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Wednesday, June 03, 2009

And Now For Some Positive Reinforcement

Mr. Will Dixon's got a great little post up on his blog, talking about the process of writing and the pain of the first draft and how it all comes together.

His piece de resistance, however, is a brilliant video clip from a U.K. show I'd never heard of called 'Screenwipe'. I'm going to swipe it a bit and post it here (with extra special thanks to Will for pointing it out - I've got a whole new series to look into!).

There's a little scene in the show, it starts around 6:01 or so, where Charlie Brooker says "One common thread that seems to connect all the writers we've spoken to so far is that, at various points, they felt like they were a fraud or that they were about to be found out."

He doesn't even get the question entirely out before Russell T. Davies jumps all over it. "Oh yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah! Always and now. Exactly. But everyone feels like that, it's no secret".

But, you know, there's something re-assuring in that statement. Something about watching a writer I admire admit that he feels like a total fraud sometimes...

It's a weird thing, writing. We spend so much time sort of writing alone, in this bubble without anyone in the industry - even the people running the show - knowing what the hell we're doing.

William Goldman famously wrote "Nobody knows anything"... and really, the more time I spend learning about this industry, the more those words start to ring true. It leaves a cloud of uncertainty hanging around the whole thing, creates an environment where people who've managed to break in and stay in are looked at as geniuses and modern magicians. All as we, on the outside, stare on, wondering how they did it. (No wonder the most common answer to that 'how'd you break in?' question is 'I dunno'.)

The one common thread that I've found is that no one really understands why or how it works for them. There's no scientific formula for a script detailing if it'll make a hit show (unlike music) and there are so many possible variables that it's really quite impossible to predict.

See, at least in building a house you've got Math. You've got the laws of Physics - tangible, predictable, real-world effects. You know that if you build an arch of such and such size, of a specific material then it can support a certain amount of weight. Every time. You can make allowances for the effects of decay and gravity and, hell, earthquakes.

In writing, the basic theory is that all you have to do is tell a story - and if that were true, there'd be a whole lot more happy writers out there, I'm sure. But the whole concept of what a 'story' is is subjective at best. Let alone if it's a 'good' story.

I mean, technically, as long as it has a beginning, middle and end you've got a story - just as 4 walls, a floor and a roof give you a house - but is it a 'good' house? Is it stable? Will it last? Will it warm you and protect you? Does it look like something you'd actually want to live in? Writing's very much the same - it's in the execution - is the dialogue wooden? Is the pacing shit? Is the whole thing a massive cliché? Is it funny/scary/dramatic enough? Will your intended audience like it? Will the network like it? Will you ever write anything ever again or slip into a depressive, drug-fuelled, neurotic morass?

No wonder the people who've managed to make a living in the business seem just happy to be there.

As for me, I think my next goal is to try and focus on finding that one grain of an idea that gets me excited for a story - no matter what the concept is. Because the closest thing I've found to a 'truth' in this whole shebang is that when you're writing about something you love, your end product just seems to glow. And since one of the hardest things to do is to find that grain - to uncover that unabashed sliver of child-like joy, no matter the circumstances - it seems like as good a place to start as any.

That said, I'm going to try dusting off an old feature from the early days of the blog: The Writing Challenge.

For those of you that don't remember (or weren't around when it started) the writing challenge was a neat little way of making sure I plunked my ass down and got to writing something every day - a self-imposed deadline on a self-imposed project. It was meant to help take the sting and self-flagellation out of writing and help to focus on the stuff you enjoy.

The idea was that you are encouraged to go anywhere you want with the idea, take it as far as you can and have FUN with it. There are no set themes or limits except those asked for by the challenge.

You don't have to share it with anyone but yourself (perhaps the one true freedom/joy of writing for you) but I'd hoped it would springboard us all into exploring new ideas or avenues or types of characters that we might not normally try.

Writing Challenge Reboot - Challenge #1:

Format: Screenplay
Deadline: 1 Week
Length: 5 pages
Challenge: Write a 5-page teaser intro for a show you really like but have never written. If the show doesn't have a teaser, write the last 5 pages leading up to the climax of the story.

Optional Bonus: Write the death scene of your favourite TV character.


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