Tag Archives: theatre rewriting

Scriptwriting Tips

Story

  • Get your hooks in early – the first 10 pages are the most important.  If the person reading the script is bored, so will an audience be watching it and they’ll switch channels!
  • Have a narrative thread running right through, it doesn’t need to be continually taut but it mustn’t break or the audience will drift away.  Create a sense of forward momentum and build.
  • Whose story is it?  Most stories have only one or two main protagonists. 
  • What is the inciting incident and how is it paid off?
  • If you show a gun in act one, you must fire it in act three.  In other words, if you set something up, then make sure you pay it off.
  • Get in late, get out early – in every scene.
  • Scenes should be about the characters in that scene.
  • Defer gratification and create anticipation.
  • Subvert expectations.

Characters

  • Make your characters active, not passive, in their own story.  Character is action – characters are defined by what they do, how they choose to overcome (or not) an obstacle or complete a task. 
  • Give your characters a journey. 
  • What do your characters need and want?  These are not the same thing – they may want to marry someone rich but to be happy they need to fall in love (probably with someone poor!). 
  • Characters should pursue their want (although not necessarily their need). It must be established early.
  • Show the turning points on your characters’ journey– they must be dramatised and they must be believable.
  • What is at stake if your characters don’t achieve their objective?  (In a crime thriller this might be their life, in a romantic comedy it may be their happiness).
  • What do your characters learn?  How do they change?
  • Give your characters obstacles.
  • Why should we care? We must have empathy for your characters – that doesn’t mean they have to be nice but we have to understand them. 
  • Would all your characters react differently to the same incident?  If not you need to do more work on differentiating them.
  • Make your characters real, not just serving a plot point.
  • Love your characters.  If you don’t, neither will your audience and they’ll switch off. 

Conflict

  • Internal conflict (within a character) and external conflict (between characters) is essential for all good drama and comedy.

Dialogue

  • Dialogue should sound naturalistic.
  • Use subtext and avoid writing on the nose.  Characters shouldn’t be telling us what they really think and feel (unless of course it’s something they’ve been trying to articulate right through the story, in which case when they finally reveal it, it’s dramatic).
  • Avoid characters telling us information the audience already knows. 
  • Every word counts – if it doesn’t move the story forward or reveal something new about a character, you should probably cut it (unless it’s funny!).
  • Characters should have individual voices.  If you covered over the character names, could you tell whose speech it is just from what they’ve said and how they’ve said it?

Action

  • Film and television are visual media so the golden rule is ‘Show, don’t tell’.
  • Keep action descriptions succinct.

Formatting

  • Your script will look more professional if it’s laid out in a script format. 
  • If you don’t have professional scriptwriting software, like Final Draft, you can write your script in Word using a template like Script Smart or Celtx.

Review and Revise

  • Before you send your script anywhere, read it with a critical eye.  Make it the best you possibly can. 
  • Proof read your script for obvious mistakes.  Sloppy scripts full of mistakes suggests that this is something you’ve dashed off not lovingly slaved over.

The Rules…

  • are there to be broken.  Just be aware of the rules and make sure you have a really good reason for breaking them.

Many thanks to John Yorke for his excellent ‘Advanced Story Course’, from which much of the above is taken.

I’ve written a script, what next? Part One – Theatre

That’s the question I’m most often asked by writers just starting out.  Here are my top tips:

1) Put it away.  Let it gather dust for a few weeks, then take it out, brush it off and get your red pen ready.  Do that several times until you can’t make it any better yourself (or you’re going barmy, whichever comes first).

2) Ask an expert.  Get the opinion of someone else, family and friends don’t count, unless they’re experienced writers, directors, producers or script editors.  If you don’t know anyone in the industry, then have a look online at some of the experienced industry professionals offering script feedback (Script Angel and others).  Don’t be lured in by the one with the jazziest website or the lowest rates, but do your homework.

Who will actually read your script, what’s their name?  Look them up on IMDB to check they’ve got the credits they claim to have. What length of report will you get for your money?  Some may claim to give you a 4 page report but what you actually get are a couple of pages of synopsis (you already know what’s in your script so that’s a waste of money) and only a page or so of useful feedback.  Beware of lazy ‘reader’ reports which are generic, littering their reports with phrases like ‘naturalistic dialogue’ (or lack of), characters needing better delineation.  That’s fine if it is followed by tangible examples of what you could do to change it.  You could ask to see a sample report from several and compare them.

Ideally your script editor should be keen to keep working with you, helping you to develop as a writer.  Drop them a line and ask for a chat to see if you actually get on with them. Most good editors are approachable and helpful and don’t hide behind anonymity.

3) Rewrite. The feedback should be constructive, giving you ideas on how to make your script better (not just telling you what doesn’t work) but it will also be critical and that’s hard to take.  Develop a thick skin, remember the criticism is of the work and not you.  Take heart from the fact that the very best writers at the very top of their game still get notes. Now take your precious script, and your feedback, and rewrite your script to the very best of your ability.

4) Get it out there.  Many people think that the next step is to get an agent – after all, you can’t get your work produced until you’ve got an agent can you? Well, actually, for most writers it’s the other way around. As you’ll see from Michelle Lipton’s Q&A with agents, most of them are interested in writers who are already getting their work out there, not writers who have just written one spec script.

So, you want to get it noticed, but how?  There are three main ways that spring to mind – theatre, screenwriting competitions and production companies accepting unsolicited scripts.  I’m going to concentrate in this blog on the first of those, theatre.

Most of the successful applicants for the BBC Writers’ Academy are already writing for theatre and radio, so ignore these media at your peril.  Writing for theatre is a fantastic way to develop as a writer, and there are many theatre production companies dedicated to putting on the work of new writers.  They get exciting new talent, you get your work professionally produced – it’s a win-win situation.

Here is a list of theatres and theatre production companies specialising in new writing.

Paines Plough, London

Bush Theatre, London

Hampstead Theatre, London

Royal Court Theatre, London

Theatre Royal Stratford East, London

Soho Theatre, London

Finborough Theatre, London

Theatre503, London

Zeitgeist Theatre, London*

Tamasha Theatre Company, London (specialising in new British Asian writing)*

Talawa Theatre Company, London (specialising in Black British writing)

Kali Theatre, London (specialising in new writing from South Asian women)

Out of Joint (touring theatre company for new writing)

Sphinx Theatre Company (touring new writing, specialising in strong roles for women)

Clean Break (new writing commissions on women whose lives have been affected by the criminal justice system)

New Venture Theatre, Brighton

The Nuffield Theatre, Southampton*

Warehouse Theatre, Croydon

Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch

Watford Palace Theatre

Bristol Old Vic

Show of Strength Theatre Company, Bristol

Barbican Theatre, Plymouth

Northcott Theatre, Exeter

New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich

Birmingham Repertory Theatre

Belgrade Theatre, Coventry

Loft Theatre, Leamington Spa

Sherman Theatre, Cardiff (joining forces with Sgript Cymru to create a new organisation ‘Contemporary Theatre & New Writing Company)*

Everyman Theatre, Liverpool

Royal Exchange, Manchester

Rocket Theatre, Manchester

Contact Theatre, Manchester*

Northern Gap, Derbyshire

New Vic Theatre, Newcastle-under-Lyme

Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough

Red Ladder Theatre Company, Leeds*

Theatre in the Mill, Bradford*

West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds

Hull Truck Theatre

Live Theatre, Newcastle*

Druid, Galway*

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh

That’s just the ones I know of.  If you know of any others, please let me know via my Script Angel website and I’ll update this list.  Those marked with * have been added since the list was originally published on 30th July 2009.

In later posts I’ll look at screenwriting competitions, where to send your unsolicited script and how to get an agent.