Category Archives: MA Scriptwriting Posts

Beta get proof readers……..

Hehehe. I hope the ‘typo’ in my heading was read as a pun because I, for one, find it hilarious. I haven’t posted for a wee while because *drumroll* I have been working my arse off getting work out there. This year I have had 2 theatre plays staged (Kill ’em in the Brain and Bite Night), been placed and won money for 3 online short story contests, and as of this week’s acceptance emails (YAAAAAAY!!!!), have managed to get five short stories published. They’re in anthologies.. in real books.. with paper and letters printed and my name in them and everything!

I’m sorry if this post sounds a bit braggy, tis not my intention. I’m just recapping my year because I have a point to make (it’s on the way shortly, I swear!). Also, I’d love to hear how my fellow MAers are doing, so please comment and let’s have a chat, I miss you guys!

Okay, so my point – Beta Readers.

On Facebook I found a whole load of groups for writers (stories, scripts, you name it, it exists). Members range from total newbies to the game, to semi-pro’s, and even professionals. I joined a few (do take care, some of them aren’t so much groups for writers as groups where people bitch about other people’s writing…), and was soon made privy to loads of submission opportunities. I’ve entered flash fiction contests, short story competitions, articles, bite size plays, scripts, all sorts. At first I got nowhere, just had a short and not-so-sweet stream of rejections. ‘How dare they?’ I thought, ‘Why can’t they recognise my genius?’

Then I got over that and started analysing my work, wondering what was up with it (you rarely get feedback if rejected). To answer this question, I took it to one of the writer’s groups I joined and asked for some beta readers in exchange for returning the favour to them. To my delight, 4 far more experienced writers than myself offered to give my work a look, so I took a deep breath and sent some stuff to them. I was terrified guys, seriously. I kept thinking the worst, that I’d get some awkward comments about how crap a writer I am, and I was scared. When I got the feedback, I realised how silly I was being. All 4 pointed out different things, from grammatical/spelling errors that I’d missed, to suggestions on how to restructure sentences. They highlighted whole sections that they felt conflicted with my main theme, underlined quotations where the colloquialisms sounded more American than British, and made comments on characterisation, plot and anything and everything else. I ended up with a variety of incredibly helpful, constructive criticism. And to make it even better, every one of those lovely beta readers commented in the margins on the bits they most liked and why; comments ranged from short paragraphs to a simple ‘heh, funny!’, and it reassured me that I can do this…. and that all my ideas aren’t poop.

I guess in a nutshell what I’m saying is that throwing work out to people I don’t know in person has helped. A lot. I stopped being all precious about my work and got over that initial pang of injury when I got criticisms. You just have to get over it – it’s not a personal attack. That’s when I started having some success, and it’s no coincidence. I’m not a pro yet, but I’m now in the position to submit to pro-paying markets and have actually started making some money (Yay! Walking Dead merchandise, here I come!).

To that end, I’m going to create a group on Facebook where we can all throw our scripts at each other (could be scripts for contests, just stuff we’re playing around with, etc.). I realise we’re not professionals yet, but we each have our strengths and since we’re all in the same position I think it might be nice to take the uni community outside of uni, just a little bit. Let’s practice writing and do it for fun, not just for deadlines. Let’s make the time for each other and ourselves. We owe it to those award-winning scripts we’re all going to write in the future!

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My Last Tutorial….

Had what I think was a pretty good final tutorial with Stapes about my Major Project, although a few hours later the panic of the looming deadline set in and suddenly I convinced myself that despite my feedback, I’d totally messed up my project!

I’ll be handing in the first three episodes of a sex-part series, and then outlines for the final three episodes. Before this tutorial, I had made a lot of changes to my script, including adding in new characters, completely changing some of the spaces, cutting huge things, adding huge things, etc. Normally, before making a bold change, or at least right after, I go running to the lecturer to make sure it’s okay. This time, I decided to go ahead and use my own judgement….. and it paid off!

I had very few notes on those three episodes, as opposed to loads of them in the previous tutorial. This has taught me that I kind of know what I’m doing, in terms of recognising what can be improved and whatnot. It was such a relief to hear that I’d made huge, bold and good decisions for my script.

My 3 outlines, however, were another story. Truth be told, I didn’t spend as much time on them, and wrote them in somewhat of a panic before I sent them. They were not my best work, as confirmed by Stapes. This wasn’t so much a case of tweaking them, this was a ‘back to the drawing board’ situation. I would have thought that I’d be all miserable and feel sorry for myself about it, but to my surprise, I just felt excited to do better and get back to work. I won’t have anyone holding my hand up until the final deadline now, so will have to use my own judgement again and turn it around. I’m surprised that I’m so up for the challenge! Normally, I worry so much about marking, etc, that I’m in a total frenzy trying to get about 70%. I’ve just realised though, that though I want to get the best mark I can, it’s writing about what you care about that really matters, and enjoying the process. I feel kind of liberated and wish I’d come to this conclusion a few months back!

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The Show Must Go On!

Whew! Can’t believe I didn’t post at all in August, but I guess that goes to show how busy I’ve been on my Major Project! I spent the whole month redrafting and redrafting again, looking at every single line of dialogue, breaking down every scene, examining every character, etc. I feel like I’ve sculpted it into the best it can possibly be… that is until Friday when I’ll meet Stapes for some feedback! Sending the entire project to him after so many drafts was a massive relief, and I’m actually looking forward to the deadline as opposed to dreading it.

I’ve realised how much I’ve got out of the degree this month; the biggest lesson I think I’ve learned is how to be critical of my own work, and redraft and tinker with it on my own, without someone telling me what needs to be changed. I made some really huge changes to my project without a lecturers say so, and that’s something I wouldn’t have been confident enough to do at the start of the academic year.

As the title of this post suggests, I’ve also learned that the end of the degree is the beginning of forging a career in writing, rather than the end of something. I can’t wait to get this project submitted because I have three more lined up, and one is a commissioned piece of work so I can’t wait to get started!

Also, just going to shamelessly mention that I got my first flash fiction published (in an actual book with real pages and everything!), it’s called Now You See Them and will be included in In Creeps the Night from J.A.Mes Press Publishing in time for Halloween. I mention this for two reasons:

1) I’m super excited and telling everyone.

2) Flash fiction is a really useful tool that has helped me improve my scriptwriting. Let me explain…. I started off writing stories where the word count was anything up to 1500 words, and I really pushed the word count to the limit. None of those stories were chosen. I set myself a goal to write as short a piece as possible, and managed to round a few off between 400-600 words, one of which is the story I just mentioned. I realised that however big the world of the story and the characters, if you can’t summarise it in 500 words, at least to yourself, then you don’t have a tight enough plot. This helped me during my redrafts for my major project when I asked myself what each episode was about. When I got stuck, I’d adapt the episode into a 500 word flash piece instead to retell the story to myself in a different way. I found it much easier, looking at the story in a different form, to go back to the script and sort out the problems.

I hope everyone has had as great a time on this Masters as I have. I’ve met some lovely and talented people and learned more in this year about writing than I have in the last 10 I think! At graduation, let’s leave the course and enter the world of professional writing with a bang!

xxxxxxx

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Editing….

This week, I thought I’d share some tips on editing your own work. Now I know what you’re thinking because, even as I type this, I’m thinking it too – who am I, an unknown newbie, to be dishing out any advice? I worried about that for a minute and then thought ‘Screw that, I learn loads from you guys’. I’ve had some great advice, been inspired by, and marvelled at the lessons I’ve learned from my fellow MA buddies, so here goes……

 

1) Leave it a week after drafting, and then go back.

I find it quite hard to be objective about my own work, especially when I’m sat there looking at 90 pages of hard drafting. The idea of taking a knife to it and start slashing away the words I’ve just written just doesn’t sit well with me.

I got to the end of my 90 pages and decided to put it in a drawer for a week, resisting the temptation to try and improve it until I had enough time to clear some head space. After even that short a time, when I picked it up and re-read it, I felt a bit removed from it, as though I wasn’t reading my own work. This freed my mind enough to be ruthless and helped me to accept the many things that are, frankly, totally crap. In fact, more of it is bad than good but that’s okay, because I can now see it well enough to change it.

2) Read it aloud to someone else.

This scared the bejeezus out of me (I think you all know that feeling… the fear of presenting what you’ve written to someone only for them to say it’s awful) but I did it any way. I selected my victim.. er, I mean, ‘listener’ (he had no choice really, it was my brother), and read through each 30 minute episode. I stopped between episodes for his feedback, and boy did he have some!

During episode 1, he was visibly bored. So much so, that when I was about to start episode 2, I could almost feel his dread.

During episode 2, he smiled a little in amusement (thank **** for that because it’s a comedy…).

During episode 3, he laughed a lot in some places, and was totally silent and bored in others.

He hit me with some criticism and it was bloody harsh. The words ‘boring’, ‘crap’, ‘pointless’, ‘confusing’ and ‘tedious’ were thrown around.. and more than once.

I needed to hear it. He was right. I slept on it, read it again, and agreed with every point he made. He also had some suggestions on what he would prefer to see rather than some of the scenes I’d written, and also questioned plot holes I hadn’t even noticed.

Be brave, pick someone you know will be brutally honest, and get that reading out of the way so you can really do justice to what you’re writing.  Your work deserves it!

3) Go back to the themes you wanted to explore in the first place

I totally lost sight of the reasons I wanted to tell the story, and even the story I want to tell to a degree. The former two points covered helped me to reconnect with the themes I want to explore, and the things I really care about. Instead of dreading the enormous task of redrafting (and I don’t mean tinkering, I mean re-writing the whole thing with the first draft as a guide), I’m now really hyped up and excited to start.

 

This might be totally useless rambling to you guys, I don’t know, but thought I’d throw it out there as these few points have done me and my project the world of good. Hope something in this is helpful to someone!

Hope you guys are all well and that you’re getting on nicely with your various projects, miss you! xxxx

 

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Updates!

Hey all, just a quick one to mention that I’ve updated my ‘Current Projects’, ‘CV’, ‘Links’, and ‘MA Notebook’ pages. The latter page is just a post basically (the last date entry on the page) about the Major Project. Also, I’ve added a new page ‘Kayleigh’s Slate’.

Also just wanted to talk about entering competitions. I’ve been sending work out left, right and centre, some with good responses and competition placings, and others with no replies at all. I think the rejection is an important part of the process, and in a bizarre way has been really good. The first couple stung a bit (okay, maybe more than a bit.. there was an incident in which I decided that my dream of writing was over, that I was total crap and that I would never take to my keyboard again…), but then I got over it.

I think there’s something to be said for getting some rejections out of the way while we still have the luxury of getting advice from our lecturers before we graduate. Suddenly, the sound advice of someone who knows what they’re talking about (they’ve had their own rejections), takes the sting out just a bit. Posting about it here helps as well I think, even though airing a failure really punches my pride in the face. I guess what I’m babbling about is this – our rejections are no big deal in the grand scheme of things, but our successes will be. So let’s get those doors slammed in our faces sooner rather than later, so we can knock on the ones that will swing wide open!

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Naivety

I didn’t know whether to share this with you as I don’t know if it’s in any way useful to anyone, but I had an little experience that I found encouraging so thought I may as well post about it.

I’ve been adapting Kill ’em in the Brain for television (I know adapting one’s own work might seem a bit pretentious but hear me out!). I had ideas for the theatre play that were more suited for TV so thought I’d use what I learned in the Adaptation module to transfer the story across mediums.

Someone close to me has been encouraging (nay, relentlessly hounding) me to submit a pitch for the screen version to TV networks. I kept trying to tell him that that isn’t how it works, you must first get a producer, and more than likely an agent before a network will take you seriously or even read your pitch. This dear person in my life told me I was full of excuses and that nothing bad could possibly happen if I just sent 1 page to a bunch of people. He pointed out that Orson Welles once said that naivety was his friend. Welles didn’t know how things were supposed to work, so he just proceeded in the way that it made sense to him, and we all know how that turned out! Simply so that I would no longer be pestered about sending in pitches, I mailed out my 1 page outline for the series to a bunch of people.

I got a reply from Channel 4 just three days after I posted my pitch, advising me on the correct steps to take.

Now, whilst I realise that their response wasn’t the news that they are commissioning my work, I find it really encouraging. Now I know that someone DOES read what you send in, unsolicited writer or not (despite what their website submission guidelines tell you). Not only that, but someone took the time to sit down with my piece of paper and contact me. This has resulted in me managing to at least worm my idea into someone’s office, and I now have a much more clear set of instructions on how to get a producer on board, and where to find one.

I just wanted to share this with you guys because I think that we can all do this (write for a living). I really think there’s something to be said for ignoring the rules and guidelines once in a while and going with your gut (or someone else’s actually….).

Happy typing!

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Major Project

Here we go off the deep end…

Everything but the Major Project has now been handed in, meaning we have around 4(ish) months to get this piece of work done and dusted. But once it’s dusted, what then? I’ll get back to that point later, but for now I’m going to share what the process has taught me so far:

Writing really is a craft and can’t be rushed, unless of course, you don’t care if it turns out to be of a low standard – and I could never bring myself to hand in something that I knew I could have done much better on!

PLANNING

So, one lesson I value is the principle of doing the work before you actually come to writing the script. So many times in the past I’ve started writing a script, only to come up against some seriously gnarly writer’s block about five pages in and no way around it. It’s always because of the simple reason that I just don’t know where I’m going with my story or my characters. Therefore, I don’t even know what my characters want overall, let alone scene by scene. Learning to identify my protagonist in the earliest stage of development by breaking the whole story down into five ‘beats’ has made for much an improvement. Stretching those 5 beats out into 5 paragraphs and then developing those 5 paragraphs into a 5000 word treatment isn’t as arduous a task as I first thought. I assumed that this part of the process would be boring and feel tedious at first, although I’ve found that this is the point in which I get to have fun experimenting with the fate of my characters. This is the right moment to play around with ending, inciting incidents, etc.

What I ended up with in my treatment was a fully, iron-clad world to base my characters in. Deciding the rules of my world, who was in it and how it worked at this stage has prevented me from getting lost in the drafting phase of my project. I won’t lie and say that this didn’t have it’s frustrating moments – each time I showed the work to someone new they asked me questions that I couldn’t answer. This of course meant that I’d have to set about devising the answers solidly before I could move forward, and I was really impatient to get started on the script itself! Ultimately though, this has without a doubt saved me a lot of time and trouble.

I was also able to identify what each of my characters wanted in each episode of my series, and started to evaluate what they would need/want in each scene from themselves in each other. Although I began focusing purely on my main protagonist’s (Rick) arc, I ended up spending an equal amount of time on the other characters too. Initially, I went into Rick’s story planning on using other characters as tools to get him from A to B. I quickly realised that I couldn’t do that. The other characters needed arcs of their own, they needed layers. The more time I spent on them, the more I felt that I’d be doing them an injustice if their characters weren’t as fully realised in my mind as Ricks was. They deserve to have their stories told too.

With the leg work done, I set about drafting my episodes. I planned out a 6-episode series, with each episode being 30 minutes. I assumed that it would simple be a case of transferring my treatment to script format. Oh how wrong I was. I encountered a whole host of problems straight away – my first episode was 10 pages short for one thing, even though I’d stuck rigidly to my treatment. There was far too much dialogue (I blame my tendency to write for theatre and my inexperience in writing for the screen on this!), not enough action and not enough description in terms of locations and what was actually happening. I found myself going “But.. but I stuck to the treatment.. how can this be?!”

I started from scratch to redraft that first episode, and think the result is a lot better, then I redrafted it again. I feel that I’m beginning for refine the problems now –

1) Pointless conversations – there were a few of these, and others that weren’t entirely pointless but I spent far too much chatty time actually getting to the point. When I redrafted, I went through all the dialogue and changed it until each character had an objective for the scene. I had to cut some of the jokes out, which bothers me, but I figure that it’s about the story, not how many laughs I can force into each scene. Besides, if the scenes are too long and tedious, no one will find the funny moments funny anyway because they will have passed out from boredom.

2) Is it funny? – This is a question that plagues me about my own writing. I’m writing a comedy series, so I guess one of the worst case scenarios for me as that my script isn’t funny. I’ve quite a serious theme to my project, and sometimes when I’m writing I forget which genre I’m in and start leaning towards drama. This would be fine, but the thing is, this show has to be funny. It has to be. I don’t want to write a serious show about death, memory loss, guilt or any of the things that upset me personally. In a comedic framework however, writing about these topics makes me happy and the work feels much more natural to me. As I go on, I find that I’m having to consciously think about this a lot less.. and the laughter seems to be flowing a little more easily!

3) Is there an inciting incident? – It wasn’t until my first draft of episode 1 was read aloud that it occurred to me that there was no inciting incident! There was no character development either, and nothing changed. The circumstances were the same for the world and everyone in it at the end as they were at the start. What I had effectively done was write 20 pages of little things I found funny, and ignored that whole thing of, you know, story construction.

Valuable lessons indeed! Below are links to my first two episodes, 1 is on a fourth draft and 2 is on the first.

The Appeal – Ep1, 04

The Appeal – Episode 2, 01

 

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