August can be a drag, can’t it? It’s the one time of the year when you’re made painfully aware that everyone is on holidays but you. Everything goes quiet. An email barely troubles your inbox. Your phone refuses to chirp or vibrate and you get an almighty fright when it does (and then it’s just a pre-recorded “You’ve won a holiday!”). And so, it becomes obvious that August (or any kind of open schedule) is the ideal time to write a brand new script. Something, anything, to keep you busy and make the most of the current down time.
This year’s Red Planet Prize deadline is the end of September, a whole month extra than last year. When we relaunched the competition at the start of July some people doubted that they could come up with a brand new script in time for the deadline. I’m sorry but if this is a genuine concern for you then perhaps you should be considering a different career. In truth, you should be able to create a one hour script within two weeks (if it was a TV deadline), and even one week at a push (quite common). And a half hour script should be achievable within a few days or up to one week.
If you’re working from scratch, the hard part is coming up with a solid premise, interesting characters and a good setting. To make everything work and, y’know, interesting. THIS is what can take forever, not the actual writing (although that can be slow but when pushed to deadline, you just have to get it done). However, the purpose of this post is about getting a script done, not fiddling about worrying about a character bio or whether your idea should be set in 1999 or the present day.
Wing it. Improvise. Write a script from scratch. It doesn’t even matter if you haven’t got an idea. Start with any scene or image that comes to mind, and let your storytelling instincts guide you to the next scene until you reach 30 or 60 (or hell, even 90) pages. Don’t waste your time asking people if you should outline or not. That’s just talk. Just write. See where it takes you. Have fun. You might not have a great script when you finish but you’ll have a script. And as we all know, the real writing begins when you rewrite. Think of it as the August Script Liberation (A.S.L. to you), where you just write what you want, when you want, and see what happens.
Two years ago, I started this habit. I was fiddling around, worrying about work, waiting for a commission to magically appear. A title popped into my head. A catchy title, instantly comedic and appealing. But that’s all I had. So I just went with the flow. I wanted to have fun, to play around with style, bend the rules a bit. Within a week, I had a 30 min first draft, which I quite liked. I sent it to m’agent for feedback (she does this, bless her). She was not hugely impressed. My wife read it. She hated it (when she likes something, I know I’m on to a good thing). But I liked it. Or, more accurately, I liked the title, the premise and the playful style. So I rewrote the story, and made it better. M’agent was now willing to send it out (always a good sign), and two other people whose opinion I trust also enjoyed it (but recommended I make it as a short film.). About a month later, I had a few meetings with interested parties, all very exciting, and then it was optioned by a production company who wanted to develop it as a comedy/drama series. Nice! All because of the August down time.
This time last year, I was feeling particularly low, and my writing confidence had taken a knock. The August down time set in so I hunkered down to write a script to get me out of my gloom. I had no idea what I was going to do except that I wanted it to be an hour long family adventure. In just over a week, I had a first draft. It was rough but had a lot of promise, I thought.
I gave it to two of my trusty readers. They both came back with ‘starts off great, really intriguing, then goes a bit too sci-fi for its own good’. They were spot on. But I’ve struggled with this one ever since. I’m not sure which way to develop the script, and I need to readdress the whole ‘world of the story’ to help me nail the changes I need to make. But I still am quite drawn by it, and think it has great potential. This year’s August’s Script Liberation will be spent rewriting last year’s attempt, and getting it into shape. So, not doing anything this week or got some spare time between now and the end of the month? Then what are you waiting for? Get writing! As Mr Arnopp would say, Hooray for the First Draft!