Writers’ Tools: Tactile Spreadsheet

While waiting for various co-written projects to make their way back to my inbox and anxiously querying literary agents, I have decided to distract myself by remembering to update my blog. (I apologise in advance if this makes as much sense as monkeys attempting Shakespeare - I am full of lurgy) The contents of this post will be obvious to many of you. Writers love index cards. They love that they come in lots of different colours and can be written on with a variety of coloured pens. They love them so much that they peruse stationary shops looking for the perfect bulldog clips to safely secure them. However, beating out a plot is only one way to utilise those tantalisingly blank rectangles. I am going to present a more complicated system that some of you may seize as vital to screenplay composition, and which others will love because it adds another few hours of procrastination before actually having to write the damn...
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The Dying Art of the Storyteller

I went on a shopping trip with my nieces and nephew the other day. All under ten, they asked the adults in the car to tell them a story. A made-up story. My partner volunteered me. So, I decided to cheat. I started telling them the plot to one of my feature scripts. However, I came unstuck at the first line: "Jack is the son of a blacksmith." And the inevitable question comes: "What's a blacksmith?" I realised this may be a problem in a film primarily about swords. However, I soldiered on and ended up diverting into a tale of adventuring, bandits and the relative merits of the longbow over the dagger as a weapon when you're a child in the woods. Not sure I meant the moral of the story to involve imitable violence, but that's what happens when you do these things on the fly. Anyway, for my next story, I went with Bryn Celli Ddu. Adapting a story about teenagers into...
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NaNoWriMo 2011: Wordy

80,370 words. 41 chapters with eccentric titles, including "Mama Told Me Not To Come", "Dial 'M'" and "Down Corridors Through Automatic Doors". 956 instances of my protagonist's name. 580 instances of his partner's name. 72 "killer"s and 25 "victim"s. 40 "murder"s and 15 "gun"s. 52 "cop"s and 27 "detective"s. 451 "ifs", 2,538 "and"s and 547 "but"s. 26 "fuck"s and 16 "shit"s. 30 days of heartache and toil and blood sweated. 100% worth it....
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Pitching In Sixty Seconds (without bunnies)

If you're attending the London Screenwriters Festival Speed Pitching and you're not flailing in panic, it's either because you have nerves of steel or are, in fact, an alien robot. Condensing your beloved work of art into one or two pithy sentences and then selling it in five minutes sounds impossible and terrifying (moreso because, until about thirty seconds ago, I thought it was ten minutes. ARGH!). Thankfully, people have done this before and SURVIVED! Some have even SOLD THINGS! The mind boggles. How does one conquer this hill of terror? I asked this same question before the London Comedy Writers Festival earlier this year, and Phill Barron and Laurence Timms provided excellent tips here (also in PDF). But what about Speed Pitching specifically? How does one not die in a five minute conversation with A Really Important Person? Jared Kelly's blog about Speed Pitching at LSWF is a Survival Handbook - and the most important (and scary) thing I gleaned from it is this:...
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Pilot signposts

Unfortunately, Real Life has been distracting me from blogging - and my pilot script. Yet John August's brilliant analysis of Premise Pilots dragged me back today. I was having this debate with my director friend about a TV pilot he'd like me to write. Basically, it involves an ordinary guy having his world turned upside down when he realises he's living in a secret dystopia. However, the problem is this: you need a lot of setup. It's therefore difficult to make a pilot that captures the action-adventure spice of the rest of the series because the first episode has to highlight his dull, vanilla life. Another interesting post is Bitter's commentary on capitalisation in action paragraphs. I like to capitalise characters' entrance in every scene - though, in my sit com pilot, it doesn't seem to be working. I also note important props and sound effects, which Bitter identifies as outdated techniques. Then there's Scott's answers on Act One length. This post is...
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Chaos theory

I've been immersing myself in my Laughing Stock entry. I've just hit the finale, though my pages are running way too long - used to a feature or drama-length and I need to rein it in. However, the thing that's surprising me most is this: I'm kinda funny. I've never been a comedian (or comedienne, if you prefer). I'm the one making the bad puns and not getting the jokes for a good two minutes, filling in with the fake laughter. I showed my partner a sequence of dialogue from The Greenwich Project and his response was "oh, you're a lot funnier on paper than you are in person". Charming. I've been watching a number of British comedy pilots to refresh my memory and seek out my style. This week, I've watched Gavin and Stacey, Spaced, Black Books and Yes Minister. There's quite a range in there, from the dramatic to the surreal, the surreal to the dialogue-dastardly. My style seems to run on...
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Density and Comedy

In my ongoing struggle with original voice, I spotted similar questions from readers of TBSR about blocky action paragraphs. I have issues in Steampunk Assassins with scenes where my protagonist is with his partner - who is completely silent. Therefore, all his dialogue is replaced by action paragraphing. That adds up to a lot of bulk. Trying to cut that down without losing the sense of the scene is proving very challenging. Bitter also links to one of Scott's posts where he describes WALL-E's haiku-style paragraphing. He does make the legitimate point, however, that it has to suit the tone of your film. Robot drama, yes. Rom Com...perhaps not. Now for something completely different: Laughing Stock 2011 - BBC comedy competition for those without a network commission (i.e. awesome funny newbies). 15-30min script plus one-page series outline. Winner takes a comedy masterclass and a one-week intensive development session. Closing Date: Monday 21st February 2011. Well worth a look. I do love my BBC....
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Dialogue is drama?

I've previously waxed lyrical about Aaron Sorkin's dialogue and why I think it's the best thing since sliced bread. Scott of 'Go Into The Story' quoted Mr Sorkin earlier: “I’m really weak when it comes to plot," he says bluntly—a startling self-assessment from the creator of three television series. “With nothing to stop me, I’ll write pages and pages of snappy dialogue that don’t add up to anything. So I need big things to help my characters—a really strong intention and a really strong obstacle. Once I have those, I feel I can write.” Oops? I do love a good bit of dialogue. The overwhelming criticism on the early drafts of Steampunk Assassins was 'omgwtfbbq, why so much talking?!'. And that is my weakness - probably in part due to my love of the work of the aforementioned Aaron. My director told me to cut out every second line of dialogue. And, amazingly, I found myself plucking out reams of pointless conversation, ditching conversations...
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Writers cannot shut up

Rang my pet editor to invite him to dinner. Spent nearly an hour on the phone talking about Old!Robin Hood, Steampunk Assassins and Military Monster TV Pilot. And I still don't know whether he's coming to dinner. Conclusion: writers are incapable of having "a short chat". However, dithering is a speciality....
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