Lucy at Write Here, Write Now has been saying some nice things about my spec script THE WOMAN WHO SCREAMED BUTTERFLIES. I've even had a couple of requests from people wanting to see the script, so spent the past couple of days giving it a polish. Mostly it was just tidying up a few moments, but give me the chance to add a new start and tweak the finale to reflect that.
Most of the things I write are commissions, not speculative. I'll be invited to pitch for a novel or an audio drama or other opportunity. I've got my bread and butter jobs, things that tick over by themselves [with a little careful nurturing]. It's not often I've got the time, cashflow or creative head-space to step outside my normal work and write something purely speculative. Plus I tend to need the motivation of a deadline to overcome initial inertia.
THE WOMAN WHO SCREAMED BUTTERFLIES [TWWSB hereafter] came about because of the BBC opportunity called Sharps. Submit a 30-minute original drama about 'the nation's health' and you were in with a chance of a week-long workshop, all expenses paid and even a little cash for your time and trouble. Deadline was only about a month, but if you can't create a 30-minute original script in that time you shouldn't be pursuing a TV writing career.
Can't remember where I got the title for TWWSB. I know it was some time ago. I did what I always do with strange words, odd phrases and possible titles: write them on a post-it note and stick that on the wall. You never know when they might come in handy. So it proved with TWWSB. When I heard about Sharps, I pondered what sort of story to tell. One thing was clear: the BBC didn't want any literal, precinct-based medical dramas. Cool.
My best writing tends to arise when I'm developing a story for its own sake, rather than second-guessing what others want. Every writer is unique, so the sooner you embrace your own unique voice, tell the stories only you can tell, the better. I decided my Sharps entry would be fly in the face of expectation. Not that I was trying to shock, but simply that I wanted to create a story that was special, unique. [Hmm, is that hubris I smell?]
I read somewhere that the purest kind of creativity happens in short bursts. You engage the unfiltered side of your brain, let loose with whatever lunacy bursts forth. You can always worry about organising it into act structures and turning points later. So I employ a splurge method when developing a new spec script. I write single sentences and phrases, one after another, whatever comes to mind. Fast as I can, just let inspiration flow.
Not everything that hits the page is worth keeping. More often than not, it'll be in the wrong order. Bits of backstory will pop out in the middle that have no placed in the finished plotline - they might inform the narrative, but never need be mentioned. But from this one or two page splurge a story will emerge, wild and umkempt, a tumble of words and images.
After that I step away from the story. Give it time to think about what it's done. Let the subconscious and the other, more organised side of my brain take hold of the tale, mould and shape it. When I'm ready to engage the story once more, it's time to find what works and what can be discarded. What needs further development and what stands up on its own. DANNY'S TOYS went through this process, and it's proved one of my best-read scripts to date.
TWWSB is another beneficiary of this scattershot methodology. I've no idea if the script will ever get any further than the printed page, but I'm proud of the results. It didn't make the cut for Sharps, but I'm hopeful of getting some feedback, seeing what readers at the BBC had to make of its fractured style. The good news is I've got an idea for a feature that stems from the same odd portal in my brain. Now it just needs to be nurtured.