Thursday, April 10, 2008

Red Planet Workshop

The other day, I was at Red Planet HQ, home of Tony Jordan's production company, along with about eight writers who had entered the Red Planet Prize (including the winner, Joanna Leigh). Tony's hosting another workshop in a couple of weeks to go through the same shizzle with another handful of writers, which is basically a day of encouragement, advice, anecdotes and opening the door to potential opportunities.

What is abundantly clear is that Mr Jordan is a diamond geezer. In fact, the phrase must have been invented just for him. Honest, open, passionate, down to earth and funny: he knows what it's like trying to break in as a new writer, and is genuinely interested and supportive of those coming up the ranks (witness the prize for the writing competition: 5k cash, a commission on one of his shows and an agent if you don't already have one). Needless to say, all of us were suitably inspired and informed by our day with the great man as he regaled us with his wit and wisdom. Here's a brief rundown of his top writing tips:-

1. Hold on to Your Unique Voice
This is especially difficult when you're trying to break in as a new writer as you'll probably end up bending your script and ideas to suit your script editor/producer. Obviously, this is common (especially in TV), but if they're giving you ideas which you think worsen the script, don't be afraid to stand your ground or refuse to do it. It might hurt in the short term but in the long run, it will stand you in good stead.

2. Always Dig Deeper Than the Writer Next to You
Be better than the rest. Go further, dig deeper, find the emotions that they don't want to explore.

3. Get Your Hooks in Early
The first ten pages are crucial. Fact of life, get over it. Audiences spend less time deciding if they want to tune in or not.

4. Subvert Expection/Defer Gratification
Avoid predictability or cliché. The audience is not stupid. They've seen a lot of TV/film shows, they know what's going to happen. Show them something different, and try to hold out on giving what them want for as long as possible (Lost being a good example there).

5. Establish Dramatic Need
Almost the same as 'get your hooks in early', a character should have a dramatic need, an identifiable goal for the story, and then you make it difficult for them (obstacles).

6. Character Development
Make sure your character doesn't end up in the same emotional place as when he/she started out.

7. Turning Points
Call them what you want - act breaks, reversals etc - but try to have distinctive turning points which really push the story forward.

8. Character = Action
Characters are what they do, not what they say.

9. On-The-Nose
Generally, avoid on-the-nose dialogue but sometimes it's okay, if justified, e.g. classic EastEnders moment (written by Tony): "You're not my mother". "Yes, I am!" Be clever enough to know when you can get away with it.

10. Start Late/Get Out Early
Stick to what the scene is about and nothing more. Start the scene where the drama begins and as soon it's over, get out, you're done, on to the next scene.

11. Be Small to Be Big
Sometimes, the smallest or seemingly insignifcant moment can have the biggest dramatic impact. If an audience relates to a character and understands their emotions, their dramatic need etc, then something like handing over divorce papers can rock the entire nation.

12. Love Your Characters
Enjoy what you write. Find the sense of joy as you spend time with your characters, and get it across in your script.

13. Scene Specific
Make sure a scene is about what it's supposed to be about. Don't be lazy.

14. Show Don't Tell
Be smart with stage descriptions, and again, don't be lazy.

15. Rules Schmules
Nobody knows anything afterall.


So there you go. A handy checklist, I think you'll agree, especially when you might get stuck.


Lucy V said...

"Love your characters" is particularly resonant, since I went to a seminar with TJ about 2 years ago when he said he actually wrote that Eastenders where Kat Slater leaves whilst CRYING HIS EYES OUT - from anyone else you'd think "yeah right" but I really believed him.

Anonymous said...

Great stuff, and as a beginner thanks for sharing this info!

Anonymous said...

I've been invited along to the next session and I'm really looking forward to it. Shame I missed you Mr Stack!

Danny Stack said...

Ah, that's a shame. I was going to go to the next workshop but now I can't make it...

Anonymous said...

Fated never to meet but at least I can go to my grave knowing that you don't look like Rick Wakeman. It's a load off...

Tim Clague said...

What a great run down. I'm going to stick this one on my wall for a while.