Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Method Writing Part 2

I've been thinking on this subject some more since last week, especially as Lucy (Bang2Write) Hay obviously didn't get what I was trying to say.

I WASN'T saying you should take examples from your life and force them on your characters essentially turning them into bastard versions of yourself. What I WAS saying is you need to refer back to emotional times in your own life to better understand the character you are trying to write. Let me try to make this crystal clear.

EXAMPLE: Your character is a teenage boy who doesn't relate to his mother, putting him on a collision course with her.

Go back and look at instances in your own life where you didn't get on with your mother and explore how you felt and how your actions helped or hindered that relationship. Then pick one really traumatic example, make it ten times worse and remove yourself from it, putting your character in there instead. Role play your character through that example from your life. How would your character have reacted differently? They are not YOU and will bring their own agenda to the situation. Remember it's not about imposing your life on your characters, it's about exploring your characters using examples in your life.

By doing this I have found it helps me to understand my characters better, by becoming them and exploring incidents in my life through their eyes. By the time I do this I already know who my characters are, this is not about development after all, this is only about getting into your character's head as you get ready to write your screenplay.

I hope that's clearer.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Method Writing

We've all heard of method acting where the actor immerses themselves so far into a role they become the character, even to the extent of living as that character outside of the film set - but is there such a thing as method writing?

I believe there is, but is it as simple as matching your mood to the genre or character you are writing, or do you have to dig deeper than that? When I wrote Faith, my coming-of-age drama which won the Prequel to Cannes Screenwriting Prize 2011 (a bleak tale of a street prostitute and her fight to escape the streets that would eventually consume her), I was in a very dark place. I had been suffering from depression for about three years and the incredibly bleak story of Faith was born directly from my experience of that depression.

To be a great writer I believe you have to have empathy with your characters, a connection with them which goes beyond the norm, that makes them important enough to you to spend several months, maybe even years with them. If you don't know enough about your characters, or have anything in common with them, how can you expect your audience to? There is the saying, "write what you know," and never was a truer word spoken. I'm not saying you need to go and live as a street prostitute to be able to write about one, but at the very least you must be able to understand her desperation at her situation.

If you're writing about a destructive mother and child relationship then think back to your own childhood and all the bad times you had with your mother, think about them every day, analyse the fuck out of them, make them ten times worse in your mind than they actually were, take those examples further and then you're on your way to getting into that character's mind set. At the very least it's bloody good therapy.

If you're writing about an overly optimistic person, hunt one down. Watch them - how they act, interact, what they say and how they say it, and then become that person - copy how they do things, become the overly optimistic character you're going to write about.

What I'm trying to say is your characters aren't going to be real on the page or to the audience if you don't make them real to yourself, and you can only do this if you immerse yourself into their world. Joe Cornish spoke about researching Attack The Block at LSWF 2011 last month. He told how he went to several youth clubs in London to interview inner city kids and came away with more material then he would ever use. He spent so much time with those kids he began to think like them, or at least understand how they thought, enabling him to write convincing characters.

Every character I write, even a peripheral character with a walk on part, has a little of me, or of someone I know, in their make up. I give a little of myself to all of my characters, do you?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Back To The Grind

It's been two and a half weeks since the fabulous London Screenwriters' Festival and it's taken me this long to find my feet again, after responding and writing those hundreds of emails following up with people I met and absorbing and making sense of all that information thrown at me over three incredible days.

The festival surpassed last years excellent event with assured ease and I got so much out of it listening to great speakers and meeting fascinating people that my writing batteries are now fully recharged for another year. To describe all of the fantastic things I got up to and the many wonderful people I met would require a week of writing to cover every angle, so for simplicity's sake I'll just stick to my highlights.

I was delighted to be awarded a place on the Gub Neal mentoring session on the Friday afternoon. It was a wonderful opportunity to spend three hours in the company of the man responsible for such legendary programs as Cracker and Prime Suspect and it was a delight to discover Gub was free with information and advice. Even though I was disappointed to miss Paul Ashton, Joe Cornish and Edgar Wright I wouldn't have been anywhere else. The best part of the session was being asked to pitch not only to Gub but to the other five writers there, and I learnt a lot from that alone. The main lesson for me was discovering I really am rubbish at pitching and it is something I'm going to have to seriously work on if I ever want to sell my work to TV. My mind going blank is not an excuse for leaving out my USP, something Gub honed in on instantly, and was a fantastic reminder that practice makes perfect, and practice I will from now on.

Ashley Pharaoh was speaker I was eagerly looking forward to and I wasn't disappointed. It was fascinating to hear how he works as a writer, the mistakes he's made along the way and especially which ones he's determined to avoid in the future. He was so generous with his time answering all of our questions until we couldn't think of any more, and all the while suffering with jet lag after just returning from the US. What a lovely man!

I was also extremely happy to bump into Rob Thorogood at the bar and chat to him about his debut TV series Death In Paradise, a show I'm really enjoying. Rob was very candid about his 'overnight success' which took ten years of hard graft to achieve and it was heart warming to see him still worrying about whether he'd ever work in the industry again, despite DIP's opening episode attracting just under six million viewers. It's good to know all writers, at all levels, constantly fear failure. I suppose it's what drives us and keeps us going long after most other people would have given up.

The main thing I went to LSWF for was the networking and I made sure I set up a few meetings before I got there. I was ecstatic to discover there were more directors and producers than last year, evidence word is getting around the LSWF is the place to be for networking and to find up and coming talented writers. After three and a half days networking I came away with a pile of business cards, a ton of possible future collaborations and a deluge of promised paid work. Not all of those opportunities will work out, some will fall by the wayside, or naturally run out of steam, but what I truly believe is important is the forming of those new relationships, as you never know where they might lead.

There was one project in particular that was pitched to me by a producer looking for a writer to work on that I fell in love with (the project, not the producer). If I hadn't emailed him before the festival we might never have met and I would have missed out on the chance to write a feature idea that grabbed and swung me around by the passion plums. I really can't wait to get stuck into that idea and I'm so grateful for the opportunity.

By the end of the weekend I was a little punch drunk after all that information and superb networking, but it was a nice tired, a tired wrapped in the warmth of a comfort blanket, a tired with a warm glow, a tired that...well I think you get the message. I honestly can't wait until next year.

Now if you will excuse me I must get back to my desk and work on my Red Planet Prize entry.