writing

6 tips for Writing Comedy from Script Editor

These tips for writing comedy come from Andrew Ellard, an English comedy writer and script editor who has worked on hugely popular British TV sitcoms such as “Red Dwarf” and “The IT crowd”.  In the video below, he’s giving advice about writing sitcom – but much of what he says will help us writing comedy of any type – whether in books, plays or for large or small screen.

Here’s a brief, non-executive non-summary of the main points in the video:

1. What makes a good sitcom character?

The main character should have a central flaw, a problem, of which they’re unaware.   (more…)

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typewriter, poem

Getting poetry published (3) in Poetry Magazines

Some excellent advice for new poets here, from Claire Askew, in the Scottish Poetry book trust post here.

1. Write lots of poems – Claire chose 41 poems to put in a book from an original pile of 150 poems.  That improves the quality of the chosen ones.  Also, when submitting to a journal, and waiting to hear back, you can’t send those same poems somewhere else so…. you need a lot of poems ready to send.

2. Best piece of writing advice she was given – “You can only have a first book, once”. There are literary prizes for a first poetry collection – so you want to wait until you’ve got a really strong first book put together.  Don’t rush into publishing too early!  Some famous writers have spent their lives trying to buy up all copies of their first book, to destroy because the style is so unlike their true voice (Norman MacCaig did this).

3. Get into the poetry community.  Claire got early opportunities because she met people in a writing group or someone heard her performing her poetry.  Join a good workshop group, go to open mic nights and perform, and hear about other opportunities through getting to know other writers.

Here’s one of Claire’s poems, set to video (the first 41 seconds are scenesetting, unsettling experiemental noises – you can skip ahead to the poem if you prefer).

 

 

creative pledge

Screenwriting Masterclass: Phil Lord and Chris Miller

Phil Lord and Chris Miller, screenwriters or producers on such diverse projects as “The Lego Movie”, “21 Jump Street”, “Cloudy with a chance of Meatballs”, TV’s “How I met your Mother” (3 episodes), “The Lego Batman movie“…. give a masterclass on screenwriting and producing.  They break it up really well.  So although they speak for 53 minutes, they’re worth hearing.

They have a relaxed way of presenting together, bring in some crazy fun but over and over again repeat that they’re obsessive about making every tiny part of their projects absolutely brilliant – refusing to settle for merely excellent.  As the presentation continues, and this is repeated, you realise that they are speaking truly.

Screen shot 2017-09-25 at 02.26.15They speak for under an hour – and then there is a further 30 minutes of questions and answers – which are good – so worth setting aside the full one hour and a half to watch in its entirety.  They are amusing, honest about early failures and difficulties and how they won through was – no surprise, folks – lots of hard work.  They write and rewrite and rewrite and tweak and rewrite, show to friends, rewrite.

 

 

Screen shot 2017-09-25 at 02.33.25

One tip which came across clearly was to show your script to other people – no matter who they are in the studio pecking order or whether they’re friends/family – they’re a person with an honest opinion – and as writer you should listen up, because you are too close to the project to see its flaws.  It’s humility – but it’s also good sense.

The two voices give variety to what is said, and there are plenty of illustrations and clips from their projects:

Along the way, they present their maths of working as a partnership:

half the money, twice the effort, twice the time = an output which is 1.3 times better!

They also lead the audience in a pledge to make work, and are adamant that all humans are creative, anyone can do the work they do but it is hard work, done repetitively.

What they’ve also learned along the way are, like all important learning, found through failure and near failure.  One vital lesson was learning to listen to other people’s feedback and recognise that making a film is a hugely collaborative venture.  Also, to recognise that even at the end, the film is actually ‘made’ in the imagination of the viewers.  And this is one reason given for really listening to someone/anyone who has an opinion on the work – because if they don’t get the story clearly, then likely the final paying punters will find it puzzling in the same way.

A film is about RELATIONSHIP not just CHARACTER.

This is a great insight – at one point, “Cloudy with Meatballs” was about a main character and a situation – it was funny but there wasn’t a real sense of involvement, until they made one of the characters the father of the hero – and the hero wanted to get his taciturn father’s approval.

Screen shot 2017-09-25 at 03.31.32If you want to be a screen writer, then watching this interview is a good thing to do – yes, it is long, but that gives enough time to talk pleasantly and with humour through the whole career process.

In fact, the whole series of “Genius” strand of masterclasses by BAFTA looks worth a checkout.  See them here.

BAFTA Guru screenwriting

Screenwriting Tips from the professionals

Ever wondered how other people write the scripts for films and TV? Here’s a 7 minute video of interviews with a range of awardwinning screenwriters, put together by BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) and without further ado, here it is….

Topics covered

  • What is your writing practice?
  • What do you do in a writing day?
  • Should you write about areas you know about from personal experience?
  • What happens during adapting a book for screen?
  • When do you let other people see what you’re writing?
  • Do you need any script when you’re improvising?
  • Advice for new writers?  (Keep going!  Watch films/tv which has writing you admire)

 

Writers Interviewed

John Morton (Twenty Twelve, W1A, People like Us)

David Magee (Life of Pi, Finding Neverland)

Joanna Scanlon (Getting On)

Ol Parker (The Best Marigold Hotel)

 

Quilt making 101

If you’d like a guide in making a quilt, let me introduce you to “atree3”, (Margaret Fabrizio) a fascinating woman with a passion for quiltmaking and a sense of verve about living life.  Lesson one: a couple of minutes with a camera moving about a bit much, but persevere – or jump to next video – it gets better.

(This covers the first 3 days of the quilt… deciding what to aim for, which fabrics to use…)

Next, in video 2, with calming camerawork, 2 minutes of deciding to just go freeform, (more…)

7 actions for beginning writers

I found myself writing this encouragement to a young writer approaching a course in Literature at University – but much of it is useful to any beginning writers:

1.  Believe that you are a writer already.

This is tough.  You think “But I haven’t had my first novel published!”  “But I haven’t sold my first filmscript…..” and the minute you say “I’m a writer” to other people, they will ask “So what have you sold?”  – which doesn’t help.

But being an artist and selling work don’t always flow together.

Van Gogh was a painter to his fingertips, worked hard all his life and only ever sold ONE painting, while alive.

2.  Because you are a writer, you can begin planning a writing career.

Think of what you want to have achieved in 5 years.

Aim for it.

Don’t just meekly do what will get you good marks in School and University.  People who only concentrate on getting a good degree come to the end of it and are still waiting for someone – a lecturer – to tell them what to do, to set them a writing project.  Actually, University works best if you’re already reading and practising the art and the uni course just gives you better skills, and a chance to meet likeminded people and discuss different ideas.

3.  Look at any opportunities you have to attend workshops, lectures, writing groups – and take them.

Any local Book Festivals or writing centre?  Any free workshops on a weekend?  Consider also volunteering to help out at festivals – your face will become known.

4.  Network.  Be pleasant to people, the publishing world is small.

5.  Write often.

If it helps to have a deadline or audience, consider what you could write for a friend/family member’s birthday.  Then give it to them.  (Helps you get practice in getting your work out there).

6.  Avoid writer’s block.

Listen to Audible recording of Anne La Mott’s book “Bird by bird” – it’s a series of interesting, constructive and easy to listen to, talks by her on how to write.  (Also written in her book “Word by Word” if you prefer the written form).  Her big theme is “write shitty drafts” – write down even really poor sentences, because you’re going to refine it later.  But if you wait to write perfect sentences in the first place, you don’t even begin, you freeze up with writer’s block.  The way around writer’s block is to lower your standards and keep writing.

7.  Get the reading list for the course you want to do at University.

Usually a library will have a list of set texts online or if you phone up.  Read those key texts yourself in your holidays now, before you go to Uni.  That way, you’ll have your own thoughts about them by the time you come to study them.  It will give you less reading work to do when at college.  Even if your plans change and you end up in a different college/course – you’ll still have read some great books.  And you will have some references to bring into your commentary on other books.  If you’re an older beginner writer and not planning to go to University – these books are still worth reading, to get a grounding in what is considered great (even if you disagree).

The absurdity of writing/not writing poems

If writing a poem seems absurd – still, why not?  Perhaps it’s equally strange not to write? Our encouragement to write, today, is from Nobel poet, Wislawa Szymborska of Poland

I prefer to leave early.
I prefer talking to doctors about something else.
I prefer the old fine-lined illustrations.
I prefer the absurdity of writing poems
to the absurdity of not writing poems.
I prefer, where love’s concerned, nonspecific anniversaries
that can be celebrated every day.

These few lines are taken from her poem, “Opportunities” – and a lovely example of her (more…)