Monday, November 20, 2006

A moment of pause between tumults

Been a tumultuous few weeks. Things have been helter skelter since the middle of October and I haven't seemed to had time to focus on a single project. Frankly, I took on one too many things all happening simultaneously and struggled to keep the plates spinning. I thoroughly enjoyed BBC Radio drama lab over the past three weeks [more on that below], but spending two days a week at that stymied me from making much progress on other projects. I could do bits and pieces of work, but nothing substantial. For most things that was okay, but it's prevented me getting stuck into my next Black Flame novel. So I spent the weekend finishing off my much-delayed Phantom story in an effort to clear the decks. From now until Christmas I need to devote the bulk of my energies and times to writing the novel. Of course, that may be easier said than done.

TAPS have sent me the advance reading material for the TV script editing course I'm doing in London the weekend after next. I'll be away from home for four days, so that's another big hole in the writing schedule for the novel, but at least I've known that was coming and have done my best to work it into my schedule. No doubt there'll be other things that pop up over the coming weeks to distract me from the novel, but I'll simply have to find time for them as well. I've got another piece of assessed work for my screenwriting MA due on December 1st, a synopsis and step outline. The good news is I know exactly what I'm writing for that, so it's simply a case of doing it. The project I had been nurturing for the module has been set aside and instead I'm developing DANNY'S TOYS, an idea I pitched to get myself on the MA last year. That got a good response in class last Friday and I'm eager to do more with it, always a good sign.

I've also got a deadline on the mentoring project, but that's a case of reworking and improving the treatment I've already written. Again, it's a project I'm very happy with and about which I feel much more confident to develop further. Before starting the radio drama lab I was agonising over the story I'd started developing for the mentoring project. I'm so glad I decided to shelve that and move on to something else. It can be incredibly hard to know what to do when a project goes breasts vertical - is your writing the problem, or is the core idea simply not worth the candle? I'm glad I realised it was the latter in that case. As with DANNY'S TOYS, I feel I can stand up in a room full of strangers and confidently pitch the story I'm now developing for the mentoring project.

Now, before I plunge back into the Second World War where I'll be spending most of my time between now and Christmas, I thought I'd type up the last of my notes from the radio drama lab. It was a great learning experience and has completely re-energised my writing. The other scribes on the lab were friendly and enthusiastic, a real mixed bag of personalities and backgrounds, but all of us were eager to learn and supportive. The lab was a good place to be and some of the writing that emerged over the six days was simply stunning. We spent the final Friday listening to the scenes we'd written that had been recorded in a studio with professional actors the previous day. It was illuminating to hear what could be achieved in such a short space of time, and to analyse why some things worked well and others didn't.

Here are a few, final thoughts that emerged from the lab...

• Scenes need shape, as well as a beginning, middle and end
• Scenes have got to do more than one thing
• Every word, phrase and sentence is vital in shaping the audience's experience and their response to your story
• Does each scene have a clear, establishing image? Or are you using slow revelation, making the audience guess what's goingn on?
• If you're making the audience guess, you have to give them the answer by the end of the scene
• Make your characters distinct from each other via their voices and speech patterns
• Plays need stillness, movement, light, dark, silence, sound
• Radio drama needs contrasts, bother literal and metaphorical
• Make your central characters compelling, think about the detail of their lives
• Avoid flashbacks - it's much more interesting to see what people are doing now, rather than going backwards in a story to explain

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