The workshop was a half-hour presentation followed by a Q&A. I didn’t make copious notes, but I thought I’d share what I’d scribbled down. As the presentation slides were bullet points, my notes are bullet points and so this post is bullet points.
– The script is a blueprint, not the final work. Things will be changed during production for any number of reasons, only a small amount of which you’ll have control over.
– Write what an actor can show. Their physical and verbal responses, not their emotional ones.
– Don’t direct from the page. Don’t write, ‘the camera pans left to reveal…’, because chances are you don’t know what you’re talking about and you don’t mean ‘pan’ at all. Let the director direct.
– You have ten pages to convince the audience this is a show worth seeing. Give them a reason to care, a reason to feel involved with the story, and hit the ground running. Back story and set up can wait until the audience have decided to watch.
– Show us who the characters are through what they do and how they react to situations. And when you have them react, make it something physical, have them take action.
– Know your story and know your world. If your script is set in a hospital, make sure you know how a hospital works. If it’s set in a world with magic, make sure you know the rules to your magic and you stick to them.
– Know your genre. Breaking genre tropes is fine, but be aware you’re breaking them and know how to use them properly.
– Keep the tone consistent. If you start off with a comedy, don’t suddenly switch to po-faced drama.
– Every scene should contribute something to the story. Chekov’s Gun, not Foxie’s Flowerbed.
– Your point-of-view character should be able to lead the audience into the world, introduce them to it and let the audience feel comfortable in it.
– The world-view of the POV character can be as weird and stilted as you like, but it has to make sense. There has to be a reason why your character views the world the way they do, and they have to act consistently within that worldview.
– If there’s very little in the POV character for the audience to quickly emotionally engage with, then give them a prop the audience can emotionally engage with. Ripley’s cat in Aliens, for example.
– The character’s journey needs to be active… They need to be getting off their backsides and chasing their needs/desires down. They needs to have flaws in themselves they overcome before they achieve their goal, need to encounter obstacles and face dilemmas.
– The characters and their relationships are bigger than the concepts you’re exploring. The characters need to be at the heart of what you’re doing/saying.
– Accept the fact that there’s only so many characters and so many plots. Whatever you’re doing has been done before. So, what’s unique about your telling of it?
– Dialogue needs to do at least two of the following: further character; further plot; or be witty. If it’s only doing one of them, get rid of it. If it’s only doing two of them, be damned sure it can’t do more.
– Poor dialogue only relates information. Good dialogue expresses character. It’s better for two characters to have lively, expressive dialogue that leaves the audience confused than to have leaden dialogue that keeps the audience in the loop. You can explain what happened in the next scene, or the one after that.
– Come into a scene as late as possible in the action, and leave at the very first opportunity. You don’t need to write a character coming into a room unless their entrance is vital to the plot or their character. Or is particularly witty, I guess.
I’m sure you’ve noticed by now that all these tips are designed to produce a script that neatly caters to modern Western fashions in writing. All this emphasis on action and stripping away of anything that doesn’t directly forward the plot. It’s the navigation beacon I’ve been trying so hard to steer my own writing away from.
The deadline for submissions is 16th July 2012. If I do submit something, I shall endeavour to be as plot-and-action focused as I can. I asked how tolerant they would be of non-plot-driving scenes and dialogue, and they answered something along the lines of, ‘Well, you can probably get away with it if you’re Samuel Beckett’. I’m not Samuel Beckett, and I’m not popular enough to be different.
As ever, though, I’ll write what I want to write and if I want to put a few flowers in there because they’re pretty, I will. If the BBC don’t like it, then they don’t like it. I’ll just backslide a bit towards that modern Western nav-point, let the butcher with the red pen have a bit more leash.