Strong start out of the gate


weiner dog race

My first project of the year was to keep pushing through on revising the sci-fi adventure outlines, but a few days before New Year’s, a colleague contacted me and asked if I could take a look at his collaborator’s first ten pages.

English isn’t the writer’s first language, so while the intent and context of the words and the overall sense of the story were there, in addition to a lot more telling than showing, the pages just didn’t read smoothly. I asked my friend if they wanted to me to do some cleanup work and polish it.

“Please. And feel free to make any changes you think are necessary.”

Challenge accepted.

My project was put on hold, with all focus redirected to this. It’s been a lot of fun. What the original story had made for a good foundation, and I’ve really enjoyed putting my own spin on it and doing what I can to kick things up a notch. Nothing drastic, but again – fun stuff.

It also helps that my friend gave me a deadline. I know what I need to do, and how much time I have to do it. That really helps you stay focused.

If I can keep up my daily output of productivity, it looks like I’ll beat the deadline by at least one to two days. Which is what I was hoping for.

And then it’s right back into my own material.

Part of my plan for 2020 is to not only get something done every day, but to have it help me move things forward. So far, so good.

And the first week isn’t even over yet.

99 44/100%, or somewhere thereabouts

Gotta be really careful when seeking the exact formula

It was quite an undertaking, involving lots of rewriting, editing and reorganizing, including plenty of self-imposed stress, but the latest draft of the pulp sci-fi is complete.

It could definitely benefit from a little more work – another draft or two would make it that much better, but it’s exactly the kind of fun thrill ride I set out to write, and I really like how it turned out. One of my guidelines has always been “Write something you would want to see.” Man oh man, would I want to see this. And based on some of the notes I received from my squadron of trusted colleagues, so would they. Such an encouraging thing to hear.

Quick side note – I absolutely could not have gotten this script to this point of development without those exceptionally helpful notes. Thanks, chums! Each and every one of you has once again proven yourselves invaluable!

Networking. Worth it like you wouldn’t believe.

So for now, I’ll be taking a little break to let that script simmer for a bit as my focus is redirected towards revamping the outline of the comedy spec. Thrilled to say that even that seems to be coming along nicely, including a most productive writing sprint that got me to the next plot point. Always a good thing.

As much as I hate setting up deadlines for myself, I’m really hoping to have a decent first draft done by the end of the year – at the very latest. If I can maintain a pace like I have over the past few days, no reason I wouldn’t be able to type FADE OUT by Thanksgiving.

Totally doable.

Actually, Zippy, I am

Zippy the Pinhead c/o Bill Griffith

Although the numerical output isn’t as high as I’d like it to be, the daily churning-out of pages for the current project continues. I’m hoping to ramp things up over the next few days and beat my self-imposed deadline of having a completed draft by December 31st.

There are a few factors in play regarding getting this done:

-I’ve got a solid outline to work with. This took a long time to put together and fine-tune, but it’s been a very helpful foundation for keeping both me and the story on track.

-Taking that one step further, sometimes I’ll describe a scene in the simplest of terms; maybe one or two sentences (which can be quite a challenge when you need more detail to make that scene into at least more than a page). A lot of the time, this means I’ll have to come up with something right then and there to flesh it out, and after years of working on this, it’s just gotten easier to actually do that. Fortunately, a majority of my initial ideas seem to work out the best.

-And what may be the most important in helping me continuously move forward – it’s fun. I’m just really enjoying doing it. It’s a genre of which I’ve proven to be somewhat adept. While it may not be the most original concept, I’m able to have a little fun messing with some of the tropes that come with the territory. I’ve got free reign to write whatever scenario I want that works within the context of the story. It’s quite liberating.

All of this combined makes for daily writing sessions that seem to zoom by. I’ll hammer out a scene or page, oblivious to the passing of time. Before I know it, it’s later than I expected, I’ve inched forward in the script, which chips away at the number of scenes still left to do. A very nice scenario indeed.

Dorothy Parker said “I hate writing, I love having written.” I don’t mind admitting I love the writing part too. Sure, sometimes it’s tough, but it’s the only way to get to “having written”.

And if you’re not enjoying writing in the first place, then why do it at all?

A workload on steroids

Man drowning in stacks of paperwork
All I need to do is cut out the non-essentials. Who needs food, sleep or oxygen anyway?

I’m in the home stretch for the November writing project. I got into Act 3 over the weekend, and think there about 10-12 pages left before I can call it a day. No reason I can’t wrap things up in the next couple of days. Estimated final page count should be somewhere in the mid-90s, so pretty much where I was hoping it would be.

My original intent was to put that on the back burner once it was done and shift my focus to another script, but something else has developed that definitely requires my attention: other people’s work.

Over the past couple of months, I’ve been very fortunate to have gotten some fantastic feedback from friends and trusted colleagues. Now it’s my turn to return the favor.

Actually, make that favors. Plural.

Every time I’ve asked someone if they’d be willing to read and give me notes, I always offer to do the same for them. And several have taken me up on the offer.

Which is totally fine. I just didn’t expect all of them to happen within such a short timeframe.  But it’s cool. Just requires a little planning.

Some script-related items, two scripts requiring special attention (with a bit of a time limitation), and at least 4-5 others getting straight-up notes. Yeah, that’s a lot, but I’d feel pretty shitty if I didn’t reciprocate the kindness all of these folks extended to me.

While I’d love to keep the 2-pages-a-day momentum going clear through to the end of December and have at least part of a draft of another script, taking care of these is now top priority.

It may take me a little longer than I expect, but I always strive to honor my commitments. I said I’d do something for you, and by gosh, I’ll do it.

It’s the least I can do.

Ask a Prolifically Verbose Script Consultant!

Ms. Hay swears this is what she actually looks like
Ms. Hay swears this is what she looks like

The latest in a series of interviews with script readers and consultants who would be worth your while to work with if you want to get your script in shape. Today’s spotlight is on Lucy Hay of UK-based Bang 2 Write .

1. What’s the last thing you read/watched that you thought was incredibly well-written?

Cripes, difficult to pick something out, I think the last couple of years have been exceptional … For me, as I’m a movie buff, it’s a tie: I loved RUSH, by Peter Morgan; also SAVING MR BANKS by Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith. Both were very different, yet still massively ambitious stories that were visual and yet had loads of heart, too. A lot of the spec scripts I read aren’t BIG enough like that – they confuse potential actual money spend (“how many locations, people, CGI or explosions can I get into this?”) with story ambition, which isn’t the same.

2. How’d you get your start reading scripts?

I went to university to study screenwriting and to pass the course we had to do a six-week placement in the media industry somewhere. I was a young single mum of 21 with no childcare and no money, so going up to London and coach-surfing was out of the question. So I wrote to every production company and every literary agent whose address I could find, asking them if I could read their scripts for them. I ended up mailing – not emailing – 79 letters. I got about 14 replies, most of them saying “thanks but no thanks”. A couple of them invited me in for a chat, including Working Title, which gave me a tour of their offices, which was nice; also an animation studio gave me some toys for my son. The last however, a literary agent, called me in, opened the door to the back room and said: “Knock yourself out, take home as many as you like!” The room was packed with screenplays. Actually full to the brim. So that’s where it started for me!

3. Is recognizing good writing something you think can be taught or learned?

Sure you can learn it, but SHOULD you? Recognizing good writing requires an open mind, but also recognizing where your limitations are. End of the day, you can be objective as you can, but there’s certain stuff you’re never going to “get”. You need to be able to recognize this in yourself and that is a talent, I think; as is the ability to give constructive criticism to a writer. But you can hone this and get better at it. When I started, I made a renowned playwright cry with my feedback, I was that harsh. But that taught me the lesson as a young person I wasn’t *just* looking at a work in isolation on the page, I was also handling people’s dreams. So if you can’t handle either of those two things with care, then stay away from script reading and working with writers else you’re only going to end up buried under somebody’s patio!

4. What are the components of a good script?

A great concept. If you haven’t got that, you got NUTHIN’.

5. What are some of the most common mistakes you see?

Structure and character. Structure because it’s lumpy – especially sagging middles – or there’s non-linearity splurged all over the place. Sometimes all of these things, lucky me! And as for characters … It’s the tragic backstory that does my swede in at the moment. Every single character’s got dead wives and dead kids and dead friends and dead dogs and flashbacks of accidents and anything else you care to mention, especially in genre stuff. LE YAWN.

6. What story tropes are you just tired of seeing?

I don’t like the word “trope” – most of the time people seem to use it on the internet to mean, “something I don’t like”, rather than its actual definition, “a recurrent theme or motif”, which is actually more neutral. Writers can actually NEED tropes as a kind of shorthand; bring something entirely new to the table every single time and you could end up creating a new meaning altogether that derails the story. It’s a difficult balancing act. So there are no specific things I say NEVER do (unless it’s horrible and offensive); instead, think of the things we see often and subvert our expectations of them. Left of the middle is ALWAYS better than something completely out of left field.

7. What are the 3 most important rules every writer should know?

  1. Concept is king (or queen!)
  2. Don’t be boring
  3. There are no rules.

8. Have you ever read a script that was an absolute, without-a-doubt “recommend”? If so, could you give the logline?

It would have to be the new film I associate produced which is coming out in 2015 – I got involved BECAUSE I loved it. ASSASSIN is about a professional contract killer who compromises himself when he realizes that his latest victim is the estranged father of the girl he has fallen in love with. Now, I first read that script back in 2007 when it was called UNTITLED HITMAN THRILLER. Like most readers, I obviously read a lot of spec scripts involving hitmen, but it was immediately apparent to me this one was different than the rest. For one thing, it’s got some GREAT roles for named talent and sure enough, we were able to secure our beloved “King of Indies” Danny Dyer and Gary and Ross Kemp, back together on screen for the first time in over twenty years since THE KRAYS! Very exciting. Plus it has a great story, that reminds me of DRIVE (2011) and other such moody, violent and dark tales. I can’t wait for everybody to see it.

9. How do you feel about screenwriting contests? Worth it or not?

Definitely worth it. The good ones can act as a microcosm of the industry, making good writing rise to the top and offer very real opportunities to the winners and those that place highly. What’s more, for those writers with day jobs, they can offer deadlines and opportunities they may not have been able to seek otherwise, plus competitions with specific briefs and targeted voices can help showcase marginalised screenwriters, especially women and people of colour, but also different age groups/people living in places that aren’t in L.A. and so on. What’s not to like? Of course, there are also those competitions and so on that take the Mick, so it’s buyer beware. But I think this is the case with everything, not only in screenwriting. New writers are not children that need to be cosseted; they’re grown men and women who can make their own choices. All this said, screenwriting contests are not 100% necessary to making a career – I’ve never won a contest in my life!

10. How can people get in touch with you to find out more about the services you provide?

I get everywhere, like germs! Type “Bang2write” into Google and you’ll find me – my website, plus pretty much any social media platform you care to mention. People can find free writing resources and downloads at my site too, or ask me writing questions – you don’t have to use the B2W Script Reading Service to ask. I’m always happy to help. Here you go:

11. Readers of this blog are more than familiar with my love/appreciation of pie. What’s your favorite kind?

Pecan pie is my favourite, but it’s hard to get a decent slice in the UK, or at least where I live; all the supermarket versions are rubbish. There’s only one place that does a good homemade one and I stake it out most weekends, ‘cuz my husband loves it too (though I would totes eat the last slice if it was between me and him, sorry that’s just the way it goes). I can however be distracted by a decent mince pie, especially hot, with clotted cream. And actually, treacle tart too. Or lemon meringue pie. Or apple pie. Or cheesecake. In fact, just give me all the pies, in the entire world … No one gets hurt that way.