By Way of an Explanation

20140821_181623_resizedI felt like I should update this blog as I haven’t written anything here for a number of months. There hasn’t been much going on in my play-writing world because I’ve been focusing on publishing a book instead, and I can’t do two things at once – I can’t always even do one thing at once, so two is a definite no-no.

Anyway,  like a new father, I am quite proud to announce the arrival of my book Maffee and the Space Detective which is now published in both e-book and paperback version.

I’ve even created a website, in a very basic way,

So, that’s what I’ve been doing lately. It might not seem much, but the feeling of finally seeing my own book in print (I started writing it about 12 years ago) is pretty bloomin’ good.




Everything I’ve Ever Learnt

5581597956_fa07960fe1_mWell, not everything. Just a few things I’ve learnt about playwriting so far. I thought it would be useful to detail some of the information and resources that I’ve found, without working on a blog post for each. These are things I wasn’t aware of before I started my playwriting experience, so I hope they are useful for anyone else just starting out.

Your local theatre: Some local theatres have a remit to support new writers. They  run writing workshops, accept play submissions, offer rehearsal spaces, run annual open competitions where the ‘prize’ is the performance of the winners play, or offer grants to support producing a new play. These are all types of support that I’ve seen promoted by local theatres, other theatres may offer other support.

Funding opportunities: There are local, national and international means of raising funds.  If you’re based in England then is a good place to start, check out your Arts Council area and find out about funding programmes. There are plenty of other bursaries and funding opportunities available locally. Your local theatre is another good source to try. And then there’s the kickstarter, the crowdfunding platform, which I haven’t tried yet, but why not give it a go when you’re ready?

Websites and Blogs: There are jillions (a big number) of sites dedicated to playwriting. Some are ill-informed and amateurish blogs (like this one), whilst others are websites belonging to successful organisations written by professionals who have worked in the industry for years.  Ideas Tap is worth a look for starters.

Twitter: Search #playwriting on Twitter and immediately find yourself immersed in play writing chat from around the world, from lonely, inexperienced playwrights, to theatres, to arts groups, to writers who actually write for a living. It’s also a great way to find out first about writing opportunities and make new, virtual, writing buddies.

How long should a play be: When I first started writing a play, I naively wanted a guide as to how long it should be. Many of you will already know that a play can be any length. There is demand for 10 minutes plays, one act plays and then there are full length plays. A general rule of thumb that seems to be commonly accepted is that each page of a script is estimated to be one-and-a-half minutes long. 

Difference between success and failure: But what I’ve really learnt is that the difference between those who fail and those who succeed, is the confidence and belief in what they are doing and their own ability to do it. Listen or read about any successful person, in business, in writing, in sport or any other  walk of life and what separates them from the rest, is their 100% belief  that they can achieve their goals, their determination to succeed and the resolution to not give up.

“It’s lack of faith that makes people afraid of meeting challenges, and I believed in myself.”

– Muhammad Ali

Photo Credit

Why I stopped and why I’ve started again

hesitation - hemingwayIt’s been about four months since my last post and during this time I have made no progress with my writing and play. I haven’t done anything because as well as The Fear, I’m conscious that the next step I hope to take requires commitment. Not that writing doesn’t require commitment too, obviously it does, however I’m referring to a different type of commitment. It’s a personal circumstances thing which won’t affect everyone but has caused me to…hesitate. I have deliberately avoided taking any further steps.

But recently I was thinking about something completely unrelated that helped get me back on track. In 1983 I joined a karate club. After three years I was ready to take my black belt grading, but I didn’t. For four more years I trained, competed and instructed but didn’t go for my black belt. And then something snapped…the cruciate ligament in my knee.  Karate was no more for me.

When I think about it now I wish I had just gone for that black belt when I had the chance instead of putting it off. It was during one of these moments of reflection that I realised if I continue to do nothing with my play, in the future I will have not one, but two ‘what if/if only’ examples to tell my grandchildren about. I’d rather tell them about how I tried and failed, or even tried and succeeded. There is a fairly common saying that we tend to regret the things we didn’t do, not the things we did, which seems a fair point.

The reason for writing this post was simply to remind myself in years to come, that it wasn’t all plain sailing. It wasn’t just a continuous process that gathered momentum like a piece of cheese that’s been sent down Cooper’s Hill. There were times when it was more like trying to push a piece of cheese uphill, in the rain, against the wind, in a suit of armor.

If this post does resonate with you, you might find it useful to read Chapter 13 of Richard Templar’s book The Rules of Life

So that’s it, I’m back on track. No more doubt or hesitation, hopefully.

“Take time to deliberate, but when the time for action has arrived, stop thinking and go in.” Napoleon Bonaparte

The Fear

cat lionI’m really pleased to say that I have finished writing my play.  I’ve read it, edited it, re-read it, re-edited it. I think it’s now ready… and that’s when the Fear kicks in.

Worrying that we all live our lives in the confines of fear

The original goal was to have my play performed somewhere, in front of a real live audience.

But now that I’ve finished writing and editing it’s time to face the reality that it has to leave the security of my own computer. If anything else is to happen with the play, I have to take the decision to actually show it to someone else, whether that be a creative director, a theatre group, an audience, a drama school teacher  –  that means it’s going to be judged. And that’s a concern because how do I know if it’s any good. I can’t trust my own opinion, I’m biased.

I’m sure that I’m not the first person to feel this way about something they have written/created/devised. Self-doubt is human nature. For me, the required action is not to overcome it, but to carry on despite of it and to appreciate that it is an indicator of something that I must do in order to advance.

I guess the answer is to be positive and have faith in what I have created. Put it out there and see what happens. Geoff Talbot put it simply in his blog post on Seven Sentences where he says ‘nothing happens when you hide.’

So the next step for me is to look at the various options in order to move closer to realising my dream of having this play performed. Time for more research, which I’m sure will be the subject of another blog post.

P.S. A little bit of fear remains, but that’s okay, it keeps me focused.

Rules of Good Writing – Approach with Caution

When Elmore Leonard died on Tuesday, his 10 rules of good writing seemed to pop up all over the internet.  You can read Judge Shaking FingerLeonard’s full explanation of his 10 points in an article he wrote for the New York Times here

There are a lot of other “tips on writing” and “writers’ guides” to be found simply by using Google. I’ve read quite a few of them, and there are plenty more. But I’ve started to feel that if I was to read everything out there, I doubt I’d actually write anything because I’d be too concerned about breaking a rule; or if  I was to write, the result would be dry, stilted, lacking in any style and not true to myself for fear of falling foul of any of the many guidelines.

Having said that, one set of  thoughts which I enjoyed were set out by Jose Rivera. Rivera’s 36 Assumptions About Playwriting are more a list of thought-provoking insights rather than what to do and what not to do.

For me, I think that it’s a case of listening to the advice of those writers and authors who I most associate with and admire and taking the elements that ring true for my writing, rather than following every rule that’s written.

So if you ever get to read any of my writing, you’ll understand why there might be a few rules which have been broken, but hopefully it won’t fall into the bracket of crimes against writing.

How to format a script

blank scriptThere’s nothing worse than looking unprepared, unprofessional or just plain stupid. Well, there are worse things, but for the sake of this post, I’m going to suggest that presenting a script that isn’t well formatted, or doesn’t follow the accepted structure would be likely to fall at the first hurdle.

Even though I haven’t written a script before, I don’t want to look like an amateur. Amateurism telegraphs problems and sets alarm bells ringing among professionals and those who are more experienced. It’s like submitting a manuscript for a novel to a prospective agent, they expect you to follow a particular standard – margins of a particular dimension, double line spacing, standard font style and size etc.

So, now that I’m close to finishing the first draft of my script, it’s time to work on the format and structure. Time for some research.

The first thing I’ve noticed is that there are a number of variations. There are also differences when writing a script for TV, radio, theatre or film.  And there are differences based on  country. For example, for an American script character names are central and a line above the dialogue, like this:

What's with the long face?
I'm feeling a little horse and I don't know what could have triggered it. What do you think?

Whereas, in the UK, the script would be left justified, like this:

DAVID: That guy must be climbing the walls by now?
SHIRLEY: If this is that old joke about Spiderman, you need to find some new material.

But even among scripts from UK writers, there are differences. Therefore for the purposes of my script I have decided to defer to the trusted knowledge of the BBC. The BBC Writers Room has provided this handy PDF guide:

stage script format bbc

It’s very simple to follow and hopefully, will give me some semblance of credibility when the script leaves the safety of my PC.

It’s also worth mentioning that there are various scriptwriting software packages available too. They are easy enough to find via a search engine. However that’s not the route I chose.

So for me, it’s time to get on with the formatting.

What’s your killer line?

Ishakespeare‘m not a great writer. In 100 years time, school children will probably not be studying my prose. However, as much as I’m generally a modest, self-deprecating, lacking-in-confidence kind of person, I do have a passage of my own writing which I’m particularly happy with. It’s from a scene in a children’s adventure story I wrote where the main character is introducing himself:

“I’m a crime fighter, a wrong righter. I shake down crime and take out the grime. Where evil is hiding, I come in riding. Where the bad dudes are staying, I come in blazin’. If you’re no good brother, you better stay undercover, because I’m a Kung Fu fighter with more moves than Michael Jackson. I’m quicker than fast food and I’m known throughout the Universe as Chuttle, the number one Space Detective.”

OK, it’s not Shakespeare, but I like it. It just came to me in a moment of inspiration, I didn’t have to sit and ponder over it for hours and hours. Which made me think about how other writers develop their best lines.

Do you have a favourite bit of your own writing? The line, quote, paragraph that you’re most proud of. Something that makes you laugh every time you read it, the most romantic line you could ever imagine, or a phrase that leaves you feeling haunted?

I’d love it if you would share your favourite quote of your own writing for everyone to read in the comment box below and explain where it came from and how you made it happen.

P.S. In contrast to the ‘best’ writing, here’s an awards website dedicated to the worst, click here