When is my script ready to send out…? Or, Am I ready for Edna Krabappel?

Imagine you’re going on a date. It’s someone you’ve fancied for ages, and after finally plucking up the nerve to ask them out for a cheeky Nando’s, the time has come to woo them one-on-one with your wit and charm. How do you prepare for this night of nights? Shower, brush your teeth, wear the most obscure geeky film reference T-shirt in your collection, and wear clean underpants. And then you rush straight out the door, yes?

Of course not. What kind of idiot does that?

We all check our appearance in the mirror, or, better still, ask someone else to check for us, ‘How do I look?’ And it is this wonderful friend who points out that there’s a huge bogey dangling from your left nostril, a massive zit threatening to explode on your chin, or that your flies are undone and your Captain America underoos are exposed of all the world to see.

That person just saved your life. And every writer needs at least one person who will do the same for their work, and yet so many of us will gleefully ejaculate our work into the wild without so much as a second glance.

And I know that feeling all too well. I recently finished a draft of a new book. I’ve been working on it for about 18 months in between script work and writing pitches. It’s been my happy place for all that time. I love the characters, the settings, and the story excites me every time I return to it.

Typing ‘The End’ — a naive act by any writer on their first draft, and yet we all do it — activated that overwhelming impulse to send it out immediately to agents and publishers and everyone in my address book. It’s perfect! I even did a ‘But’ pass…

… I checked for all my usual tropes, I made a timeline, and I even drew a bloody map. Surely it’s ready?

A few years ago I would have succumbed to this seductive urge, but experience has taught me that doing so would have killed the project before the poor wobbly-legged lamb could have staggered to its feet.

Nothing is more likely to wreck a writing project’s chances than sending it out before it’s ready. That agent/publisher/producer is your hot date with Edna Krabappel, and as Sideshow Bob said…

My life was saved by my friend Graeme. I work with Graeme and we’re both writers and we’ll read each other’s stuff and give notes.

I got about five pages of notes from Graeme.

Five!

As well as words of encouragement, he confirmed many nagging doubts I had about certain parts of the story, and he also spotted a couple of whopping plot holes that would have almost certainly made me look a complete dingus.

I bought Graeme lunch. It was the least I could do. He wanted the film rights and a co-writer credit, but I could only afford lunch.

I shall rewrite accordingly. And then I shall probably give it to another friend — a fresh pair of eyes — for their opinion. And I suspect yet another rewrite will be on the cards after that. I’m not on a deadline with this. I can afford the luxury of time and I intend to spend it.

So, when will it be ready to send out…?

I was asked this when talking to some third year writing students recently, and the truth is I still don’t know. There usually comes a point where you go completely word blind and can’t tell what works and what doesn’t. So maybe then? Maybe when I run out of Graemes. Eventually, we all run out of Graemes. What I do know is that I’ve not made the error I’ve made so often in the past by sending it out too soon. Edna awaits…

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Help a friend of Robot Overlords and get your wig on…

Laurence Doherty is a TV and film background artist (what used to be called an extra) living in Northern Ireland, and he’s worked on many projects including Jon Wright’s previous film GRABBERS, and a little something called GAME OF THRONES (he was there at the Red Wedding!). Laurence has been a supporter of the Robot Overlords film from when it was first announced, so much so that Jon did that rare thing of giving Laurence a line in the movie. He’s the turncoat who cries ‘I know where he is!’ when Mr. Smythe demands that they hand over our hero Sean.

Laurence with Gillian Anderson, obeying the first rule of Extras Club: always latch on to the talent.
Laurence, behind Gillian Anderson, obeying the first rule of Extras Club: always latch on to the talent.

In a world where the likes of Donald Trump get all the headlines, Laurence is one of the great unsung good guys, and he’s become a friend of mine. So, when I heard that his wife Jill had been diagnosed with breast cancer I was saddened and shocked.

However, to say that Jill is an indomitable woman is something of an understatement. Having gone through her first chemo treatment, her hair began to fall out. Speaking as someone who’s considering putting a bag on my head at the first sign of a receding hairline, I can only begin to imagine how devastating that must be. But then last night Jill decided to LIVE STREAM HAVING HER HEAD SHAVED ON FACEBOOK…!

This was incredible! Myself, Claire and the kids stopped watching the Harry Potter movie that was on TV and gathered round my phone to cheer Jill on. At one point she had more viewers than most BBC3 shows, and she’s now the second most famous bald Irish person after Sinead O’Connor.

It’s all being done for Hair Affairs who supply and fit wigs for cancer patients and alopecia patients, free via the NHS. Wigs aren’t cheap, and cancer’s tough enough as it is without the added woe of losing all your hair, so if you would like to help, simply text WIGX50 £5 to 70070.

At the foot of the mountain – starting a new writing project…

Jon Wright and I are just starting out on a new writing project, TOP SECRET PROJECT X. I know, catchy! This is immediately coming off the back of over a year’s solid work writing a script that we hope to get into production this year, and we wanted to have something ready to follow it up with (always helps to think ahead). So we’ve gone from hurtling at a hundred miles an hour, steering skilfully round familiar bends, to suddenly pushing a clapped-out old Vauxhall Viva uphill to the nearest garage.

Starting a new thing can be very daunting indeed.

It’s taken us about six months to get around to the actual writing bit. Time is great aid to fomenting ideas, and it’s a luxury a screenwriter doesn’t often get, but I would recommend using it whenever you can. Take any intriguing idea you have, jot it down, nurture it with seedling ideas and before you know it, new ideas will be presenting themselves to you at three in the morning, demanding that they be implemented immediately. Here’s one I made earlier…

Late night scribbles can produce surprising results...
Late night scribbles can produce surprising results…

This one started with lots of talking — initially with a conversation outside a pub — then continued with more chatting in places where tea is served, and then long phone conversations about situations and characters, and then we progressed to tentative emails. With each of these gently flirtatious stages we’ve been collating nuggets about characters and situations and themes, and now we’re at the stage where we’re putting together the actual building blocks of a story.

The nitty-gritty starts with character work. On our previous project we were adapting someone else’s script and didn’t feel that we had a good enough grip on the characters, so we wrote monologues for each of them, bouncing drafts back and forth between the two us, adding more interesting details and texture until we really knew who these people were. That was when we finally felt that we had taken ownership of them and the script, and our writing after that became a lot more instinctive: the sports car swerving round tight bends.

So, this is where we’ve decided to start with TOP SECRET PROJECT X: character monologues, like pieces to camera, confessional and candid and revealing, and it’s a great way to get a story that’s driven by characters and not set pieces. There are lots of blind alleys, things we’ll get wrong, but it’s worth it for the things that shine and excite and inspire. We’re off to a great start, but there’s still a very long way to go, that clapped-out Vauxhall Viva is still very heavy and the mountain is very steep. In the meantime, here’s a bit of Paul Weller to chivvy us along…

 

The painting above is The Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog, (Der Wanderer über dem Nebelmeer um) 1818 ~ by Caspar David Friedrich, and is how all writers should visualise themselves when embarking on a new project, and not hunched over a laptop wondering if they can have another chocolate Hobnob yet.

 

Try the Geek Apocalypse podcast drinking game…

I had good fun chatting with Steven Hesse over at the Geek Apocalypse podcast. We discuss the kinds of people you meet at MCM Comic Cons, 2000 AD, Pat Mills, indie movies vs Hollywood movies, film tie-ins, world building, plot holes, Robot Overlords and all sorts of stuff.

You can stream it here, or if you get your podcasts from iTunes click here.

There will be a video version at some point and I’ll plonk it here when it arrives, in the meantime enjoy and, if you like drinking games, take a shot every time Steven says “super duper fun”, you’ll be plastered before you know it!