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.


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Author, screenwriter, and co-founder of the Bestseller Experiment podcast.

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