Friday, February 15, 2008

Screen Academy Scotland [slight return]

Going back to school this method as guest speaker for the Research Methods module. I did the module last year as part of my screenwriting MA, and my research dossier got a mark of D4 - a high distinction. So the tutor's asked me back to offer some advice for this year's students on how to tackle this academic module. I found last year's guest speaker for this session extremely useful, so feel a responsibility to be just as helpful to this year's crop of students.

Afterwards I'm meeting a few of my former classmates at the Filmhouse in Edinburgh to catch up, see how everyone's getting along. Doesn't feel like I've made any great leaps forward since graduating in November, but I'm chipping away at my ambitions of becoming a TV drama writer. Seeking representation has proved even tougher than I expected, and nobody's in a rush to roll out the red carpet for some newbie writer with no TV broadcast credits - no surprises there.

Perhaps the hardest thing to reconcile is finding your unique voice as a writer while simultaneously being able to sublimate the voice, style and tone of a particular show. Producers, script editors and agents all want to see great spec scripts entirely of your own invention, as evidence of your distinctive writing voice. But if you do get work on a TV series, you need to emulate the show and fit in.

Experienced, talented writers are able to preserve their own voice while writing within the parameters of an ongoing show. For people like me, that's not so easy. An agent recently read several of my scripts - one radio, one TV, one short film. They liked my writing, but wanted to see more examples to get a better sense of me as a writer. Why? The TV sample was a trial script for an existing show, so it best demonstrated my ability to write for that show.

The radio play was the third in a series of five, so it demonstrated my ability to write for radio in the context of an overarching narrative with pre-established characters and locales. The only sample that demonstrated my voice as a writer was the short film script for DANNY'S TOYS. But that's shrunk to just 13 pages, not much upon which to judge the merits of a writer. So I submitted my two original TV pilot scripts, and await the agent's verdict.

In comics, there are two kinds of good writer. One is the creator, who invents brilliant concepts, characters and stories. The other is the developer, who takes those brilliant concepts, characters and stories - and improves upon. The developer extends and enhances, delves deeper into the characters, finds fresh narrative approaches to the core concept. Unsurprisingly, the creator writer is much rarer. But the developer writer gets more work.

Why? The developer works with pre-existing material, eliminating the difficult gestation period all new creations much go through. Developers help extend the lifespan of a great creation. Great developers can be plugged into almost any story, any concept, and they'll thrive. But creators are often only comfortable working on their own creations. They've got enough skill and craft to produce a decent script for somebody else's creation, but their talents are best employed on their own stuff.

I suspect I'm a developer, not a creator. I can create, but most of my work has come from working with other people's characters. It's why script editing and storylining appeal to me, because I can build upon solid foundations. I enjoy finding fresh takes and new angles upon familiar material. I don't need much to kickstart my creative jucies. Often research is enough. I'll find some obscure fact and that'll generate everything I need to build a story upon.

Alas, being a developer rather than a creator means I'm still struggling to find my own voice as a writer. It's an elusive thing, and I'm not convinced I know what it is yet. Some wise person once said that you can find your voice by studying what you've tended to write most often in the past - the kinds of stories. Mine tend not to be contemporary; I have to make a conscious effort to set stories in modern times. I favour bleak endings, thwarted love stories and tales of Pyrrhic victory. If you're a character in one of my scripts, things are likely to end badly.

Food for thought, and something I'm still mulling over in my noodle. What kind of writer are you? How do you stories want to end? Are you a creator, imagining whole stories, even whole worlds from scratch? Or are you a developor, happier building on pre-existing foundations?


far away said...

creator. deffo

Laura Anderson said...

I feel more like a creator - I never enjoy the exercses when you have to use other people's characters or setting as much as when I get to create my own worlds and characters...