To script write or not to script write. That is the question

Last week, I blogged about a script writing workshop I’d attended on Valentine’s Day and explained that it was a bit of a taster for a six-week evening programme at The Stephen Joseph Theatre. My dilemma was whether I would want to join that programme after Easter. The plan was to attend ‘Plays & Pinot’ where some of the scripts would be showcased and then make a decision. So I attended last night.

And I still haven’t made a decision.

There were sixteen 20-minute plays put on over four nights and last night was the third such night. Four tables were laid out in a square in the middle of the restaurant with a reading lamp on each of them. Three or four actors per play would seat themselves at one of these tables and read through the script (in an acting voice, naturally, with accompanying facial expressions and the odd gesture) whilst a narrator set the scene and provided stage directions. The audience were seated round all four sides of the room.

_MG_0221All of the plays had been written around the theme of love using the same prompt pictures we’d been given on our Saturday workshop. There’s apparently a theme each year and they vary massively – last year’s was WWI – and they are always based on prompt pictures. The first play was about a single mum reacting to her son’s revelation that he was gay. The second was about a policeman who was seeing the 17-year-old daughter of his boss against a backdrop of drugs and club raids. We then had an interval before the next two plays. The first of these involved a wealthy student trying to befriend and support a prostitute working in the area, and the final one was an elderly couple and the revelation by the woman that she’d discovered her husband had fathered a child before they’d met. Very eclectic mix of subject matter!

P1060181My favourite play was the first one because it made me both laugh and cry and I really like books/plays/films that hit my emotions. I think the final play was probably inspired from the same picture I chose to write about.

Three of the four writers were present and they ran a Q&A session afterwards. I didn’t stay for that as I had an early morning for bootcamp this morning.

I had hoped that I’d leave Plays & Pinot with a clear decision that it’s either for me or not. But I didn’t. I enjoyed the evening, despite being there on my own, and I was impressed with what had been produced and brought to life by some amazing actors. I’m curious as to how much writing experience the writers had because, if it was none, then they’d done exceptionally well. I’d probably have found this out if I’d stayed.

I kept imaging how it must feel watching a piece of your work unfold. What an amazing experience that must be, particularly to observe the reaction of the audience (laughter, tears, applause etc). It’s not something an author will get unless their book is made into a film so it’s a pretty unique opportunity.

The tutor seems incredibly experienced and supportive and it sounds like there is great support as a whole cohort in developing each others’ plays.

So what’s stopping me signing up immediately? It’s that I’m chasing my tail at the moment, as reblogged a few days ago from a post I wrote on the Write Romantics blog. I honestly don’t know if I have the time to do it. Will working on a play detract me from my “core” work … or will the feedback and learning be invaluable and support me with my “core” work? Tricky. What do you think?

Maybe a compromise is to wait until September instead rather than sign up after Easter. It’s not like they’re never going to run another workshop.

I’d love to hear your thoughts as I’m torn at the moment.

Thanks

Jessica xx

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Chasing My Tail by Jessica Redland

It was my turn to post on the Write Romantics blog yesterday so I thought I’d re-blog it here.

thewriteromantics

10527383_331005803724929_5378621437399779308_nAs regular visitors to our blog will know, we post every Wednesday and Saturday with the occasional Monday post like Christina Hollis’s this week. And sometimes we completely rebel and throw in another random day. Because we like to mix it up like that.

As a group of ten, we all take turns to contribute to this blog. We all bring guests to the Saturday Spotlight and there’s a rolling ‘rota’ for the book group and for Wednesday posts. This week, Saturday’s guest has been organised by me and I’ve just received her article and pictures. I thought I might as well get ahead of myself and schedule them ready for Saturday.

While I waited for wordpress to load up, I glanced at the calendar on the wall by my Mac just to double check that I wasn’t a week ahead of myself. I have one of these family-planner things with six…

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Does a novelist only write novels?

I’m always keen to experience anything that will help me improve my writing. I’ve got a shelf full of ‘how to’ books about all aspects of writing that I dip in and out of from time to time, and I would absolutely love to go on a writing workshop but I simply don’t have the funds. However, when hubby spotted an advert for a one-day script-writing workshop at our local theatre for just £30, I immediately signed up.

As a novelist, I’ve never considered scriptwriting before, but my books are very dialogue-led and scripts for plays are all about the dialogue so I thought, ‘why not give it a try?’ Earlier this year, I challenged myself to write a short story for The Write Romantics charity anthology, ‘Winter Tales’ (still available on Amazon here in paperback and eBook formats) and I really enjoyed the experience of writing in a different way to the norm so I figured that scriptwriting could be another great diversion.

I had no idea what to expect. The blurb in the programme simply said: “…gain an insight into the way scriptwriting works … come along and discover how to create your very own original piece of drama.”

There were eleven of us on the workshop at Scarborough’s Stephen Joseph Theatre. Two of the delegates were college students, then there was me in my early forties, and all the others were in their late fifties or older so that made for quite an eclectic mix.

The workshop started with a brief discussion on the difference between scriptwriting and novels, then we explored different types of scriptwriting: plays, TV and films. Our tutor explained that scripts were made up of three components – story, characters, setting – and that the day would focus round these.

P1060185Then we moved into a series of activities. I confess that I was a bit thrown by one of the morning activities because it involved working in pairs and, because there were odd numbers, I ended up working in a trio. I work in a team all the time in my day job but I’ve never tried writing with anyone else. It was really hard. I’d been asked to develop a character and the other two had a place each. Our task was to develop a story with that character and the two settings. Sounds like a fairly easy piece of teamwork but it wasn’t. You see, we’d been asked to pick images with which we had an emotional connection so we’d all developed and bought into a very clear idea of where we wanted the story to go. Combining all three ideas (the lady, open road with a figure on, and lighthouse shown in the picture) was a huge challenge and incredibly frustrating at first, especially as both my team-members had imagined characters in their settings and the three characters didn’t necessarily work in the same story. Quite a bit of discussion and compromise got us there in the end, though.

An interesting exercise we were asked to do was called ‘What’s in the bag?’ We were asked to imagine one of the characters from the story and think about what they might have in their bag or briefcase. This would help establish what was really important to that character and the sort of person they were. We had to be detailed e.g. if our character had some paracetamol, would it be a branded one or supermarket own-brand, would make-up be Clinique or Rimmel and what sort of condition would it be in. I actually found this a really helpful exercise and, as I pointed out to the group, I thought that what was missing from the bag was also very revealing. For example, I imagined that my character had hair bands with bits of hair still attached to them but no hairbrush which showed a lack of interest in her appearance.

We returned to our groups and completed a fun exercise where we were challenged on genre. We were asked to transpose our world into the wild west (history), the moon in the future (sci-fi), fairytale world (fantasy) or soap opera world (slice of life). It was really interesting seeing the changes this made to everyone’s stories as they shared them around the room.

P1060180The afternoon was all individual activity. We were given a new set of pictures all on the theme of love (well, it was Valentine’s Day) but we were told it didn’t have to be romantic love. We could be thinking about friendship or families when, as before, we selected an image that spoke to us and develop the character(s) in that image, then create a story, then write a script for a scene. What was fascinating was that, out of sixteen pictures and eleven delegates, seven of us were drawn to the same picture! This was an image of two old people ambling down a blossom-strewn lane (shown below).

I really loved my characters and the story I developed. When I gave the group the synopsis and read out my script, I got a fantastic reaction. This was incredibly flattering. It was a historic piece – not my usual genre – which reminded me of a piece I’d written on a creative writing workshop many years ago. I’ve always thought about returning to that piece and I’m thinking now that this would be a great piece of work alongside it that I would like to develop further.

P1060181Overall, it was an enjoyable and interesting workshop and, if I’d been a beginner, it would have been a great starting point for unlocking the imagination. What it didn’t really do is teach us how to write a script. But maybe I’m overcomplicating it. After all, isn’t a script in it’s simplest form just a list of names with dialogue and some stage directions? The challenging part is developing the story, characters and setting that our tutor said were the three components of a script. What I personally took from the workshop was a great premise for a story that I might develop, a useful exercise in the form of ‘What’s in the bag?’ and encouragement that I can very quickly and easily come up with characters and a plot that others love. As to whether I can imagine myself moving from novels to scripts, I’m not so sure. I’m already imagining my lovely old couple story as a novel rather than a script, but is that because that’s my default style?

I’m glad I attended. My next decision is whether to take this to the next step. The Stephen Joseph Theatre run scriptwriting workshops on a termly basis. They’re run in batches of six lessons every other week and I’m toying with whether to join one after Easter. As I understand it, delegates develop a script for a play across the time and enhance this through group discussion and the support of the tutor. Twice a year, the plays are performed at an event called ‘Plays and Pinot’. This is a fairly informal event where actors (and some of the writers I think) read out the plays while the audience enjoys a glass of Pinot. It must be exciting for the writers to hear their plays read out. As part of my workshop, I get a free ticket to attend a ‘Plays and Pinot’ performance in a weeks’ time. I’m going to see what that’s like and then make a decision on whether I join the post-Easter course and develop a play.

Can a novelist write more than novels? Absolutely, yes. But do they want to? Hmm. Watch this space!

It’s that marmite time of year again

_MG_0218It’s Valentine’s Day today. That marmite time of year. Do you love it? Or do you hate it?

As a romance writer, it might follow that I love Valentine’s Day. Hearts, flowers, declarations of love, proposals. All fabulously romantic and lovely and just what a romance writer would adore, surely? Who wouldn’t love 14th February? Well, me actually.

Sorry to say it but I’m not a fan. I know that there are many people who hate it because they think it’s an overly commercial day designed just to make card companies, chocolatiers, and florists a wad of cash. They may have a point but retail is a tough business (she says having run her own shop) and I don’t begrudge them the opportunity.

There’s also the belief (sometimes held by the same people) that there shouldn’t be one day of the year set aside on which you must specifically show you love someone; if you love someone, you should demonstrate it all year round.

I can see both of these points but neither are the reason why I don’t love Valentine’s Day. I don’t love Valentine’s Day because Valentine’s Day doesn’t love me.

Let me explain…

_MG_7511My very first brush with Valentine’s Day was making a homemade card for a lad I fancied at primary school. I can’t remember whether there was a postbox set up or whether I sneaked it into his tray but I vividly remember him being unbelieveably disinterested in it. He made no enquiries to find out who’d sent it. He didn’t care. Boys eh? Needless to say, I didn’t get any cards that year. Or any other year at primary school.

When I was about fourteen, I was thrilled to receive a card and a heart-shaped chocolate in the post. My very first Valentine’s card. And it came with a gift! It was from a lad that I’d befriended on an adventure holiday the previous summer (I knew because he’d signed it). I went into school all excited… only to discover that he’d also sent one to my best friend who’d been on holiday with me and another girl we’d befriended there. It was a gesture of friendship. Nothing else.

I was eighteen before another card came my way. This time it was from my boyfriend in my first year at university. We’d been to the Halls of Residence bar on the evening of the 13th February with a couple of friends. One of them lived on the same floor as me and kept me up close to midnight, asking if I liked surprises. I thought this was a little strange. As midnight struck and Valentine’s Day arrived, the doors to the floor burst open and my boyfriend came running round the corridor dressed in nothing but boxer shorts covered in hearts, carrying a bottle of wine, a card, and a red rose. I’m going to sound so awful saying this, but my recall (many years later) was that it was a bit more embarrassing than romantic! Plus, I had lectures the next day and I was really, really tired! I didn’t want to drink wine and be romantic. I just wanted to go to sleep.

P1060175I had a free period later that morning and propped open my door and wandered into the kitchen to make a cuppa. When I came back, there was a card and a Sad Sam (remember those? Puppies with big, sad eyes that were all the rage in the late 80s/early 90s) sat on my bed. The lad in the room next-door (with whom I was friends) had put them there. Apparently he’d fallen for me and, even though he was also friends with my boyfriend, he seemed to think it was okay to share his feelings too. It was Valentine’s Day after all! I can’t remember whether I guessed it was him or whether he told me, but I somehow found myself sitting on my bed with him confessing his undying devotion to me and telling me that he’d be there for me if I ever wanted to ditch the boyfriend. Please keep remembering that the boyfriend and he were friends. Not so much after that. You see, the boyfriend knew I had a free period so came to see me and found me on the bed having a heart-to-heart and holding a card and a Sad Sam that he hadn’t given me. He understandably wasn’t too chuffed with my neighbour’s bold declaration of devotion. It was quite a fraught free period and I have never been so relieved to have an Economics lecture to attend as I was that morning; perfect opportunity to escape the tension!

The boyfriend and I went out for a romantic meal that evening. Only it wasn’t at all romantic. He was livid about the incident with the next-door neighbour and, even though he knew I didn’t feel anything for the lad, the betrayal of friendship hung in the air. Great.

P1060177In my final year at university, I was stunned and delighted to receive three Valentine’s cards, especially as I was single at the time. One was from a good friend who wanted to cheer me up, one was from a lad with whom I’d had one date but who’d made it clear that he didn’t want another date or a relationship as he was on the rebound from someone. Not really sure to this day why he sent me a card. The third was a mystery, though. It contained some song lyrics and I knew I recognised them but I absolutely couldn’t place them. These were the days before t’internet. I couldn’t just Google them. I was sure I knew who’d sent me it – a lad who I’d dated for about a week the term before – but he demanded to know why I thought it was him. I had to solve the clue in the lyrics. I finally sussed the song but I still couldn’t work out the connection to him. By the time I worked it out (the name of the band was connected to his name), it was a week or so later, and the moment was well and truly lost. He admitted that it had been him but I think he was annoyed that I hadn’t worked out why as, when we’d been dating, he’d told me that, if he ever sent someone a Valentine’s card, he’d put the lyrics of a song by this particular band in his card. Clearly I’d forgotten that conversation which suggested I’d never been listening to him in the first place and had therefore been a pretty rubbish girlfriend. Oops!

_MG_0221After that, I had years of being single and I seemed to go through a phase of being away with work on Valentine’s Day. I was exceedingly self-conscious about dining in the hotel alone as it was. Throw into the mix a restaurant full of couples gazing adoringly into each other’s eyes and it was excruciating.

I’ve now been with hubby for eleven Valentine’s Days. When we first met, we exchanged cards and a few silly gifts (I remember buying him some Purple Ronnie socks, for example) but I’ve never had any flowers, teddies, or anything particularly special from him on Valentine’s Day. Several years ago, I declared that I only wanted a card. I’ll admit this was more of a defence mechanism; declare that you only want a card and you won’t be disappointed when you don’t get anything else and will be pleasantly surprised if you do! I sometimes wish he’d surprise me and present me with some flowers. Or perhaps something that’s even more me… like a romantic novel, some heart-themed stationery, or a film. Or all three but that’s just greedy! But would I really want this on Valentine’s Day? When I see my Facebook feed later today full of friends and family declaring, “Look what I got” and posting pictures of bouquets, champagne, teddy bears holding hearts, posh meals out, and so on, I know I’ll get envious (because I do every year) and wish I was on the receiving end of all these lovely gifts. But then I remind myself that past experience has made me dislike this day because of the pressure and disappointment it brings, whether you’re single or not. Why, therefore, would I want to acknowledge this day?

Perhaps I am more with the school of thought that showing you care should happen all year round; not just on February 14th. The problem is, my husband isn’t romantic. He doesn’t buy me flowers. In nearly twelve years together, he’s never sent me a bouquet. He’s bought me some flowers home from the supermarket on a handful of occasions, along with the weekly shop. Not quite the same thing. The thing is that I don’t really want flowers on Valentine’s Day. I object to the inflated prices. But it would be nice to have some at another time of year. Perhaps.

Hubby doesn’t surprise me with romantic meals either. I can’t remember the last time we went out together, just the two of us. Or even as a group. To be fair to him, we were meant to go out between Christmas and New Year as a six. One of the group was ill so that couple pulled out but the other couple then cancelled as the plan had been to go out as a six. Hubby and I could have gone out as a two but I couldn’t be bothered. I’m not very good at dealing with changes to plans and a takeaway in front of the TV seemed so much easier than getting all dressed up and braving the cold.

P1060118So hubby doesn’t do meals and flowers but he does do other things that show he cares. He spends ages choosing the right cards with the right words in them and he always adds some of his own instead of just signing his name. He lets me lie in on a weekend and brings me a cup of tea and some breakfast in bed. He reads my bootcamp blog without fail and is really proud of me when I achieve my goals. He bought me a necklace one year (for birthday or Christmas) with a pendant of St Paul on it, the Patron Saint of Writers. I went on a girly trip to York last month with my mum and sisters-in-law and wasn’t going to buy anything because we’re trying to save some money. He insisted I treated myself to a teddy bear for my collection as I’d been really down about work last year when I thought I was going to lose my job yet again. And I mustn’t forget coming home from my shopping trip to discover that he’d been creative and designed a photo for the launch of my debut novel. I hadn’t asked him to. We’d never discussed it. He just did it.

10933962_422724554553053_2755676624398073407_nIt’s not over the top displays of romance but, when I break it down, it’s all evidence that he’s thinking of me and he cares. Isn’t that what romance is? Especially the little things that he does regularly like reading my blog and making me breakfast in bed. Do I need bouquets of flowers when I have this? Hmm. Well, maybe not constantly but once in a while would be lovely 🙂

Whatever you’re doing today, I hope it brings you happiness, whether you’re in a great relationship, a relationship on the rocks, or single. Find something that makes you happy. For me, it’s a script-writing workshop at our local theatre and tea with hubby and the munchkin. What a fabulous way to spend a Saturday. Watch this space for a future blog about the script-writing workshop.

Happy weekend 🙂

Jessica xx

Line edits are in. It’s getting closer …

Last week I explained how my structural edits on my debut novel made me face my nemesis: the dreaded first chapter. I said that my next stage of editing – the line edits – would be just around the corner. Well, they arrived on Tuesday evening. Ooh. Next stage!

I’m pretty new to this being published malarkey. Before I got a publishing deal, I had no idea that there were two stages of edits or what they entailed. If I were to Google it, I’m sure there’d be a stack of information explaining the differences but, as I didn’t know they existed, I didn’t know to Google them. A classic case of you don’t know what you don’t know! For those who aren’t sure, here’s my take on it and apologies if it isn’t a perfect definition; it’s what it means from my experiences:

STRUCTURAL EDITS – As the name suggests, these are changes to the structure of your novel. These can be minor (like the couple I had where it was suggested the action at a couple of points didn’t seem to come to a close) or major like removing a sub-plot, changing the first chapter, making a character more likeable or villainous or changing the order of events.

LINE EDITS – Once the structural edits have been completed (which could involve some back and forth between author and editor), the line edits kick in. These are quite simply the editor working his or her way through the novel line by line, checking for typos, consistency, clunky sentences, grammatical errors and so on.

There should also be a proof-reading stage after this to correct any final typos and grammatical errors that may have slipped through the net.

I didn’t really know what I expected. My publisher had written me a covering email saying that there were very few changes in there and a lot of them were stylistic. I was therefore a little shocked when I opened the document to find the pages seemed to be littered with track changes. Panic! Had I really done that many things wrong? But as I started to systematically work my way through them, it wasn’t quite so bad as the same offenders kept cropping up again and again. For example, a … shouldn’t (for my publisher) have a space between the word and the dots … like I’ve just put there… when I should have done it like that. Actually, this may be an industry standard. My husband is a typesetter and I vaguely recall him saying something about this before… but I wasn’t really listening!

The thing that surprised me was commas. I always thought that I had a pretty good command of commas and it seems that I do… except when used in a sentence that contains the word ‘but’. Oops. I now wonder whether I’ve been taught incorrectly. Or is it that I’ve remembered incorrectly? I wanted to learn from my line edits and ensure that I wouldn’t submit my second MS with the same mistakes so I decided to use Mr Google to help me understand why my commas were in the wrong places. Sadly, the answers he gave confused me even more and we had a bit of a falling out (Mr Google and me; not my editor and me!) I will take some time out and see if I can understand it but not just yet as I know it’s going to give me brain-ache.

Another thing that has surprised me is that there are still typos in my MS! How? It’s been read and re-read so many times by so many people that I can’t believe they’ve still snuck in there! No wonder it’s so common to pick up or download a book these days and spot one or two that have slipped through the net. Mind you, I’ve read some books recently that are littered with them and feel so sorry for the author as that should surely have been picked up before publication. The most random one had been spotted by one of The Write Romantics who kindly read Steven for me recently. She spotted the mention of ‘predicative text’. PredicAtive? Where on earth had that come from? Neither my editor nor I had spotted it but, thanks to Sharon, it’s now corrected. I must have read the MS dozens of times yet I’ve never, ever noticed it. Mind you, had Sharon not picked it up, it would have been spotted at the proof-reading stage.

My line edits took me longer than I expected, but this is because I made the decision to properly read it again, line for line. Searching for Steven is book one in a trilogy and I’ve finished the first draft of the third book. Whilst writing the second and third part in the trilogy, characters and plot points have developed but in ways that I need to reflect in book 1. Mainly these are little things e.g. I needed to change the job of a character slightly to fit with something that happens in book 3, and I’ve decided I don’t like the name of the village that my hero in book 2 lives in so I wanted to change that. He’s meant to live in a pretty chocolate-box village and the name I’d given it – South Edgeton – sounded anything but cute village.

Last night I sent my edits and comments back to my publishers. There’ll be a bit of back and forth as I’ve raised a few questions but, once this is finalised, I’m really on my way. The book will get typeset and versions will be available for reviewers which is both thrilling and terrifying at the same time!

That’s it for now. If anyone knows a great source of information about use of commas in a sentence containing ‘but’, please shout!

Jessica xx

PS Apologies for the lack of pictures but I couldn’t think of any relevant pictures for this post!