Some Thoughts on Writing

Don’t know how much use this’ll be, but I thought I’d start putting down (up?) my thoughts on the writing process.

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This is where ideas go. Before they go wrong.

Everyone has their own process. Mine changes all the time. This won’t be a “how to” but rather an amble through the various things I do to get from blank page to polished script.  Yes there are “rules” I follow. Rules get me over hurdles. Once I’m over the hurdle, I’m free to break them. But they’re also like the teacher that stands over you and says, “You’re doing it wrong”. Annoying, but the sooner you realise they’re right, the easier your life becomes.

As David Ogilvy famously said: “Give me the freedom of a tight brief”

So here we go, in no particular order, this is how I work…

Or at least how I’m working now…

How to Beat the Blank Page…

…Well, don’t have one in the first place.

No, not a trite answer, despite how it sounds. The trick is to always have ideas. Always let the ideas flow. They’re like butterflies and you have to catch them. And then you have to squeeze them into little boxes to make them look pretty to other people so they’ll go “Hey that’s pretty neat” and not recoil in horror at the half-crumpled dead insect you have in your hand.

Butterflies
It’s not cruel if they’re just in your head.

Okay, maybe I took that analogy too far.

Let me explain.

An idea for a show or a movie usually comes in two forms – an image or a “what if…” It comes out the blue, WHAM, and suddenly you feel like you have A GREAT IDEA FOR A MOVIE/TV SERIES. You SEE it in your head, or you imagine a situation – and your brain quickly extrapolates it out – you think “I want to see that movie!”.

That’s your butterfly. Catch it.

Because that is EXACTLY how you want people to feel when they read about your show in the paper or online. You want them to feel the way you did AT THAT MOMENT. Because at that moment it IS a great idea for a movie.

Basically in writing you start with a brilliant, perfect idea then stretch it into 30, 60 or 110 minutes without fucking it up.

But a great movie or TV show needs to do lots more than just be one great scene or image. A great script has to do lots, lots more. But, you need to catch your butterfly and WRITE it down.

Yes. Have a notepad with you. Or something like Evernote. Or iOS Notes. Capture what you thought.

Have a notebook. Yes it's an order.
Have a notebook. Yes it’s an order.

Now you need to fit in the presentation case, or if the dead butterfly with the pin in it analogy is upsetting you, you need to create a lepidopterarium, or butterfly house, and yes I did have to look that up.

I’ll talk more about that in the next post… but in the meantime, here are the key takeaways.

  • Carry a notebook with you
  • Learn to recognise story ideas
  • Learn to catch them in as few words as possible…

Back soon
photo credit: Pencil, books, and notepad via photopin (license)

photo credit: Specimen via photopin (license)

How Do I Know I’ve Got A Great Idea For a Show?

You don’t.

Here’s the truth: No-one does.

As brilliant screenwriter and guru William Goldman once said – “No-one in Hollywood knows anything”.

People think they do otherwise they wouldn’t spend millions of dollars/pounds/bitcoins making what they’re convinced is a hit movie or TV show. They just wouldn’t. Every penny invested in making a movie or TV show is done so because someone thinks it’s going to make them lots of money.

You’ll have realised that “making lots of money” isn’t the same as “being a great TV show”.  And there’s the problem. Unless you have an idea that someone thinks is going to make money, it isn’t going to get made. This is true of publishing, theatre or any other form of writing.

So if no-one knows anything, how do you give your brilliant idea the best chance of getting made?

Well, here is the curious dichotomy of the creative world. And it all comes down to the following:

Originality vs Forecast

I’ll unpack that statement.

One one side, audiences (and producers and commissioners) love originality. Who doesn’t? A new character we haven’t seen a million times before, a new setting, a glimpse into a world that we have no idea about, a new moral lesson about the world we live in now, a fresh perspective. We yearn for new experiences. The novel (as in new) is exciting! If you are going to write – YOU have to write. You have to write AS YOU. You have to write ABOUT THINGS YOU CARE ABOUT, about places YOU KNOW ABOUT. Your job is to come up with brilliant new ideas and stories from your imagination. NEVER FORGET THAT. This is yours.

On the other side, if someone is going to lay several million pounds on the table to make a TV Show or a movie then they better have some idea it’s going to work.

How can they possibly know that?

Well, this is where formula and forecasting come in. And here are the main rules:

  1. Things that were well received before, stand a good chance of being well received again. (hence Sequels and Franchises)
  2. Movies and TV Shows that follow certain formulas and tick certain boxes tend to result in higher audience satisfaction and therefore viewing figures/sales (more on this in later posts)
  3. Movies and TV shows that can be summed up in a single line that makes the listener or reader SEE that movie/show (and like it) are more likely to get eyeballs in front of it. (just as you felt when you had your idea).

And the rest is marketing. Stars are marketing. Big posters are marketing. Don’t worry about that now.

So suddenly your best chance of success is to be both amazingly ORIGINAL and DEEPLY PREDICTABLE. Or, if you prefer, RELIABLE…

How?

It starts with the idea. The idea needs to tick a few boxes to even get of the starting block. Here is what it needs to do:

  • Post itself in a GENRE
  • Have a great TITLE
  • Give a sense of CONFLICT
  • Have a sense of IRONY
  • Hint at the AUDIENCE

In one line.

How?

For this one, I’m going to turn to the experts…. You can read about it here.