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Word Values

Learning to write… hopefully.

Word Values

I have never had a blog. Everything about this is new to me. This is a factual blog. Or possibly a speculative blog. A series of rhetorical questions? Perhaps?

Given that I really am just writing and hoping something sticks, I’ll probably keep this first entry brief until I have a better idea of where it’s going to end up – so I’ll simply explain why I chose the title.

“Word Values”

It’s not a Scrabble reference, I promise. If it is a literary reference, or a famous song lyric, or a quote from a notable individual then that’s just an accident. I chose this title as it is the key to absolutely all writing; which words, which order, how many of them… what is their value? Script Writing, novels, copywriting, social media blogs, advertising slogans, Hogwarts spells – the success or failure of each enterprise hinges on the words chosen. This blog and, I sincerely hope, my future works will perhaps demonstrate this.

I won’t go into detail now as I’m still learning what type of writer I am. All I will say is my goal. Regardless of what I write before then, regardless of time and money, here is what I want from my writing career:

To write an episode of Doctor Who.

Let’s see how I do…

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Publication

From a career perspective, the past 24 hrs have been excellent. I’ve got my first copywriting job to knuckle into. It’s a combination of fact-checking, proofreading and researching with a smidge of solo writing so quite a good primer. Hopefully, it’ll lead to more work but, even if it doesn’t, it’s something else I can add to the CV!

I’ve also attended my first networking event. There was a speaker talking about the role of storytelling in marketing content which was genuinely interesting, and I met a couple of people and exchanged business cards like a proper adult. The cards were put together quite quickly so they would be ready for the meeting but they should do for now! I’ll write an entry on networking when I have a bit more experience in the area, and maybe a summary article on the storytelling advice.

I am also, now, a paid and published article writer! The mighty £25 article has now been put out onto that World Wide Web and can be found here: 11 great TV series for young children on Netflix. The comments on the bottom have been very positive and my site contact has promised to let me know how it does in terms of views.

All in all, a very good day. To celebrate, I’ve gone and given this article an actual picture.

Speeling; and, grammer)

Writing that title hurt. Reading it while I’m writing this hurts. But in a bizarre way, spelling/grammar both are and aren’t important. Let me explain…

When they ARE important:
Anything that is either sent out formally or represents you online. Certainly your CV, any letters/e-mails you send (particularly speculative ones) and job applications need to be spot on. These details count. If the choice is between you and your identical twin and one of you spelled the company name wrong, that twin is still job hunting. This is especially true for anyone trying copywriting or proofreading as a job.

When they AREN’T important:
Anything that is for your benefit alone or, at a push, informal notes to people you know well. If you’re on a roll, bashing out page after page of script or story then don’t stop to check your spelling. Take advantage of the inspiration while it’s there instead of risking it getting bogged down in there/their/they’re. You can return and deal with them later.

Class dismissed.

Panic stations!

It is often asked during job interviews about how well you cope under pressure. I doubt that, in the history of the world, anyone has said: “I cave, make loads of mistakes, and break my wrists whilst I am wringing them in anguish.” Or words to that effect. I suspect most people would tell their interviewer that they do their best work under pressure, or that they thrive and it propels them to greatness.

I bring this up as I was under much pressure today. I’ve mentioned before the BBC Comedy Room where unsolicited scripts could be sent in for them to read. The deadline for that was 5pm today. I woke up this morning in the knowledge that I had completed half of the bare minimum – 30 pages of script. I was 15 pages in, with around eight hours to pull half an episode out of the bag. More experienced people than me may view this as easy; I don’t know. But for me, it was a big, big ask.

You know what? I CAN cope under pressure. Time will tell if I have thrived or not but I can say that I submitted a full script that I was completely happy with by 4:30pm. Characters became more fully formed, gags were punchier (and more numerous) and, as far as this newbie can tell, the pacing worked out too.

The trade off is that I am KNACKERED. I’m a three-meals-a-day person so skipping lunch was not desirable. I certainly wouldn’t advise bringing things this close to the deadline. Pressure or not, the stress will tell on your writing. Your mind may bring you new and exciting adventures in your barely-functioning state but your hands are not going to be able to write/type it down coherently.

Write well. Write early. Give yourself time to both mess up and rectify your work.

How to be productive

In the interest of actually being productive, I’m not going to take up your time (or mine, for that matter) with waffle. Here is every book on productivity summarised:

  1. Set a schedule. Plan when you’re going to work and what you’re going to work on. Allow a bit of flexibility for unforeseen issues (good or bad) but, broadly, stick to it as much as possible.
  2. Arrange a good work space. Uncluttered, easy to navigate, all things you need to hand. A window is good for both air and stimuli. Quiet is generally better than loud though, of course, some people prefer the volume – particularly if they want to people watch!
  3. Remove distractions. Holy hell YouTube is my vice. Unless you need the internet for research I’ve found it best to turn Wi-Fi off to reduce the chances of this happening. There are some apps to help with this sort of thing too (I believe there is one called “Freedom” that I haven’t got round to yet) if that’s your thing.
  4. Set small targets. I’ve made the mistake at the very beginning of this blog of setting myself the HUGE target of a Doctor Who episode. Looked on its own terms, that idea is terrifyingly unassailable. But break it down into sections (plot episode, work on companion’s back story, read through etc.) and it becomes much more doable. Right now my third draft is with my scriptwriting friends for their opinion and advice. The next stage will be trying to get the right people to see it, which will involve serious badgering and, most importantly, writing something else!
  5. Allow yourself a pat on the back for achievements. When I first wrote “End Credits” on my first draft I went out to the cinema to celebrate. Hey, to each their own…
  6. Don’t be afraid to start over. If a piece of writing is, for whatever reason, not working (as I’ve said recently I’ve abandoned a whole script as someone else has beaten me to it!) then there is no shame in setting it aside. Indeed, ploughing on regardless IS a waste of time. The best bits of your script (e.g. a character that you like, or a joke you’re particularly fond of) can almost certainly be used elsewhere.

There. I’ll look out for your £6.99 in the post.

NB: Of COURSE I’ve missed stuff but hey, 1 page isn’t quite going to compete with a dozen books…

How to be funny

I thought about putting this title up and then leaving a one sentence glib response along the lines of “be funny” or “get the audience drunk” but – at best – it’d raise a half smile and nothing else. It’s a Twitter response, not a blog answer. So go to the toilet quickly, this could be a long one.

The reason that it is the subject of this post is thanks to good old Auntie herself: the BBC. For anyone who happens to be reading this who is unfamiliar with the acronym (people outside the UK most likely); it stands for British Broadcasting Corporation and is a public service broadcaster. It’s produced some astounding documentaries (basically anything Sir David Attenborough has been involved in), fabulous sports coverage (London 2012 Olympics springs most readily to mind) and world class programmes. Of course, for me, Doctor Who is the main one but there are many others.

Anyway, the BBC opens it’s digital doors twice a year for new scripts – and this time they’re asking for comedies. I’ve never written comedy before aside from quips and jokes included in dramas and short stories. Consistent fun is a new challenge for me that I don’t know if I can rise to but I’m going to give it a go.

So, how to be funny? The best way to start is to acknowledge that you simply cannot make EVERYONE laugh. We’re all too different. I adore Monty Python, the South Park Movie, The Play That Went Wrong, Jasper Fforde books and many stand up comedians. I’m not really a fan of American Pie, The Office or Adam Sandler. But all the things I love will have haters, and the things I don’t like will have ardent fans baying for my heretical blood.

Once this is acknowledged you only need write for one person: yourself. Your best writing will always be that which makes you giggle. You’ll be prouder of it, be more willing to return to it and tune it, be happier to share it with others. I speak from personal experience here with my first attempt at a comedy script. I’d got a setting that I liked (parents outside the school gates – I believe that I have mentioned it on this blog before) and some character ideas that I was fond of. So I started writing… and it didn’t make me laugh. Don’t get me wrong, there were a few lines that made me chuckle (I particularly enjoyed some of the students giving each other nicknames) but mostly I was left a bit cold.

It took me a while to realise that this was because I was spending the writing time wondering if other people would find it funny. Will an agent like this? Will a cast member like reading that? Will the audience keep with it? My lack of enjoyment was translating to the text and I eventually decided to chuck it out and start over. And, whilst it’s in its early days, the fact that I’ve managed to already include a breakdancing epileptic joke without mocking epileptics has been very heartening. I find it funny and I’m confident that others will too.

Now I’ve just got to make a whole episode’s worth of funny. Piece of cake…

Plate Spinning

We’ve left Easter behind and are now looking forward to… what?

Inspiration. Constantly on the lookout for inspiration. Today could lend itself to a short story about a gloriously sunny outing to the beach. Looking out of my window it could be a Sunday football match at the park, and accident on a builder’s scaffold, or the noise of a car crash on the main road that’s just about visible.

Take that last one for example. Let’s say I’m working on a flash fiction story; what could I cram into one hundred words on a car crash I can barely see? I could trim the road size down a bit, isolate the location thus making the road’s destination only one place: my house. I could be waiting for a visitor – a family member or, if I wanted to, swerve into gangster territory, a mafia boss I’ve been expecting. It could be a war zone where I’ve planted some land mines to defend myself and my fictional family.

Those ideas have come to me as I’ve typed in the past three or four minutes. I’m not bragging (though I am a genius), I am simply illustrating that “lack of inspiration” is not an excuse at the very start of a story. When kicking off whatever type of fiction you’re working on there is ALWAYS something or someone nearby to give you a taking off point. You don’t have to love it, you could even start writing knowing that you won’t make it to the end or use it for anything formal. Because you will get ideas you may use elsewhere.

Take that hypothetical above. I suggested a family member visiting. The story could be set as I ran across the field, simultaneously trying to see what’s happening and relaying why I’m anxiously awaiting for their visit. It could have been a long-brewing conflict with an estranged sibling who is approaching to give me hell. I could be an utter bastard who slept with his missus or something. And THEN you could decide that you don’t like the car crash element but the vengeful sibling feels like it has great opportunity – so you swap the setting for a birthday party where tension is created with the narrator just knowing that today is the day he will be found out. Boom, a separate story generated by looking out of the window.

Who says “boom” these days?

Short Stories

I am now embarking on a new short story. As with some of my other work, it’s unfolding as I write, i.e. I don’t have a true end in mind. I have a theme. The theme is family and, yes, I know how commonplace this theme is. But it is a theme I have selected because of the market it is being written for: the readers of The People’s Friend.

My knowledge of The People’s Friend extends to having seen it on shopping shelves and dental surgery waiting rooms. I do not say this to disparage it, just to explain my unfamiliarity with it. So why write for it?

The challenge. I have the firm belief that any writing at all will help hone my skills. Short stories seem to me a good way to take this on as I can experiment with different genres quite quickly. I can even take the same setting – with the same people even – and spin it into a completely separate story. With this theme of “family”, I’m having an older man teach his grandson how to play chess. It will, I hope, prove a heartwarming tale where both bond and their relationship has improved by the end of the story.

I could take this setting, and these two characters, into a thriller simply by changing their reason for playing. What if they’re hostages, passing the time? What if the game has some very real stakes? What if grandfather and grandson hate each other? Any of these variations tell an entirely different story and it could happen with the same central feature – a chess match.

You know what? I just might try it. Put it in an entirely different magazine and see who notices. It could build to an anthology. I may have to change the characters if I wanted to turn it into a romance, or make the pieces sentient if I wanted to turn it into a political satire (or horror story), or stuff the story with innuendo and slapstick and go for low-brow humour. An old man breaking wind and following through never gets old, after all.

So then – who’d buy an anthology of stories about one chess match where there is no cohesive genre? I can see it flying off the shelves…

Easter

Happy Easter! I’m not religious but Easter – and the return of Doctor Who – does seem to be a good moment to think about rebirth. By casting aside my old work and 9-5 commuting life-style I am, in one fashion, regenerating. This is something all writers should, nay, MUST do.

And they must do it constantly. Without change a writer’s work becomes stagnant, repetitive, derivative even. The pitfalls of apathy are great indeed. The struggles with characters is particularly important. It takes only a few moments of wandering attention to turn a character into a caricature.

Take my new script for example. What with the falling down of my lovely wedding table idea, (curse you “Table 19”), I’ve had to start over a bit. I’m instead working on one set outside the school gates just before the end of the school day; the bitching mums, flirting dads and – more relevantly to this post – an overbearing grandmother. The risk, if I’m not careful, is for her to become overbearing… and nothing else.

Avoiding this risk requires more than just imagination and creativity. It requires vigilance – and that’s not something that comes easily to writers. I can only really speak for myself but staying on guard is not something I’d really signed up for when I quit my job to take up writing. (Nor had I signed up for self-employment and tax returns but, hey ho…)

Millionaire

I’m a millionaire! Well, I’ve had an article paid for £25. Well, I’ve submitted an invoice.

But still, this means I’m officially a paid writer. This is my job. Of course I’m miles from the sort of level I need to be but everyone starts somewhere.

Where other writers start is a puzzle for me. From various blogs and books and tips there are a massive amount of approaches different authors, script writers and bloggers take. Some start with the ending in mind. Some start with one character and see what he/she does. Some begin with an event or set piece that they love and work out the best story from there. I have an app on my phone for generating character names.

I’m too early in my writing career to give anything resembling definitive advice on the subject but one thing I’d say in general is to find what works for YOU. Love sitting in a coffee shop and writing there? Do it! Think doing that is a horrible idea? DON’T do it!

As for me? I’m a list person. Big fan. Helps me keeps my thoughts in order and makes it far less likely that I’m going to forget something (like this blog). My list has both writing and non-writing related entries that I can keep track of. So, after my second day, how am I doing?

Some good, some bad. I’ve entered some competitions, done some more research and started writing a new script – my first non-Doctor Who one. In this case I’ve got a single idea that I like – that at every wedding there is table of people who couldn’t be fitted in elsewhere – and am just writing and seeing where it goes. I genuinely don’t know where this will end up and am discovering the characters as I write. One has emerged as sister of the groom, downgraded to this table following a family spat. Another is an old school friend of both this sister and the groom and is an utter cow. Another is her father, who is a pervert. Another is yet another school friend (a boy this time) who had a romantic entanglement with both aforementioned women at the table. And each of these characters emerged as I was writing text. I gave one person something to say and then brought in someone to respond. I don’t know if that’s how it works for other people, but I managed to write 500 words without pausing. Gotta be a good sign, right?

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