Moulders Lane

Writing a Screenplay: Finding Your Characters (2)

Some months back I had an idea for a screenplay that arrived almost fully formed. I wrote it all down just as it came, without doing any of the usual preliminary work, and, as you’d expect, stalled as soon as I’d run out of inspiration: without a foundation of craft, there was nothing to fall back on once the plot holes started to appear. I’ve written about the 12 stages of writing a script in earlier posts about a script writing workshop I’d attended, so, having begun backwards, I’m now going back to the start. In the hope, as ever, that my mistakes expounded will help you to avoid them yourselves, I’m going to use the screenplay I’m working on, as I’m working on it, as an example of how the scriptwriting process works.

Finding Your Characters

Alex – the hero

Mole – the band

(I initially just thought this was a funny, slightly pretentious, indie style name – but then realised that, as a creature that lives underground, the name would hint at the band’s emergence from an obscure indie background. Moles are also traditionally considered blind, which would be a nice Wodehousian ‘easter egg’ type reference to the theme of the film.)

The band is balanced at the point between their indie roots and backlash success. It took quite a while for them to get signed but their first two albums were Read the rest of this entry »

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Writing a Screenplay: Finding Your Characters

Some months back I had an idea for a screenplay that arrived almost fully formed. I wrote it all down just as it came, without doing any of the usual preliminary work, and, as you’d expect, stalled as soon as I’d run out of inspiration: without a foundation of craft, there was nothing to fall back on once the plot holes started to appear. I’ve written about the 12 stages of writing a script in earlier posts about a script writing workshop I’d attended, so, having begun backwards, I’m now going back to the start. In the hope, as ever, that my mistakes expounded will help you to avoid them yourselves, I’m going to use the screenplay I’m working on, as I’m working on it, as an example of how the scriptwriting process works.

I’ve already written about finding the premise and the move into the formal structuring of your idea that will lead to you producing a proper script; as well as the 10 questions you need to bear in mind, both to help you find your story and as a checklist as you work through the writing stages of your screenplay. The process of starting to work through these stages for my own screenplay has thrown up more information on my characters.

Alex – hero

(I initially wanted to call the hero ‘Johnny’ but he insisted on being called ‘Alex’, a name I didn’t really like for him. Eventually I realised that ‘Johnny’ was, of course, the roadie not the lead singer and let it go. I added ‘Turner’ to Alex, which made me feel a bit better about it, and then discovered that ‘Alex Turner’ was the name of the lead singer of the Arctic Monkeys. This sort of thing will happen to you a lot.)

 

Frontman and lead singer of the band; also plays piano.  Late thirties, tall, slim build, good looking with shortish dark hair with (slightly) floppy fringe, Read the rest of this entry »

The 12 Stages of Writing a Script – some examples

Some months back I had an idea for a screenplay that arrived almost fully formed. I wrote it all down just as it came, without doing any of the usual preliminary work, and, as you’d expect, stalled as soon as I’d run out of inspiration: without a foundation of craft, there was nothing to fall back on once the plot holes started to appear. I’ve written about the 12 stages of writing a script in earlier posts about a script writing workshop I’d attended, so, having begun backwards, I’m now going back to the start. In the hope, as ever, that my mistakes expounded will help you to avoid them yourselves, I’m going to use the screenplay I’m working on, as I’m working on it, as an example of how the scriptwriting process works.

The first stage of writing the script is finding and gathering material from the premise; and the second is writing your private log line. This is a few lines meant only for yourself which outlines the story informally. By doing so you check that the idea is feasible and that you like it enough to spend the months and maybe even years working on it.

The third stage is when you move into formal structuring of your idea that will lead to you producing a proper script: Read the rest of this entry »

12 Steps to Writing a Screenplay

Writing a Screenplay – 10 Questions to Ask Yourself as You Go Through the Story

When writing a screenplay, either by creating an idea on a blank page using the 10 questions from the previous post or by finding a premise, you need to test your idea and then work out the story through a series of increasingly detailed steps. By following the steps from a scriptwriting workshop below, you will end up with a first draft of your script that is not only easily achievable but based on the solid craft needed to make your story workable.

I’ve used the rom-com I’m working on to give you an idea of how the 10 questions work in an earlier post in this series; and I’ll be using this again for examples of how the 12 steps look and how to pitch your script, later on.

12 Steps to Writing a Screenplay

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Writing a Screenplay – 10 Questions to Ask Yourself as You Go Through the Story

 

The Craft of Screenplays – notes from a scriptwriting workshop

In finding a story to tell as a screenwriter you need to take a Socratic approach: the answer to your dilemma lies within you and your work, and you draw out the answers you need by asking yourself the right questions. The difficulty in screenwriting – as so often in life! – is knowing what questions to ask.

The series of questions below are those used by all screenwriters to start a story, although some writers will use additional ones to help create more detail. You can, and should!, also use them as you continue to go through the different stages of writing your screenplay, to check that these necessary questions have been answered in your script and to identify any holes in the plot. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’ll be using a rom-com I’m working on as examples, to help you understand the process and also to go back and fill in gaps I’ve found in my own work.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Craft of Screenplays – notes from a scriptwriting workshop

A screenplay is not a film; a screenplay is the template for a film

More than any other form of creative writing, writing a screenplay is about craft. It’s about 80% of what you’ll need to produce a script that will read true as a story, appeal to audiences and, most importantly, demonstrate to film-makers that you understand what they’re looking for and can deliver. In an earlier post I wrote about how I’d had an idea for a screenplay and began from the wrong way round, pouring my ideas into scenes and dialogue without any of the preparatory work. Once the creative ideas ran out the plot began to stumble and eventually got held up in the third act by my lack of solid craft.

The whole idea and craft of scriptwriting, and what makes it a craft, is that the screenwriter puts in intensive preparatory work before writing a single scene. The reason behind all this work is to unleash the power of the Story, so that your screenplay then almost writes itself – although often in ways you might not have intended or even like. (Pratchett makes this the theme of Wyrd Sisters.) The makers of Frozen spent months wondering why their constantly revised screenplay wasn’t working – before realising the ‘love angle’ the story wanted was the two sisters. And I found this out myself when a comedy I was writing about Second World War pensioners took an unexpected turn I certainly hadn’t intended – the story insisting on going where it wanted to. It gave the screenplay a ballast it had lacked before but I wasn’t sure how happy I was with this hybrid comedy/drama genre it had become.

Remembering my script – it was called Poppy Day and I became rather fond of all the characters as I went on – also reminded me that I’d taken it to a one day workshop run by Screen Yorkshire, somewhere between 2007 and 2009; and by great good luck I was able to unearth my notes from this after only a little searching.

There are plenty of excellent books out there on writing screenplays – the workshop tutor recommended Sequences: the hidden structure of successful screenplays which I haven’t read and Story which I found very good indeed – but I thought you might find my notes useful as an overview. I’m nothing like as up on all this as I used to be, so some things may have moved on since then, but the general tenets are bound to be the same. I’ve fleshed out the bare bones of the tutor’s advice with some thoughts of my own, backed up by examples of films.

Read the rest of this entry »

Writing a Screenplay – getting the idea

Real people and events can provide the starting point for your screenplay, generating a rich source of material for your fictional ideas.

 

One of the main things that musicians get asked about in interviews is the process of song writing, particularly ‘where do you get your ideas from?’ And their answers are, pretty much the same place I get my screen writing ideas from: little incidents or quirks noticed in the people or world around them that, to them, say song (or in my case, story).

I outlined an idea I’d had based on existing material, in a previous post, where a couple of scenes from the BBC Jeeves and Wooster television series and a Sweeran (welcome to the world of online shippers) YouTube clip had provided a modern take on the stories of P. G. Wodehouse. What you also might find interesting is how an idea gets worked out from scratch, where there’s no existing structure underlying it and everything has to be created by the writer.

I mentioned an idea I’d had over the summer, for a rom-com set in the music industry, in an earlier post. The starting point for this came from two YouTube clips, Read the rest of this entry »

Premise for a Screenplay – Jeeves and Wooster updated

Sometimes the hardest part for screen writers is finding the premise – here’s an idea for a Jeeves and Wooster update you might like to have.

 

As readers, dedicated and accidental, of this blog will know, most of my creative output takes the form of writing screenplays. I am never sure how worthwhile it really is to try and pursue this as a writing career as, lets face it, you can’t throw a stirrer in any Los Angeles coffee shop without hitting a screenwriter of some sort.

 

The competition is pretty stiff. And let’s hurriedly gloss over the fact that, even if you were to get your screenplay accepted and paid for, the chances are it will spend years in development before it actually gets made.  If it gets made at all.

The problem is I’m good at it: coming up with plot ideas, scenarios, dialogue and characters is pretty effortless. (I do struggle with getting all these into a coherent structure but this is the craft part that just needs to be worked at. Or I could find a writing partner and dump it all on them.) Out of all the creative writing genres I’ve tried over the years – and I’ve tried novel writing for many years – screen writing is the one I’ve found has the most comfortable fit with my abilities.

I mentioned my latest idea, a few weeks ago, in reply to a comment by Zanyzigzag – a sort of update for millennials of Wodehouse’s Jeeves and Wooster stories. I spent some time, one evening, spinning it out into a more detailed premise and it does feel like it could be a lot of fun. The difficulty is that the amount of background research required would be huge. This isn’t just a matter of in depth time on the internet, because the people the Jeeves character is based on rarely get interviewed and end up on YouTube. (Though it’s worth a look.) It means going out and interviewing these people, on the ground, and probably even spending time shadowing them, if possible, which is something I don’t have the time or resources for at this stage.

It seems a pity to waste the idea, though, so I was wondering if someone out there might like it? Read the rest of this entry »

Writing as Craft: lessons from musicians who made it

It’s easy to feel you aren’t getting anywhere with your writing – but studying other creative fields can put you on the right path.

I’ve finally accepted the idea of writing as a craft at which I want to be better, rather than as an Art about which I’m precious in a way I would find ridiculous in others, and it’s proved a major step in moving my writing career forward. The research I’ve been doing for my scripts has been the slow catalyst that’s created this epiphany: listening to musicians talk about the process of making music, and the way in which they work at it, has been very enlightening indeed. There are lessons to be drawn here that can benefit us all – it may be a different creative field but there are definite parallels with writing.

I certainly wouldn’t call myself an artist in the way that they are but I do feel I recognise a lot of the things they’re saying. And this recognition has been the key to the impasse. (This word is going to be used a lot in this article.) Some of the questions most often asked in music interviews are: when did they start playing, where do they get the ideas for their songs from and how do they write them. And the answers the bands give, are not only the same across the board but definitely resonate with me.

Most musicians say they started playing an instrument of some sort very early on and I’ve been writing since I learnt to write. They nearly all mention hearing a piece of music and feeling very strongly ‘I want to do that’. Substitute ‘reading a book’ and I’m with you there too. Ideas for songs can come from everyday incidents and interactions but the songs from somewhere unknown and the best ones pretty much write themselves. Likewise ideas for scenarios: you notice something unusual or read something random, or it can be even something someone says, and you think ‘that’s interesting, you could …’ – and you’re away, the thing generally unfolding without any effort on your part.

Read the rest of this entry »

Jane Austen: Brown Butter Bread Pudding Tarts

You might be asking, “Who has leftover cake?” and to that I say: good point.

Another delightful discovery – a beautifully presented blog by an American writer, who deftly combines the most delicious recipes with a company of famous authors and their tastes in food. The well written, gently humorous style reminds me of Miss Darcy’s Library or The Baker’s Daughter Blog: a very pleasant way to while away a late winter’s evening.

Paper and Salt

Jane Austen - Devizes Cheesecake

Even when you love to cook, there are those times when it would be nice to have just a little help: when you promised to make something for the office potluck but forgot to go shopping; when that dinner party you’re hosting sneaks up on you; when your in-laws you dearly want to impress are in town and all you have in the pantry are the three jars of peanut butter you bought before Hurricane Sandy.

Wouldn’t it be easier to live in Jane Austen’s world, where you could hand off such tasks to a very capable cook? Remember poor Mr. Collins in Pride and Prejudice, who, when asking which of the Bennets had prepared the meal, “was set right by Mrs. Bennet, who assured him with some asperity… that her daughters had nothing to do in the kitchen.”

Like Elizabeth Bennet, Austen wouldn’t be caught dead with a roasting pan—but…

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