Monday, March 07, 2011

That window staring, brain storming, idea forming stage

Pretty much spent January and February writing non-stop. Think I had one and a half days off writing in the whole of those two months. When I discovered both my major deadlines had been met, I found myself at something of a loose end. Going from so much pressure to no pressure at all is kind of deflating. But I'm getting back on the horse, so to speak.

Right now I'm at that staring out a window and musing stage on several projects. That means a lot of brain storming, chin scratching and idle wondering, often with very little to show for it on paper or in pixels at the end of a day. After so many weeks going hammer and tongs to hit deadlines, bumbling about feels wrong - but it's crucial.

For example, I'm developing a new series pitch for CBeebies at the moment. It's an idea I've had kicking round since the CBeebies Lab last summer. Back then it was a name, a concept, a tagline - but not much more. Now I'm putting some flesh on this flimsy skeletons, figuring out what my show's really about, finding the heart of it.

My former Lighthouse TV writing tutor Phil Palmer argues that a great series has four things going for it: brains [intelligent writing]; heart [emotional depth]; poetry [distinctive wordsmithery]; and legs [potential to run and run]. I tend to agree with him, so I use a simple A-Z method for testing whether a new series idea has legs.

It's easy enough. I write the letters of the alphabet down one side of a sheet of paper. Then I devise with 26 episode titles, one for each letter, usually involving some appalling puns. [Examples from my current project include Nutty Professional, Yellow Tragic Orchestra, and Inane Clown Posse. I love excruciating puns to bits.]

Once I had enough episode titles, I use these as springboards to devise crude loglines for a plot that roughly [often, very roughly] fits the title. That helps me explore different aspects of my core cast and road-test my series concept. Is it robust enough to generate at least 26 stories? [26 eps tends to be the bare minimum for CBeebies.]

All of this takes time. There's no point rushing through the stages, you're far better to let such things bubble along at their own rate. If I get stuck, I switch focus to another project and let my subconscious do some heavy lifting in my absence. Even the simple act of sleeping on a knotty problem will often provide a great solution.

So today I will mostly be staring out a window, scratching my chin and contemplating how to turn Inane Clown Posse and Yellow Tragic Orchestra into exciting story ideas for children aged 4-6. Writing can be a strange, oddball kind of job sometimes. But I wouldn't have it any other way. Suits me to the ground, I have to admit. Onwards!

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