up to that. Partly this was because I hadn't done the research. I started writing but had to pause for a couple of days to do the research towards the end.

Before starting I did research on the medical issue so I knew the basics but finding out the specifics I needed took much longer than I thought it would. I was actually on the verge of phoning up the condition's support group, when I finally found the info online. I could have blagged it but there was no rush.

In the end the truth of what happens made the story much more dramatic than what I was thinking of. I suppose it's about knowing when you are researching for proper purposes and not procrastination purposes.

Although, having said that, we are making fiction and we have some dramatic licence - as long as it's psychologically true and we're not making up stuff most people will know to be bollocks:

You have hair cancer and need chemotherapy.
Here's a tube of chemo, rub it on your head and
the cancer hair will die and new hair will grow.

My first draft is 31 pages and about 5000 words. In my previous post I said that if it's under 6,500 words it's too short as that's what a pro TV writer told me. Micheál Jacob says that 6,000 words equals half an hour for comedy. It has 6,000 syllables. Does that count?

I never really understood the word count thing and always went on page count - please note the writersroom only go by page count as well - but the TV writer told me that television drama does typically have about 30% more dialogue than film and that might account for the discrepancy between the formats and word counts.

I will be moving scenes about and adding and deleting scenes in the re-write but I don't see how I could add 1500 words, even if I tried. I'll see what the final draft word count is out of curiosity but I'm not going to do anything about it as long as it's under 35 pages. Besides, my word count would work out at about 5 minutes under time which isn't worth worrying about anyway. The actors can just talk a bit slower.

What I will be worrying about is the content of the second draft, and the theme in particular. I had a vague theme when writing but now I've finished, it's much clearer what my story is about. In my re-write I need to focus on that clarified theme.

There are nice things which happened in terms of character later in the script that were pure accident but make me seem like I know what I'm doing. So I need to go back to the beginning of the script and change the characterisation to match the cool stuff that happened later.

Having an outline and character notes doesn't mean you have to stick with it exactly, it allows for flexibility when writing and re-writing, but you do have to make sure it's consistent and you make global changes.

The application form took a while appearing on the writersroom. Without that form you can't enter, so I thought it was deliberate, as I said on a messageboard last week:

"Puzzlingly, there's always a large percentage of entrants who think the quicker they send off their entry the better chance they will have.

There's four weeks left to the deadline and this might encourage people to re-write rather than sending in their first draft when the form is ready."

Piers also says something about this at the writersroom.

There's still time to put something together if you haven't started. For instance, Friday and Saturday thinking of the idea, Sunday creating the characters and outline and Bank Holiday Monday to start writing it. That leaves us three weeks for finishing writing, re-writing and peer review.

As I said previously, rather than bearing in mind the likelihood of winning, it could be seen as a chance to build or rebuild our portfolios.

If you're stuck for a story just go to BBC Health News or BBC News for literal or metaphorical 'health of the nation' stories. Behind the headlines are real dilemmas and big issues for individuals. It's just a matter of finding the right characters and right story.

It's a broad remit and they're being very careful not to restrict us in our choice of subject matter too much while at the same time giving us a little focus.

Some of us have had longer to write something but someone else could start writing now and come up with a better idea, story and characters and storm it.

This also applies to those of us who have had a false start. Don't walk back to the paddock and give up or keep flogging a dead horse. Get back in the saddle and ride a new horse you're happier with to the finishing line.

Sharps Tips - BBC writersroom
Sharps FAQ - BBC writersroom


Wyndham said...

Interesting - I'll be entering. It's my first script and I certainly don't have the experience that you and your readership have - but I'm almost there with it and that's a triumph in itself for me. It's certainly given me the confidence to think about my next script which, with a bit of luck, will be slightly better.

But not being part of a writing community what do you suggest I do, Robin, for peer review? Any ideas would be welcome.

Robin Kelly said...

Wynd, unfortunately experience is no guarantee of success. Well, fortunately in your case. Once you know the basics it all comes down to what ideas, characters and stories you choose and the passion and commitment you show.

Just yesterday I was thinking about peer review for the unconnected and I'll get back to you on that, I have an idea.

Wyndham said...

Look forward to it!



Far Away said...