Welcome to my Script Advice Blog.
I set up www.scriptadvice.co.uk because as well as producing and script editing drama, I also write myself and I can sympathise with the problems writers face.
Most writers do not have an approachable, professional, experienced source to call upon if they are struggling with a script, overwhelmed by an impending deadline or in need of a fresh in put of energy and ideas. www.scriptadvice.co.uk is here to give you the writer professional help in a personal, constructive and enjoyable way.
On my website, you will find script editing services, treatment writing, my script report service and various ways in which I can help you with advice and give you my professional opinion on your work in progress. Services
I also offer workshops in various disciplines associated with writing for television and writing in general. Workshops
I have a long(ish!) and varied background in television drama production, both from a Script Editor point of view and that of a Drama Producer. I have also worked on some of the key long-running dramas that still command big audiences today; notably EASTENDERS, CORONATION STREET and HOLBY CITY. In my experience, working within the ‘factory’ atmosphere of these big shows can be incredibly exciting and there is usually a productive, positive environment in which you are expected to perform at a high level of proficiency and efficiency. If you have to learn anything about your particular craft, be it Script Editing, Storylining, or writing for a long-running show, you must fill in any gaps fast! So when I am asked how I got into television and what is the best way for a writer to break into it, I usually turn their attention to the long-running dramas and the opportunities these programmes offer a willing, eager writer. However, there are pitfalls to joining such a fast-moving, deadline-crunching, storyline eating machine that are most of the quality series currently on our screens; and below I have outlined just a few of the more salient points to keep in mind when thinking about working on a long-runner/series/soap.
I also want to take this opportunity to introduce you to George – the ever-positive jobbing writer who has bags of energy but lacks experience – in creating her, I hope to illustrate how to avoid the worst and enjoy the best moments in working on a soap.
WRITING FOR A LONG RUNNER
Many of the leading showrunners today who started writing Soaps and series television see Soap writing as an invaluable experience. So how do you get on to a Soap? What is a story conference really like? Here I hope, I take the mystery out of writing for Soap.
Very few programmes ever reach the Olympian ratings-heights of our much-loved, much-discussed Soaps. Having spent a large proportion of my career as a script editor and producer making them, I can honestly say that apart from a memorable shopping frenzy in Marlylebone High Street back when I had an empty new flat to fill and a concrete credit rating, I have rarely enjoyed myself more.
However, Soapland can be an unforgiving place and an inadequately prepared, wet-behind-the-ears writer can come a proper cropper if he or she is not careful. Which brings me to George. I would like to take this opportunity to introduce you to her. She is an optimistic, enthusiastic would-be writer of Soaps. The experience of her first story conference appears below. It may whet your appetite for your own experience or put you off entirely. I include it here in the hope that it’s the former.
A DAY IN THE LIFE OF GEORGE – JOBBING WRITER
10.00pm – my flat SE London – night before first Story Conference on Westenders.
Well, sleep is out of the question. Had loads of good intentions. Only allowed myself to watch telly till 9.30pm so as to factor in a wind-down half-hour before I got into bed. Even pressed the mute button when the adverts were on to avoid over stimulation. Hot milk (which really is horrible) and ear plugs in case the tramps living in the bin shed decide to rearrange their furniture again in the middle of the night.
No, I really can’t sleep so just to be really, really prepared, I’ll go over again the list of my story suggestions. I am so glad I invested in black, sleek notebooks for the occasion – makes just the right impression and that I decided to ditch my gonk pen in favour of a no-nonsense Pental. The joy is in the detail someone once said and I couldn’t agree more.
It’s important to bring a balance of story ideas to the table and I want to be as punchy and topical as possible. Westenders is an issue-based Soap and I really think impotency is a grade A issue and just right for the show’s heart-throb to get his teeth into. And I think the producers and script team will like my ironic twist – a torrid love affair between the oldest characters on the show – neatly portraying rampant geriatric sex in stark contrast to the lack of rampant in the trousers of the show’s biggest sex symbol.
Check I have the Story Conference Document they sent me with all the characters, family groupings and storylines up to the present. Very important. Decide to put it in the bathroom so I will see it when I’m cleaning my teeth first thing. Right. Lights out. Night Night.
8.30am – Bedroom. SE London
Cannot believe it. Alarm went off an hour and a half ago – I know I turned it off because I wake up upside down on my futon with the alarm buried in my armpit. Fly out of the flat and managed not only to catch the train to Elstree but also bag a seat. The inside of my mouth feels like a woolly jumper. Should’ve cleaned my teeth at least – it is then I realise I have left the Story Document in the bathroom.
9.30am – Elstree – Production Offices of Westenders
Am bowel-churningly late. I fall in the door of a room with a massive table around which sit what appear to be hundreds of serious looking people (but is more like 12). A young man with a lot of lip jewellery is in full flow. There’s a fair bit of note-taking going on and an air of a Pitch In Progress. I know I have ruined his timing by his white-hot look of undisguised venom.
I am no longer in control of my facial muscles. I think my expression says sorry but am sure it looks more like cystitis. The woman in designer specs at the end of the table represents my whole future in telly right now. She is the Producer and liked my spec script The Vagina Dialogues. I smile at her in what I hope is a mature, woman-to-woman way. She doesn’t respond to my stammered apology. It’s hardly English anyway. I seem to have a lot of saliva in my mouth and I keep swallowing like a bullfrog.
I take the remaining seat and die another death when the leather makes a farting noise as I almost fall into it. My bag, I discover, contains my purse, half a browning apple and my pink gonk pen. I borrow a Bic from the woman next to me and snatch at a pile of A4 like a drowning person.
2.30pm – Story Conference – Mid Pitch
I am aware of an insistent voice, high-pitched, breathy, going on and on. My internal sensible voice is saying ‘some-one ought to tell that woman to shut up’. Horrified, I realise the irritating, scratchy monotone belongs to me. I finish pitching my impotency storyline damply, in a whimpering rush. The Producer, flagged on either side by the Series Script Editor and the Story Editor forms a rocky Easter Island profile.
The Producer tells me something that seemingly everyone else around the table knew. Rod Kant, the show’s buff star, has recently had corrective surgery and any storyline focussing on penile dysfunction would be seen as insensitive and grossly inappropriate. As an added body blow, the Story Editor (who, by the way is horribly young and self-assured) informs me that the show’s demographic would not consider 70-year olds having sex a good thing. I attempt to salvage my dignity by telling the assemblage a far too personal story about my grandma and her robust sexual drive thus achieving instead, full frontal, unequivocal Death By Story Conference.
10.00pm – My Flat, night after first Story Conference on Westenders
All in all, things could have gone better. I am not totally down-hearted. I came up with at least five great story ideas on the train coming back and the Nice Script Editor that got me my meet with The Producer told me to keep in touch. Tomorrow is another day and I shall fire off my best story idea to the office asap – a clever twisting tale that ties in two normally opposing themes – murder and true love in a soapy package just right for Buff Star and no mention of his genital problems. Happy Days!
George is not entirely fictional; everything that happened in her day has happened! So how could she have been better prepared?
TIPS ON HOW TO WRITE WELL FOR A LONG RUNNER
* Watch a lot of television
It may sound obvious to say this but I would recommend you watch a lot of television before honing in on a Soap-writing career. Most people engaged in the all-consuming task of making Soaps are usually pretty much addicted to the whole process of storytelling and cannot get enough of television drama across all genres.
It’s a highly competitive business, generating storylines, and a producer worth their salt is aware of the storylines being covered by their rivals and are obsessed with the task of generating better storylines to appeal to more people. They will love you to bits if you can aid them in this process.
* Have strong opinions about the characters
It’s hard to be a shrinking violet in Soapland. As a writer, you will be expected to have strong opinions about the characters who populate this world and, as a result, you will have to prove you can create stories for them. Be prepared to fight your corner (preferably without shedding blood or resorting to name-calling) and nurture your favourite characters like you would your real-life friendships – it’s always more fun spending time with people you like – and in the workplace. This makes for better results and a more enjoyable experience all round.
* Look ahead as much as possible
Generating story and scripts that fill a year of television drama output is no easy feat. The producer and the script team need all the help they can get from writers who not only understand the size of the task in hand, but can clearly help solve some of the problems inherent therein.
The show will need both short- and long-term storylines to keep the audience happy and the character groupings productive. I have found that writers do not come to the story table with long-term storylines as easily as they do the shorter variety. If possible, don’t fall into this trap. If you can get used to seeing the bigger picture and generate material that arcs across a body of episodes and not just one or two, you will be making a vital contribution to the story bank and providing the script team with a firm foundation on which to build a strong through-line of stories across a healthy number of episodes – thus lightening their burden. If you can take the attention, they will all fall in love with you.
* Have strong ideas
As everyone knows in Soapland, stories are like oxygen to the production process. It is vital, therefore, that you make sure the stories with which you arm yourself at your first Story Conference are not just one-note wonders. They could be anecdotes that sounded good in the pub but in fact fall apart horribly when pitched to a room of fellow writers and a story-savvy script team. Many ideas turn out to be turkey twizlers when spoken out loud.
Your story will need a clear shape and, in the telling, you should explore the characters involved and reveal something interesting about them to your audience. If you can’t succinctly summarise your story to yourself in the privacy of your bathroom at home, spare your own blushes – the story needs clarification and talking it up in front of your fellow writers will only highlight its flaws.
* Familiarise yourself with the script team
Forearmed is forewarned. Do your homework. Find out, before you enter Soapland, the names of the key players and especially those on the script team who will be able – should you make it a pleasant experience for them to work with you – to make your life positively marvellous on the show. Conversely, the opposite can also apply.
* Find out as much as you can about the production process
Not all Soaps are run on the same lines. Show interest and ask questions (when appropriate) about the process of production without being in the way or a burden. If you understand something of the pressures your script editor, for example, may be under to deliver your script to deadline, it’ll go a long way to creating a harmonious partnership and that editor will want to work with you again.
* Be positive and helpful to work with
Script editors are your friends as are the storyliners. These fabulously creative people are here to help your labours run more easily and smoothly. Use them, don’t fight them, they speak on behalf of the producer and so keeping them on side and not fighting every script point because you feel protective about your work will get you a regular slot on the writing team. Being open-minded to script changes, collaborative in your approach to your writing task and even though it may smart, saying yes and doing the rewrites without having a mini breakdown about the time frame they have given you will ensure you are invited back again.
* Embrace the fast turnaround and keep at it
Like pretty much everything in life, Soap writing becomes easier with practice.
Be organised. You are about to enter a story factory with very fast script turnaround and an ever-hungry camera team wanting to shoot on time with an ever-demanding producer wanting great scripts on time and on budget and an ever-urgent cast wanting their scripts on time and an ever-ready director wanting your script changes to be on time and to make the script better to boot.
Everything is about timing on a Soap. There is never enough time but you have to work within the deadlines you are given. Don’t panic. The structure and rigours of Soap writing are put in place to help you generate an amazing number of drama hours in very little time.
* Be collaborative
Show respect and listen to the opinions and ideas of your fellow writers. You will have to top and tail their scripts and having your colleagues on side and encouraging them, especially at Script Conference, will make your life easier when you pitch a storyline you think is a winner and it receives the thumbs down.
* A word about rejection …
Take the rejection of your storyline as you would the acceptance of it. Both reactions are from the same Soap family and one will more than likely follow the other in rapid succession.
… and last but not least,
Keep your interest fresh and true in the show by taking time out to watch it. When you feel jaded, write a radio play and come back to the show refreshed.
Remember, good Soaps need good writers. If that means you, get out there, get in touch, give it a go and HAPPY WRITING!
Well that’s all for now. Visit my website www.scriptadvice.co.uk if you want any help with your current project and should you want to share your views about this blog, or anything else connected to writing or drama in general, why not join my writers’ group on facebook? https://www.facebook.com/group
Look forward to meeting you there and hopefully working with you in the future.