Friday, May 25, 2012

Know your characters. But not too well...

Before I sit down to write a script, I do an outline. But before that, I like to write a character portraits. Not every character gets one - for the script I've just finished, it was the hero, his sister, his love-interest, the rival love-interest and the bad guy.

As for how in-depth they have to be, there's differing views on this. Some people like to do mini books on each character, covering everything from how long they were breast-fed to who their first crush was and when they got their period. And most important, how they felt about each of these things.

My feeling is that you can know a bit too much sometimes. I once had a panic attack in a school history exam and had to be taken outside to breathe into a paper bag. It wasn't that I didn't know my stuff - I just knew way too much to write down on paper in two hours. And  scripts are no different.

You should know enough about your characters to be able to give them life and depth but not enough to make them seem like people from a novel. You have 110 pages to tell us everything we need to know about them - most of which must be subtext rather than straight-up description. There just isn't enough space to go into their childhood peeing problems, unless it directly impacts on their story in the script.

I think a good template for a character portrait is this one here, which gives a list of questions to ask about your main characters (where do they live, what's their job, what's their greatest need?). Ask these questions and you should know enough about your hero to write a compelling story but not so much that you end up bogged down in massive detail.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Leaving on a jet-plane...

This blog has been more Dublin to Dublin for the past year as job losses, house sales (or lack of), poor concentration on my part and sluggish saving has taken their toll on my Hollywood dreams. There have been days when I’ve wondered if I’d ever negotiate the L.A. bus system or eat a Carl Jnrs burger again. It just seemed so far away. But no more.

One way or another, unless an asteroid hits earth, Sellafield explodes or a bank crash takes out my savings, I am going to L.A. on the 20th of August. I went on ebookers today and decided to bite the bullet and book a flight.

Once I’d done that, I’d like to say a cool serenity came over me. Actually I felt rising panic and a nameless dread.

I’m selling my house (assuming I can by August), selling most of my possessions including Roo, my beloved Ford Ka, and saying goodbye to nine to five employment. I haven’t been without a full-time job since I was twenty-three. I haven’t been out of work for longer than three weeks since college. And as of August, I’m going to be unemployed for at least three months.

But I know in my heart of hearts that this is something I have to do. In my head, I’m already there. And let’s face it, it will be all too easy to get back on the work treadmill at a future date if I really, really miss office administration, commuting and disgusting sandwich lunches.

In the meantime, I have three months to do the following:

  • Find somewhere to stay for 3 months in L.A. Probably in Hollywood or Silver Lake, seeing as I’ll be back on public transport.

  • Get three scripts in ultra-marketable condition. I have one done, so it’s two to go. Then I also want to write outlines for 1-2 other promising ideas.

  • Sell my house. Now it really HAS to go.

  • Possibly sell Roo, unless I can find somewhere to park her ever-so-slightly rusted ass for three months.

  • Save like a mother until the very last minute. The more I can amass in savings the better. It will stave off taking work for work’s sake, which is a desperate, horrible condition.

  • Go through the Hollywood Directory, identify dozens of potential reps and email them introducing myself and asking for a meeting while I’m in L.A.

  • Look up everybody I know in L.A.and offer to buy them coffee. I have good news for the Starbucks of West Hollywood – your biggest future customer is on her way!


Yes, I’m terrified. But it’s also exciting to give something like this a go.

As ever, if anyone’s done a trip like this before and has tips, I’d love to hear them! In the meantime, I’ll be prepping for 3 months of sell, sell sell and doing regular updates on how it’s going.

For my next post, it’s the thorny issue of characters, and just how much you as the writer need to know about your leading guys and ladies…

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Inspiration to order - coming up with great story ideas

Well, Script Frenzy is over - and the good news is, so is Last Girl Standing, my script. It feels great to have a first draft done so quickly! I've had a cursory read of the draft and while it needs a lot of work, like all first drafts, there's definitely some usable stuff in there.

I'm gonna stick it in a drawer and come back to it in a week or two, when the real work (i.e. rewriting hell) begins...

Scott Myers' excellent series of posts here on story ideas (he tried to generate a story idea a day for a month based on news stories and other quirky sources) made me think about how we get ideas for scripts.

Sometimes it's a location. I was in the UAE years ago because my dad was doing some work out there and just seeing the exotic - and very alien - environment made me think of a story. Then I heard about salukis, which are Arab racing dogs, and that steered the story in a certain direction.

With the script I just finished,  it was partly reading about tontines - which are a kind of long-term wager - and partly seeing a page from a Worst Case Scenario Handbook. It was called How to Stop a Wedding (everything from pulling the fire alarm to faking a seizure) and immediately suggested a premise for a romcom with bite.

I wrote a script called Searching for Summer, which is about a spoiled teen singer who runs away from fame and tries to live as a normal teen. That idea came from an article about Britney Spears, which depicted her as someone whose life was completely in thrall to her management, her fans and her family. I read it and thought, what if one day she shouted, "Stop, I want to get off this train!" What happens to you when you don't want to be famous anymore?

Alan Ball was apparently inspired to write American Beauty by seeing a plastic bag twisting in the wind. Yes, really.

How do you come up with ideas? Is it from a story someone tells you in a bar? An article in a newspaper? Somewhere cool you once visited? Or, dare I say it, solely from your imagination?