Monday, 31 December 2007

Character and Conflict

Woohoo. Another year limps across the line, wheezing and broken. What have you done with me? Why are you leaving me? Don't leave me. We were friends.
Time to plan for the next. Hmmm ...
Hokay, I've been having a nose around the BBC and Channel4 submissions pages. Would very much like to share these top tips from Kay Mellor. In particular, I like her thoughts on conflict, and her references to the social worker.

*Make sure you know the world you are writing for. When I was first approached to write for Brookside I said no for five months until I was sure I could hear the Liverpudlian voices in my ears. If you are struggling to hear it, you are not ready to write it.

*Being a writer is the best job in the world but it is not easy. You must always be prepared to work hard and change things. I don’t find writing easy, I just work incredibly hard.

*Remember, the writer is God - it can be a complete power trip, but you must be proud to see your name in the credits and you need to work to earn this. Write who you want, where you want them and when – your job is to play with the characters and make them do and say what you want.

*You need to show that you are immersed in the world of the drama, in the characters. You must show a good sense of drama. You are either a dramatist or a social worker. If you are trying to fix tricky situations or solve confrontations then you are a social worker; a good dramatist will put things together to cause maximum drama, conflict and humour.

*I write down first of all what the central story is and then go back to add the detail around this. Working quickly can help make you concentrate on exactly what is the energy driving your story forward – the main drama. Always start with the building blocks before beginning to write the script. Follow the 3 act structure. Act 1 – establish what you’re going to do. Act 2 – how you are going to complicate this. Act 3 – the end, resolving it. This is the basic map of your drama. Also, you should always ask before you begin – what is my opening and what is my cliff-hanger? The opening has to be so dramatic that you keep your audience wanting to watch. This method can stop you meandering when you write and prevent big cuts at the end. It helps to have a map of where you are going - you choose the route - but you will need a map.

*The Greeks had it right in their storytelling: sunrise to sunset. The shorter the better. I like to compress time as much as possible and am always looking to do this – to tell a story over a day or a day and a night, rather than drag it out. The longer the time, the more problematic it can be.

*Make sure you know what your characters want from a scene - if they want the same thing then you don’t have a scene.

*Don’t be afraid to re-write, right up to the margin things can change if this makes the script better. You as writer are ultimately responsible for what goes on the screen, remember it is your name on the programme so if it can be better – change it.

*If you are writing for an established series, you need to be bold - to have a sense of ownership and authorship of the episode, to show your voice as a writer. Show originality and imagination in your episode - but don’t take it somewhere that makes it difficult for the next episode to be picked up.

*Never forget how smart your audience is – don’t underestimate their intelligence.

*As a writer and viewer I am greedy. I want to laugh, be moved and filled with a sense of anticipation. When I write, I write what I want to see.

*It’s very important for drama to be truthful and real.

*Use your acting skills, have empathy with your characters. Always put yourselves in the character’s position – don’t be the social worker.

*Comedy – don’t write gags. The comedy has to come from the characters.

*Make sure your script sparkles – remember you are working in a competitive market.

Other tips from the BBC's Writers' Room include some thoughts on characters:

*Involvement in a story depends on the characters through whom it is told. Whether the characters are heightened a lot or a little, they need to be recognisably human, behave in ways that people behave in life rather than in an artificial sitcom world, have personalities which will generate comic conflict and disagreement, and have tones of voice which are immediately and obviously theirs.

*When planning a new idea, the characters should come first and if they are the right characters they will arrive with their world attached. Don’t say: "Estate agents (or libraries, or dating agencies or undertakers) are funny, so I’ll set a comedy in that world and then people it."

*Think about the people first, give them histories, test them out in different situations where they are under pressure and see how they react, think about what makes them happy or scared or angry, write monologues for each character in that character's tone of voice, find ways of exploring them fully. Make the people authentic, put them in an authentic world and then find their comic tone.

*Your characters need to be strong, vivid and compelling. We need to want to spend time with them on their journey through your story. We need to care about them, engage with them and connect with them - particularly on an emotional level. We don't have to like them. But we do need to want to see what happens to them. So give them a journey. Give them a goal. Put obstacles in their way. Give them dilemmas to face and decisions to make. Make them an individual. Tell the story from their point of view. Make them drive the story forward from the very beginning rather than simply react to events around them.

Happy New Year to all the wonderful Maggot Farmers! Hope the new year brings you ever closer to success and fulfilment! And happiness.

More on characters and conflict:
And an interesting bit of musing from Maggie:

Saturday, 1 December 2007


I'm definitely a kinaesthetic writer. That's to say that, as another long and arduous editing session comes to an end, I find that I have a prediliction for descriptions of how my pov characters are feeling. They are cold or warm, or their nerves tingle, or their foot aches, or their eyes smart, etc.
So I've spent a little time googling for smells.

Here's a list of favourite smells. I've chosen this above many others because it contains all of the most popular smells that arose during my research. (I've italicised the most commonly cited faves.)

baking bread
blackberries cooking
blokes after they've been pumping iron
bonfire of leaves
clean laundry fresh from the washing line
cut grass
damask rose
earth after spring rain
fried onions
gorse on a hot Spring day
men's armpits (in China)
moss roses
new cars interior (leather upholstery)
newly hewn wood
newly mown hay
pineapple weed
rain on dust
spruce needles at Christmas
tarmac freshly laid
wax candles

Here's an exciting experiment:
Take any one scene that you have written, and insert one of the above smells.
Read it back and notice how the mood is affected.
Then repeat, inserting a different smell and observe the change.

Other popular smells include:

roasted/barbecued meat (and charcoal)
strong cheese
vinegar (red, cider, and white)

According to Eric Scheid:
'... Smells cause a greater visceral reaction, reaching deeper into the greymatter than sight or sound. Both sight and sound are so overloaded that we have evolved the ability to tune out a lot of noise and clutter. Its easier to provoke a response with a smell, assuming the scent is communicated.'

Here are some more cool lists:
World smells
Celestial Scentsations

Anyone have any favourite smells?
How about a list of unpleasant smells?