Screenwriting 8

I was researching for my reflective essay on the screenwriting and I came across a quote that sums up a bad screenplay. I had to share it because it also puts the problems with my dialogue in a nutshell.

“Is that your green-eyed blonde younger sister crossing the dual carriageway over there?”

From Rib Davies, “Writing Dialogue for Scripts” 2002

This makes the problem with dialogue so obvious. It just isn’t real. Instead you would have to have a character introduce the sister or have a greeting between two people but it is just really tricky. You don’t need the audio description as a screenplay is a visual medium, even if you only see it as visual writing. I have found that if I want to create a realistic scene then I must make it as close to real life as possible. I have also found out that the scene in The Full Monty, where they are dancing in the dole queue, was almost cut because they believed it wouldn’t happen in real life!

This shocked me. It has to be one of the more memorable scenes. But I suppose it is dependant on where you have stood in a queue. I remember standing and all the mums doing a gig to a 1980’s pop song whilst waiting for their child benefit money.

My lecturer says that a screenplay is not about what is said but what isn’t. He says that the visuals are just as important, if not more important, than the dialogue. When I first started working on the screenplay I was worried – how do you create a look from one character to another? The task seemed just too big. To direct not only speech but also actions and facial expressions. But you don’t have to. All you have to do is highlight the most important. And don’t forget to go back over the dialogue and make sure that you go back and edit. Less is more…

Now I just have to apply it to my own screenplay!

Open Mic – Chinwag

Well, I did it! I was amazed! I actually got up and told everyone a story. It was a fairly controversial story and at the right moment I got a gasp and then at the end a pause. Only a small pause and then applause. I think I even heard one whoop…

At the time I couldn’t take it all in but later as I drove home I was able to analyse it all and I think it went well.

Rhian Edwards, poet in residence at the Aberystwyth Arts Center, organised an open mic session (on the 19th of April) and I decided to go. I was meant to meet up with others from my course but unfortunately they didn’t make it. It didn’t matter though as I met some others I knew. So I am a little anxious and to make matters worse I am in the second half, but I sit with a bottle of water and my story clutched in my hand. I had a full five minutes I could fill. So I read. And people clapped. I shook. Literally.

To tell you the truth it passed in a bit of a haze. Will I do it again? Yes, and next time I don’t think I will be as scared. The audience didn’t bite and the people made me feel at ease, so all I can say is bring on the open mic sessions! Those that let you read short stories. I’m not sure my poems are good enough yet.

If you are local then the next session is on the 29th of May – see you there! 🙂

Screenwriting 7

Step outlines… This was new to me. I’d never heard of it. So I sat expectantly wondering what I was going to find and really hoping it would only be a list of scenes.

And actually it is just a list of scenes… and… a brief description.

Had to be really. A list of scenes would have been too easy.

So, anyway, a set outline is a list of sentences, one sentence per scene, that describes what is happening. I suppose it’s like a storyboard only written. You don’t include dialogue, set dressing, or minor characters that are unrelated to the plot. So in one of my scenes, well, this happens:

Mary, Robin and Ben stand watching each other and the doorbell rings.

Oh! The suspense… Okay maybe it’s a boring scene but that is all I’d write.

Why? Was the main question. But as I sat down to work on the scenes I soon realised that it was so you could easily move around scenes. My scene that I needed to scrap? Well I didn’t. I just moved it to a more relevant position. Once you have your step outline you know exactly what you are doing and where you are going. My only annoyance is that I didn’t create it first. Still, by doing it now I feel that the story is becoming more rounded and interesting.

So the scene would become:

Scene 15. Mary, Robin and Ben all stand in the kitchen and the doorbell rings.

Next time I tackle a screenplay though I may write the step outline first.

Guest Writer – Rhian Edwards

Rhian Edwards came and gave a lecture on poetry at Trinity Saint David, Lampeter, last Wednesday. Now I am not one for the poetry but this lecture blew me away.

It began fairly normally enough with Rhian running through poetry performance and how to find out where to do it. It was interesting and helpful. She moved on to touch on self promotion. In particular business cards.

Now I know it’s odd but I haven’t got any business cards for the writing. I have them for the toys – two varieties. Both with little pictures of soft toys on them. But for writing… well I hadn’t really thought about it. So I sat wanted to find out what to put on. After all you don’t want it to look like you’re bragging or anything.

So she suggested that the first thing is a photo. I grimaced. I don’t like my photo being taken but thanks to a wonderful cousin I do have one shot I use on everything. Then your name, email, twitter, blog and contact details. Rhian said that the best was a telephone number, as if you have an agent or publisher wanting to contact you they may want to do it immediately. Then a list of things you do. So for mine I thought: shorts stories, novel, screenwriter. Anyway I have decided to get some printed up.

But she also did a workshop with us and I actually wrote some half-way decent poetry! She told us to pick an emotion and then create the poem by giving the emotion:

  1. colour
  2. smell
  3. animal
  4. visual
  5. effect on body
  6. textures
  7. sounds

I’d like to give you a preview of the poem but I think it might be good enough for a competition so I’ll have to keep it to myself. If it doesn’t make it I’ll share – promise.

At the beginning of the workshop I argued that I couldn’t work out how to make the lines work with the words. My poor dyslexic brain just wouldn’t do the two. She said – then don’t. Just write a continuous piece and put the lines in after.

So I did and voila – a poem. I was amazed and pleased. Perhaps I can now add poetry writing to what I do. I’ll have to practice some first though.

So to Rhian Edwards, award-winning poet and poet in residence at Aberystwyth University, I tip my hat and say thanks. I really enjoyed the session and I love the poem I created. 🙂

Screenwriting 6

So, I managed to hand in three-quarters of the completed script (my lecturer had asked for the lot but it had been a little too much work). I gave it to him and then spent a nail-biting week waiting for the verdict…

I shouldn’t have worried. The verdict was – clumsy in some areas but generally okay. I’ve got to remove one scene that is totally out-of-place, but apart from that it was a thumbs up! Excellent.

Then I got the outline on what to hand in. I’d like to say it’s going to be a breeze now that the script is almost complete… but it isn’t. Luckily though I have a month to do it in.

They have asked for character biographies, which I though would be okay. The characters’ name and a brief description. But then I went onto the BBC and in particular their screenwriting software, Celtx (it’s free – just download it), and there is more to a biography than I thought.

There’s the character’s name and a description. That’s simple and I know that much about them. In fact, I realised I’d created a complete profile for my characters. They are as well-known to me as myself. I just hadn’t written it down. I was carrying these little people with me in my head.

Anyway I looked up what an ‘official’ character biography would include and it is:

  • character name
  • description
  • scenes they are in – this I understand. It make finding the characters dialogue easy
  • age
  • distinguishing features – I’m guessing a scar or patch over one eye
  • hair colour
  • eye colour
  • height
  • weight
  • key character traits – like being sadistic
  • Principle function of the character – you are then given options. – protagonist, antagonist, best friend, love interest, confidante, partner, catalyst, mentor, comic relief, other.
  • What is the goal of the character?
  • How will the character achieve this goal?
  • Family background
  • Habits/vices
  • Education
  • Personality
  • likes
  • dislikes

It’s a list! A big list. But, and this is huge, I filled it out for my three main characters and I suddenly understood why they were doing what they were doing. I understood why my protagonist had reacted in that way when confronting the antagonist. It made sense.

So I’ve moved the biography exercise onto the dissertation, which is a novel. As my characters make themselves known I am going to write a biography. Not only will I be able to keep track of them but I’ll also understand them rather than running on instinct.

As far as the screen writing is concerned, the biographies should be ready for my lecturer next week. At least the main ones will. 🙂


This is just a short post. You see I was watching a movie last night, I won’t say which one as it is meant to be brilliant and I turned it off as I didn’t like it at all.

Anyway, I turned it off and started to flick through channels. And what I found was a documentary on deaths in Victorian Britain…

Wow! It was good. I mean the content and filming was excellent but the ideas they generated – fantastic. Now, although I am tired, I have another book idea and am over the moon. Yet if I had loved the movie I would have missed it completely.


This is a BBC iplayer link so will only be active for a while. Enjoy while it works.