Sunday, 23 May 2010

Steve Wetton - Writing for Television

This was the second of the summer workshops organised by Nottingham Writers' Club. It took place yesterday and, once more, was very good value for money.
Steve is an experienced scriptwriter who has had his own TV series and has lectured at university on the subject. His tutoring style is relaxed and everyone was made to feel at ease. There were no problems in encouraging people to join in the interactive exercises. The advice that he passed on is essential for anyone thinking of submitting material for TV.
Steve has also very generously offered to review one 30 minute script from each of the attendees if e-mailed to him over the next few months.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Garbage He Wrote - even more trials of being an aspiring writer

Scripts He Wrote

My interest in the BBC as a possible target market developed from their 2004 End Of Story competition. I didn't get anywhere in it but it made me think about other things I could throw at them.

What else could I try? How different would it be to write a script rather than prose? I decided to give it a try. I know! I would write an episode of Dr Who. I would base it on a story featuring Isaac Newton (my interest in history coming to the fore again). I came up with what I thought was a clever little episode which involved some reference to actual events and which required a few special effects. Had I been aware of the BBC Writers' Room website at the time I would have known that they do not accept, or even bother to read, unsolicited scripts for existing programmes. Something to do with legal reasons and potential copyright problems. I did receive a nice letter from a member of the drama team explaining this.

On the face of it, this would appear to have been a complete waste of time but I don't regard any writing exercise as entirely fruitless. There is always some benefit to be gained. I look on it as an exercise in creativity combined with mental therapy.

As it happens, around about this time, I made friends with another aspiring writer. She had just written a murder mystery and was in the process of producing it with a local amateur drama group. I went along to watch the performance and was at once hooked. I already had a couple of ideas and immediately set about digging out my notes and preparing the script. On to the Writers' Room site for the BBC guidelines and address and off it went in the post. The thing about sending stuff to the Beeb is that within a few days you get a little postcard from them informing you that they have received your work. It even has the title of the piece typed on the address label so at least you know they've taken it out of the envelope and someone has taken the time to look at the top sheet. I bet Galton and Simpson didn't have to go through this but it makes you think that maybe there is a glimmer of hope there somewhere. Or is that just me being pathetic? There are probably hundreds of people doing exactly the same and getting their little postcards through the letterbox. After the excitement of the postcard it is actually several months before the rejection letter comes through the post. I was already prepared for this and immediately whisked off my next attempt.

Both of these first efforts were hour-long single dramas but for my third try I decided to have a go at a sitcom. I had just been made redundant from a local factory and had come across several interesting characters in my five years of working there. Their attributes ranged from humorous, bizarre, grotesque, eccentric, crusty, cynical and dim. I pitched my synopsis as breaking away from the standard domestic comedy and focussing on both the conflict and collaboration of management and workers in a working environment. Sound impressive huh? Apparently not according to Auntie Beeb. My postcard collection grows.

Not to be disheartened, I discovered on the internet a competition run by a renowned amateur theatre company. The requirement was for a one-act play lasting 20 to 30 minutes. Inspired by various TV ads, I soon came up with a little piece set around a supermarket checkout till. Intended to be a comedy drama, the action was based on the shooting of one of these advertisements and involved dialogue between the actors playing staff and customers as well as those playing the television production team. The plot incorporated a little twist at the end, delivered in the final line of the play. I called it Supermarket Creep, as a witty parody of the old Dale Winton programme, Supermarket Sweep (how do I think them up?). Over one hundred entries were received apparently from all over the world. I didn't make the top five but I still have the script on file, ready for any other similar competition. Nothing is ever wasted.

Another example of how things can develop is when I heard of a competition for a ten minute play. I came up with what I thought was a witty little thing, with a cast of two, about Hitler in a shop. But when I read it back it was barely three minutes long. Undaunted I thought it might make a decent comedy sketch so I tweaked it a little bit. Then I thought maybe it could be done with just one actor. Eventually I had ambitions for it to be done on radio, a bit like those one half of a conversation routines that Bob Newhart used to perform in the 1960s. It is still on file waiting till I have enough for a half-hour show.

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Getting Involved

I spent some time last week doing research for a local project. I was helping an arts organisation who specialise in community theatre events and create performances about the local history. Last year we did a couple of plays. First about how a housing estate had been built in the 1950s and how the community had developed over the years. Later we performed at a school which was closing down to become an academy. We showed how the school culture had changed over the years. It was interesting to see how information from interviews with residents, pupils and staff was used to create totally fictitious stories while still getting the information across to the audience. These plays were both informative and entertaining.
It is worth getting involved with things like this when the opportunity arises. I learnt from professionals how these productions are put together and how to weave a story around a set of facts.
Grab these opportunities when you can.
And today's quote is:
Creativity comes from a conflict of ideas.
Donatella Versace

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Garbage He Wrote - more trials of being an aspiring writer

Short Stories He Wrote

In the middle of writing what was intended to be my d├ębut novel I began to have self doubts. Not an unusual human condition I don't suppose but I wondered if there was anything I could do to suppress my uncertainty. The cavalry arrived in the shape of Trowell Writers' Trust, a group based just a mile down the road from me. The first year I entered their 2000 word short story competition with a tale set during the Indian Mutiny and based upon a newsreel I remembered seeing on Blue Peter during the nineteen sixties. It appealed to my interest in history and was awarded third place. The next year I got first for a story about a race between two milkmen. Encouraging stuff!

2008 was a bumper year, getting a second at Trowell and another second in the National Association of Writers' Groups (NAWG) short story competition. Towards the end of that year I also wrote a story which ended up with second place in the Writing Magazine short story competition. Three seconds in one year. Surely the big breakthrough cannot be far away? Buoyed up by this moderate success I pressed on with my novel but continued to build up a collection of short stories and looked around for possible outlets for them.

Some competitions give a critique to all entrants. Others offer feedback for those that pay an extra entry fee. It is worth looking out for these if you require professional advice. The amount of information you get back is limited but you can get some useful pointers from this source. And if the comments are favourable, the boost to your self-esteem is incalculable.

Apart from competitions, the obvious market appeared to be women's magazines. In recent years a few of these publications have reduced or completely abandoned their fiction content but there are still quite a few out there to pitch for, especially if you extend your scope worldwide. The essential course of action here is to actually read a few of your target issues and gauge the sort of thing they are looking for. Most of them will supply you with a copy of their guidelines. I am my own severest critic but I'm sure my tales are just as good, if not better, than most of those that appear in these publications. Yet the rejection letters continue to fall on my doormat as regular as double glazing flyers. Is it because I'm a man? Ooh! How could I think such bitter thoughts?

A friend I had met on a language course was also an aspiring writer and she had a few other friends who had similar ambitions. She had the bright idea of getting away for a few days to some secluded place so we could be creative with no outside distractions. So we ended up, six of us, in a remote cottage in Derbyshire armed with notepads and laptops. For my part it was a productive week. I managed to complete a 4000 word ghost story (which is still seeking an outlet unfortunately) and do some work on a couple of scripts I had in mind. My friend, who had already had one of her plays performed by an amateur group, was working on another script. Halfway through the week she roped us all in to do a read-through. It was an interesting exercise for me and a source of constructive feedback for her. Having other like-minded people around meant that there were plenty of sources of advice and criticism. All-in-all it was a week well spent and I would recommend it to anyone.

Blogs are another source of advice and assistance. Many authors who have been successful in the feel-good fiction field freely offer their invaluable advice. I find this quite moving. These people (mostly women I think) are actually volunteering the benefit of their knowledge and experience to potential rivals. Again, the necessity of persistence is raised. Tales of stories being revamped more than ten times in order to make them suitable for various publications are related. My collection of rejection letters grows by the month.

Overseas markets seemed to be worth a look. A few British magazines have foreign equivalents, the main areas appearing to be Australia, South Africa and the U.S.A. And remember, the Irish Republic, English speaking and not so far away, is also a foreign land. Fortunately some of these are now accepting e-mail submissions which makes life easier (and cheaper). An American site I found is asking for stories of up to 5000 words so I managed to run up a couple of yarns in a week. A few weeks later I got an e-mail back informing me they have been read and considered but at the moment space is at a premium. Is this good news? The normal reply is 'unfortunately this is not quite suitable for our requirements'. I'm willing to clutch at any straw of encouragement.