December 2003

I had a comment on one of my previous posts asking how to start screenwriting, so I thought that instead of just emailing a one-off reply that would disappear forever into the ether, I ought to just write down everything that I’ve learnt over the last six months and post it up for posterity.

This isn’t a definitive guide to beginning screenwriting. I’m not even sure it’s the most useful guide on the net, but it’s my experience and you can take from it whatever is helpful and ignore the rest.

So, here goes:

First. Scour the internet for information on script writing and films. Download the scripts to films you particularly like and read them. Make notes from them – which bits worked, which didn’t. Read them whilst watching films and make more notes. There are loads of sites about film and script writing around, but here are some good ones to start with:

The Script Factory
So You Wanna Sell A Script?
Drew’s Script-o-Rama
Done Deal

Almost all websites have a links page, so you can follow the link trail around the web to your heart’s content, digging up useful wee nuggets and also, unfortunately, a whole load of tosh.

Second. Read books about script writing and story telling. Lots of them. As many as you can lay your hands on. There are a million and one books on screenwriting out there, but here is my pick:

Story, Robert McKee, ISBN: 0413715507
The Writer’s Journey, Christopher Vogler, ISBN: 0330375911
Writing the Character-centered Screenplay, Andrew Horton, ISBN: 0520084578
Screenwriting, Lew Hunter, ISBN: 0709054440
Making a Good Script Great, Linda Seger, ISBN: 0573699216
The Screenwriter's Bible: A Complete Guide to Writing, Formatting and Selling Your Script, David Trottier, ISBN: 1879505444
The Definitive Guide to Screenwriting, Syd Field, ISBN: 0091890276 (or anything else by Field)

(Note: All of these books have been recommended to me by one person or another, although I haven’t read them all. Some of them are on my Amazon wishlist, in case anyone should fancy rectifying that last point.)

A word of warning, though – don’t get too caught up in slavishly doing everything you’re told to do by the screenwriting gurus. Many people disagree with McKee, Trottier or Field, saying that they’re too formulaic and that to follow their lead too closely results in cliched and predictable films. Well, that’s one point of view, I suppose, but cliched and predictable films are really the fault of a cliched and predictable writer. The gurus do have useful points to make, particularly for a beginner, but always know your own mind.

Third. Learn formatting. The format of your script, i.e. the way it is laid out, is important – don’t think you can get away with using a non-standard format because the format police are out there, and they're going to jump on your head if you do the wrong thing. No, really. They will. They’re very pernickety.

Luckily, format is easy and you can find out the standards from some of the websites and books mentioned above. Or, if you’re lazy like me, you can use script writing software to do it for you. I’d say these are the three main contenders, although there are others.

Final Draft
Movie Magic Screenwriter

Personally, I prefer Sophocles, which just happens to be the cheapest as well.

Or just get a free Word or WordPerfect etc. template.

Scripters World freeware/shareware links list

Fourth. Join Zoetrope. It’s a great place to ask advice, workshop your scripts, to read and review other people’s scripts and to just meet up with like-minded writers.

Hm… I seem to have missed something out here… oh yes, that’s right, writing.

If you’re all enthusiastic, you’ll want to just plunge right on in and start writing your script. That’s what I did. When I started my first screenplay I didn’t have a clue about proper formatting, story structure, character arcs or archetypes. I knew nothing, other than what my instincts told me would work, so I’ve had to figure it all out as I’ve gone along.

In retrospect I’m not sure that’s the best way to start, and I wouldn’t do it again, but it worked ok for me at the time.

Ideally, you want to get yourself a small notebook that you can carry with you at all times. Every thought you have about your story, write down. Don’t assume you’ll remember it later because you probably won’t.

Work out your plot. This is where understanding the basic three act structure will help as it gives you a framework upon which to hang your story. Work out who your characters are, and how they change during the course of the story. Think about your broad themes and your subtext. What are you trying to say with your story? What message will the audience come away with as the closing credit roll?

Outline. Think about which actions your characters will take, what they expect to happen, and what the results really are. There should be a gap between the expectation of the character and the results of their actions. Think about the events that happen to your characters and how they react to it.

Put actions and events into order, (linearly or not), and once you’re happy with your outline, start writing the script proper.

Once you’ve finished the script, which should be between 90 and 120 correctly formatted pages long, sit on it for a bit and try to achieve some emotional distance from it. You need to be objective when you read it through and it takes time to detach yourself from it.

When you feel that you can now read it dispassionately, take your red pen and get to work editing and polishing.

Then you’re ready to workshop it on Zoetrope and get feedback from other writers. Remember that no reviewer is an all-knowing god, and some suggestions might be utter claptrap. Others might be painfully harsh, but valuable. Read your reviews like you read your script – objectively and dispassionately. You are not your script so don’t take criticism personally.

Rewrite, and repeat until water runs clear… oh, wait, that’s shampoo instructions. Anyway, yes, you get the message.

After that comes the whole marketing and selling thing which is still a mystery to me, so I’m not even going to go there. I think that the above is enough to be getting on with though.

If any of my screenwriting chums want to add their suggestions and advice in the comments, feel free. I’m no guru after all, just a wishful thinker who dreams in type.

Oh, and good luck. You’ll need it.

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2003 – I'm so glad it's over

by Suw on December 31, 2003

End of year reviews are normally all Top Tens and Best Ofs, which I tend to find really quite dull, suffering as they do from the effect of recency – the songs you remember as the best from the year have a tendency to be the ones you heard most recently. Instead, I thought I’d try to write something that has a bit more meat on its bones.

The year started off fairly well, I thought. I had a business, a place to live and a new guitar. Sorted.

January I met up with a whole load of fellow Elliott Smith fans in Manchester. It was Mike’s 40th birthday party, and 32 of us from the Sweet Addy community made the trek for what was to be (for me, anyway) the party of the year. People came from the Netherlands, France, Poland, Scotland, Wales, America, even Australia, although I think Cat was in the UK anyway so didn’t exactly come specially for Mike’s party.

I’d only met a couple of SAers before, but everyone turned out to be lovely. It was an amazing weekend – we sat up late, drank lots, talked lots and played and sang Elliott songs until the small hours turned into the slightly bigger hours.

The Saturday night was Mike’s proper party, with the band he’d put together playing four songs for the accumulated audiences of SAers, friends and family. I helped set up the PA, my past as a music geek coming back to help me, and as no one else seemed to know how to run the mixing desk, I ended up being Front of House for the night too. First time I’ve ever done that, and it was so much fun.

March 1, St Davids Day, fell on a Saturday this year, so Glenys and I went to the Groucho Club in London for the SWS (Social, Welsh and Sexy) party. It was a fun evening, but also a strange one. I met Lembit Öpik MP and Sian Lloyd, the weathergirl, and had quite a surreal conversation with them both. Still, it was a laugh, despite the outrageously priced drinks and the C-list celebs.

Later on in March my friend Andy arranged for me to go and take a look round Townhouse studios, as research for what was then my current novel (now SP2). The people at Townhouse were lovely, happy to show me round the studios and explain anything that I wanted explaining. For a few hours I was in bliss. It was like being a music hack again. Wonderful.

In April, on my birthday, I had a premonition that my life would change dramatically over the coming twelve months: I imagined that my business would become successful, I’d start paying off my debts and I’d relocate myself and my work to another – preferably warmer – country and start living the kind of life I’d always dreamed of. I intended to shake myself up a bit, make some fresh starts, have some adventures.

Well, my premonition turned out to be 100% accurate, but not for the reasons I had thought. I lost my business, I moved back to my parents’ because I could no longer afford my rent and I now have more than twice as much debt as I started the year with.

Much of the middle of the year, from May to August, was a tense time. The business was slipping away from me, I was frightened to answer the phone in case it was a creditor asking for money. I was scared to open my emails, in case someone was complaining that they hadn’t been paid. I knew what was coming, I saw trouble looming in January, yet everything I did to stave it off simply mired me deeper in the quag.

It was like those dreams you get when you’re lying in the middle of the road and a big red bus is coming, heading straight for you, and you have to get up, you have to run, to get out of its path, but your legs won’t work, your body won’t respond, it feels like you’re crawling through molasses and the bus is bearing down on you and it’s going to hit you and you wake up with jolt, your heart racing, glad that it was only a dream.

Except, it wasn’t a dream. And I didn’t wake up. When my business collapsed in August, I spent a lot of time thinking that the bus would have been nicer. I had to make the decision, then, to call it all a day, to move back to my parents place in Dorset, and start wrapping up the business as much as I could.

The following months were pretty bleak, but at least I didn’t have to be scared anymore. The worst had happened, and all I needed to do was regain my equilibrium and start getting on with the rest of my life. Amazing how difficult that actually is to do, though. I clung to straws and hoped that would be enough to get me through.

I am eternally grateful to a couple of people for the support I received from them during that time. They were willing to listen to me whine and whinge and cry, and they never once complained. Hopefully I can one day repay that debt in full and with interest.

In October, I left the country for New York, my first holiday abroad in 14 years. It was just superb. I am utterly smitten by Manhattan, it’s just the best place. You can see all the pics and read about the trip in detail in this post.

On 21 October 2003, Elliott Smith died. A beautiful man with the voice of a anxious angel, his music touched many people, myself included. Without Elliott, I would not have met some wonderful people. Without Elliott, I would not have started writing fiction again when I did. Without Elliott, I would not have started to play guitar again. Without Elliott, my life would not have been as enriched with beauty and harmony as it was.

I’m not sure that I’ve properly grieved for Elliott yet. It’s difficult, with little privacy and everyone around you telling you that you shouldn’t need to mourn someone you never met. I fear that one day I will have to shed the tears that I’ve bottled up, but it won’t be today. Instead I just remember how he looked in my dream the other night – happy, bright, cracking jokes and looking beautiful.

If you were inclined to, you could look at the last year as a disaster. Almost everything that could go wrong has gone wrong, and some of it quite spectacularly. But you have to put it into the context of the rest of my life and when you do that it becomes obvious that it’s far too early to say what the repercussions will be or whether this year’s events truly were disastrous. I prefer not to make a judgement call on this one just yet, but to wait and see how things develop.

Maybe it will turn out to be a stroke of luck. Maybe in a few years I’ll look back and say to myself ‘Well, if I hadn’t lost the business, I would haven’t have done suchandsuch and then I wouldn’t have met soandso and aren’t I glad I did!’.

Next year, though, just statistically, has to be better. I think it will. I think it is already – I have a lot to look forward to.

There’s the making of Nothing Travels Faster than Bad News with Vince, which will be a lot of fun. I shall have to learn a lot – how to act for one, how to use a camera and how to direct… and my lines, of course!

All that can only help my script writing which I am intending to develop over the next twelve months. Whether I can sell a script remains to be seen, but I shall give it my best shot and I shall keep on writing until someone pays me to stop. And then I’ll just carry on anyway.

Add to that my journalism course, which I started a few months ago but had to pause whilst I worked on some business related stuff. I shall get my teeth into that again next week, with the intention of restarting my journalistic career. I enjoy writing, and I’m good at it, so hopefully I can once again use it to make a little money. If I can get a reasonable and regular income from writing, I shall be a very happy bunny.

Then there’s the whole home thing. I am hoping to move out of my parents house – 32 really is too old to be living at home! – and relocate up north to either Leeds or Manchester. Obviously I need to have an income before I do that, but it’s something to look forward to. A flat of my own again. Oh, what bliss that will be!

There are other things too that I’m hoping will happen in 2004. Maybe a trip to Canada. Maybe I’ll get my head round Dutch at last. Maybe I’ll crawl my way up the blogosphere ecosystem a bit. Maybe… well, maybe a few other things too.

Whatever happens, it’s worth remembering that Talk Talk were right – life’s what you make it.

So Happy New Year! I hope you have a good 2004, that some of your wishes come true, that you find the willpower to keep your resolutions, and that the occasional happy surprise brings a smile to your face.

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by Suw on December 30, 2003

If snot were a national currency, I'd be rich beyond my wildest imaginings.

Sadly, it's not.

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Still here… just

by Suw on December 29, 2003

Still snotty, but now with added laryngitis and a nice phlegmy cough to go with it. I'm not so much coughing up sixpence as the entire GDP of a small South American nation. In notes. That leave paper cuts.

I'm bored of this lurgy now. Will someone please buy it off me? Just give me 10p by PayPal, and I'll gift wrap it for you. You don't have to open it or use it, in fact it's probably better if you don't, but I just want to get rid of it. All of it. And selling it is the only option.

Well, that worked for warts for a mate of mine when she was younger, so I don't see why it shouldn't work for the common cold.

Other than lurgy, Christmas has been really nice. Lots of family parties, lots of presents, lots of chocolate, alcohol and turkey. Lots of lay-ins. And still another week left before I have to go back to pretending to work.

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Oh, and one more thing

by Suw on December 29, 2003

Whilst I'm at it, can I please just clarify one thing. It's only a minor thing, but it's quite important, I think.

I am not Johnny Depp. This is not Johnny Depp's blog. Please don't email me thinking I am Johnny Depp, because I'm not. I'm the wrong gender, age and nationality, and that's just for starters. I do not know Johnny Depp, but even if I did, I wouldn't pass emails on to him. If, however, I ever meet Johnny Depp you can rest assured that I will blog about it here (shortly after I've peeled my tongue off the concrete), but don't hold your breath because as far as I am aware, he has no plans to visit the Arseendofnowhere any time soon.

Right, are we clear about that now?

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Thank you Secret Santa!

by Suw on December 29, 2003

Secret Santa's gift came today and I am chuffed as a small horse, particularly as I had been worried it would end up in Reading. 😀 Me happy bunny! Thank you Ben!

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Feeling Listless review of the year

by Suw on December 29, 2003

A few weeks ago Stuart from over at Feeling Listless asked me to take part in a retrospective he was putting together for his blog. Never one to turn down a request to write, I happily knocked out some replies to his five questions and sent them over.

Stuart's currently halfway through publishing the various responses he got, and I have to say that it makes for great reading. He's gathered viewpoints from some amazing people – writers, journalists, film makers, photographers, producers, actresses, singers, librarians, editors and bloggers, including familiar names such as Danny Wallace and Rebecca Blood. And in amongst all these fascinating people is little ol' me.

I feel both honoured and hopelessly outclassed.

Anyway, go over there right now and give it a look. It's a whole different kind of end of year review, I promise you.

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by Suw on December 27, 2003

Hope you're all enjoying the festive season! Just snatching a moment or two before another influx of relatives. I've eaten way too much food the last few days, in good festive tradition, and fear I may explode if I'm not careful to eat a bit less today.

Still producing prodigous amounts of snot, but at least feeling fairly chirpy.

Normal blogging service will resume just as soon as I can figure out what 'normal' is.

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Nadolig Llawen! Happy Christmas!

by Suw on December 24, 2003

Go stuff yourself with turkey, eggnog and Chrissy pud and have a wonderful Christmas!

Captain Sassy Pants (note: not Johnny Depp. Not the last time I looked, anyway.)

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Muji! Muji! Muji! Ra! Ra! Ra!

by Suw on December 23, 2003

Mum and I ordered some twenty quid's worth of Muji pens online yesterday afternoon. Last night I got an email saying that my order was ready to be despatched. And this morning – contrary to all assumptions about Christmas post being slow – it arrived in a hand-written jiffy bag complete with little sticker stars. Aw!! I love Muji!

Right… I'm gonna go and write my Christmas cards now with my nice new Muji pens.

(And yes, I know I'm slack. All the abroad ones won't get there til the New Year, probably, but at the end of the day I'm crap with Christmas cards and everyone who knows me should know that by now. At least this year they'll arrive before the end of January.)

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And the snotfest begins

December 23, 2003

My sinuses feel like they've been forcibly rammed full of mucous, which is now exiting my head through my right nostril only, in big green clots. My nose is burning. My head aches. Everytime I swallow my ears go 'clunk' as if bubbles are popping inside my head. Worse than that, everything tastes of snot. […]

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Happy Winter Solstice!

December 22, 2003

At long last, the shortest day, the beginning of the end of Winter. I look forward to the Winter Solstice every year, to the days starting almost imperceptibly to draw out in the slow run up to Spring. It’s almost like the true new year starts today, rather than hanging about for another week and […]

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Suddenly remembered celebrity cameo

December 22, 2003

Last night: Quentin Tarantino, sitting in a hairdressers waiting for his appointment. I was asleep in the bed in the waiting room, (fully clothed, though), and when I wake up there he is. He asks me what I do, I mumble something about being a writer and being interested in writing scripts, the hairdresser comes […]

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I appear to have a cactus growing in my throat

December 22, 2003

Pass me the weed-killer would you?

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Cruel weather

December 20, 2003

It's been sunny and dry for most of the week. Today, of course, the day of my friend Sarah's wedding, the weather is foul. We even had a short powercut this morning, which I suspect was caused by water getting in the works somewhere along the line. I'd been hoping it'd clear up by 11am, […]

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