Random Witterings

Needy writer

needy

I’ve discovered recently that I’m a needy writer and I’m working hard not to be.

Not needy in an emotional sense or a whiny, weepy, please love me, I need your approval sense …

Although I am that as well. Come on, we all are. Deep down?

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No? Just me?

Not like that anyway, more in the sense of thinking in terms of what the script/story/characters need.

Several times recently on a couple of projects I’ve been deep in discussion with the director or my co-writer about a script which isn’t quite working and saying something like:

“What we need is a scene which shows the character loves gerbils and is a homicidal maniac who’s afraid of cheese.”

To which everyone agrees … but how do we show both in the same scene?

Hmm.

What can we do to visually show both of these things in a single page or image? I mean, after the script needs it.

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Needs. It.

Or does it?

What happens if we take that bit out? What happens if we change it? What if we make the character love cheese and get all stabby over gerbils? What if we make the character something completely different?

How much of what we think we need do we actually need?

In both cases, the answer was the same – we don’t need that. Not at all. In fact, if we do the complete opposite then the story actually works and is completely satisfying as opposed to merely kind of okay.

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The script I’ve just finished, to get specific without giving any of the plot away, is about risk and the taking thereof. We needed the protagonist to be risk-averse and to be forced into taking a huge risk in order to win through at the end.

We needed that. The script needed that. The story hinged on it. It had to happen.

The only problem is, it was making the protagonist incredibly boring. It’s quite hard (within the confines of the pre-existing story) to make this particular protagonist interesting and fun and likeable (or empathetic or loveable … or whatever you want to call it) and still be risk-averse.

I mean, how do you show that someone’s risk-averse?

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You show them not doing dangerous things. You know, fun things like not skydiving or not being spontaneous or not gambling their career on a promotion or not … well, anything. And in order to show someone isn’t doing something, you have to have her standing next to people who are doing things. You have to see her next to someone (or someones) who do throw themselves out of a plane or off a building or running across a busy road while she waits behind looking scared and/or disapproving.

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One of the quickest ways to build empathy with a character is to show them being good at something. Or compassionate about something. But if all you’re doing is showing them not doing it, then they’re just not interesting.

Okay, so there are ways around this but we found ourselves building in an incredibly detailed backstory to explain why she’s like this so the audience are on her side. She’s risk-averse because her mother was a compulsive gambler who lost the family home and was forced to work as a drug mule, taking the young protagonist along for cover who then witnessed first hand what happens when you are indebted to the mob and/or get busted for … blah, blah, blah.

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An extra fifteen pages later and the script is waaaaay too long.

And the protagonist is still dull. Justifiably so – we understand why she’s dull and know this is the story of how she learns to stop being dull … but still, dull is dull.

But this is what the script needs, it’s about risk. Stories work best when the character has a thematically ironic problem to overcome. The theme is risk. The irony is she doesn’t take any.

That’s what the script needs.

Needs.

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Or does it?

What if we put that idea aside (because it’s terrible) and look at it from the other direction?

What if, instead of being risk-phobic, she’s a riskophile?

What if she’s the one throwing herself out of a plane while someone boring looks on disapprovingly? What if she’s a fuck-load of fun?

Well, for one thing it makes the story much more enjoyable.

She takes too many risks, learns about consequences and then, when she’s begining to fear taking risks, has to take the biggest one of her life.

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Suddenly the script is far, far better.

Why do people take risks? Why aren’t they afraid of the consequences? Why doesn’t she care enough about herself to rein it in?

Suddenly the script is wide open … without actually changing any of the pre-existing story points.

But what about the antagonist? He was the one taking the risks she was afraid of, now he’s pretty much the same as her. If we change him, we change the whole story … which we can’t do.

Okay, fine. So let’s make him the worst version of her to show her how dangerous her present course of action is. He is what she will become if she doesn’t begin to comprehend consequences …

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And so on.

Forgetting about what we thought the script needed allowed us to find something the script actually needed. It allowed us to find a way to make it actually work.

So that’s my plan from now on – every time I find myself with a fixed idea about what the script needs but not what that thing might be, I’m just going to set that aside and try to imagine what the opposite might be.

And the end of the day, the previous option is still there. Thinking outside of what I believe the script needs might not provide the results, but it doesn’t hurt either. It’s a technique which is serving me well at the moment so, you know, it might be worth a try?

Bullshit or not?

Categories: Bored, My Way, Random Witterings | 1 Comment

Oh dear

So … regular updates. Yes. That didn’t quite happen, did it?

I think it’s fairly safe to say October didn’t go quite as planned.

On the writing side, I had to do a rewrite for a script which is just tipping over into production, got sidetracked by being asked for ideas for a completely different genre to the one I intended to write and also ended up completely junking my existing idea and starting again from scratch. So it’s not like I’ve done nothing, it’s more like I’ve got nothing to show for it.

At least nothing useful to show for it.

Yet.

This is as far as I got with the new idea in October.

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That’s my new laptop, by the way. Sometimes it looks like that, sometimes it looks like this:

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All courtesy of my lovely wife.

On the Proton Pack side of things … well, it turns out a month of weekends isn’t quite enough time to build one. Not when you’re using papier mache anyway. You see, it turns out papier mache takes ages to dry. Hours and hours. Bordering on days. Five layers of papier mache at three days per week takes … well, several weeks.

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Luckily it all accelerates after that …

2014-10-09 12.42.32 2014-10-10 14.41.14 2014-10-11 08.36.09 2014-10-11 15.21.57 2014-10-13 21.43.42 2014-10-13 21.46.47 2014-10-17 22.27.45 2014-10-17 22.27.51 2014-10-17 23.47.11 2014-10-17 23.50.30 2014-10-18 11.11.45 2014-10-19 00.03.12 2014-10-19 12.07.59 2014-10-19 17.15.55 2014-10-20 00.07.38 2014-10-20 00.07.59 2014-10-21 00.31.02 2014-10-25 21.33.09 2014-10-27 19.48.39

But not fast enough.

I even had to take some sewing to my secret writing island in order to get it all done.

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On Halloween itself, desperately jetlagged, I was still fucking about with LEDs and soundcards and painting bottle tops and lolly sticks. I didn’t quite manage to get the smoke machine working, but it kind of came out okay though:

And although the paint was still wet and a few glued on bits fell off … overall, it was a successful night of tricking and treating:

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I even got a free cup of tea from the lovely people at Tennis in the Park.

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So that was my October.

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November won’t involve any Proton Packs (well, bar maybe a teeny bit of finishing off) …

SMOKE!

… but hopefully should involve a new script.

Probably.

Categories: Random Witterings | Leave a comment

Recipe for success

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I hate following recipes.

That’s not to say I’m one of those people who can fashion a gourmet meal out of kitchen scraps, artfully combining them in new and inventive ways by pure instinct. Truth be told, I hate cooking anything I haven’t cooked before – especially if it’s meant to be something recognisable at the end.

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The problem I have is recipes aren’t really instructions. They kind of try to be sometimes, but generally assume you have a degree of cooking knowledge and can understand the difference between complex terms like ‘fold’, ‘beat’ and ‘whisk’ which to my feeble mind all mean ‘stir’.

Possibly vigorously.

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They also use phrases like “a pinch”. A pinch? How much is a pinch? My fingers might be bigger than yours. How do you know I haven’t got massive fucking fingers? That’s hardly fucking science, is it?

My main issue with following recipes though is the fact I can follow them exactly and still not produce the meal I was supposed to be cooking.

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“This is what we’re having for dinner” says Mandy “and here’s the recipe.”

Okay, should be easy. We’ve eaten this dozens of times over the years. I know what it’s supposed to look like and taste like and …

By the way, there is a scriptwriting link coming. Honest.

… roughly what goes into it. Following the recipe should be a doddle.

Except it’s not.

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It never is.

Because one of two things happens: either I get halfway through and discover Mandy hasn’t bought a vital ingredient (for she does the shopping in our house since she spends far less time in the Caribbean than I do) forcing me to stop at a crucial junction and either run to the shops or substitute something random for something I have no idea what it was supposed to be.

“Olive Tapenade? What the fuck is a tapenade? Will Frosties do?”

More often than not, it’s at this point I give up and head for the nearest burger joint.

If I’m not missing an ingredient then I finish cooking to discover the result doesn’t look, smell or taste anything like it does when Mandy makes it.

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Which is frustrating since I was following her recipe.

Of course, the key to unravelling this mystery is to understand one simple fact: Mandy doesn’t follow recipes. She invents bits, for she is a wonderful cook. She doesn’t use Olive Tapenade because she knows I don’t like olives (I once drank a pint of olive oil – that sort of silliness tends to put you off) so substitutes it for something tomato-y.

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In other dishes she doubles, halves, omits or adds various ingredients because she’s cooked these dishes a few times and likes to experiment. When she serves a specific dish it’s not actually the one specified by the recipe because she’s altered it into something else. I can follow the same recipe a hundred times and never come close to approximating the dish she serves because I have no idea what it actually is.

And I don’t think this is uncommon. A good cook looks at the recipe and then disregards the bits which don’t fit his or her tastes. A good cook recognises a recipe isn’t a set of instructions, it’s a set of guidelines. It’s a statement which says:

“I did it this way because it works for me, do something similar which works for you.”

It occurs to me that this might be the correct approach to use when learning screenplay structure. Some writers are appalled by the notion that something artistic might have rules … completely ignoring the fact that ALL art has rules. Or perhaps just guidelines. Or recipes.

They’ll point to great artists like Picasso and go “well he didn’t follow the rules, so why should I?”

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Which is odd, because if you ever go to the Picasso museum in Barcelona (you know, that one somewhere down off Las Ramblas – near that bar which has trees in it and fairies and a haunted castle-room-thing at the back … no idea what it’s called. The museum. Or the bar for that matter.) then you can clearly see Picasso learnt all the rules, painted some rather dull portraits before giving up and just taking the piss out of people.

At least, that’s my theory. There’s this great exhibit which you see an original artwork by someone or other and then Picasso’s version next to it. The original is a near-photo-quality portrait. Picasso’s version looks like Bod.

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And is worth ten times as much.

In other words, Picasso learnt the recipe and then did his own version. He changed the bits he felt needed changing to suit his style … but he still followed certain rules of composition.

Probably.

I have no fucking idea what I’m talking about and appear to be mixing metaphors all over the place.

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Or am I folding them?

Possibly beating. Not sure.

The point, if I ever had one, is there’s nothing wrong with seeking out other people’s recipes for scriptwriting. I find it interesting to study them and see what I can learn from them. I don’t follow them to the letter though – I like to mix and match, to deviate from the recipe in ways which enhance the script.

Or at least I think they enhance the script.

Maybe they don’t?

Maybe I should just follow the recipes exactly? Maybe I should just shut the hell up because I’ve no idea why I started talking about this crap?

Yes, that sounds more likely.

Here, have some recipe-themed funk instead.

Categories: My Way, Random Witterings, Someone Else's Way | Leave a comment

TV programmes only I’ve seen: #1 – Tales of the Gold Monkey

I had a spare afternoon recently so I sat down and wrote out four new blog posts – four weeks’ worth of pointless tosh … and now I can’t find them. I suspect I saved them to my desktop and then deleted them in some frenzied docu-purge … but I can’t be sure.

Bugger.

So, instead of what was probably a torrent of meaningless rambling, I’m forced to write something meaningful and insightful … or talk about 80′s TV.

Yeah, fuck it, 80′s TV it is.

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There are certain TV programmes I loved as a kid which no-one else appears to have heard of. Well, clearly not no-one because somebody must have heard of them or seen them. I find it highly unlikely I was the only person in the UK to have watched these things … it just sometimes feels like that.

Which is a shame, because these programmes are an important part of my childhood memories – they’re cultural touchstones only I seem to have touched… thus rendering them completely and utterly useless. I mean, what’s the point of holding onto a memory for thirty-odd years if you can’t reminisce about them with anyone? So this post (and any subsequent ones, if I can be arsed) are solely designed to see if anyone else shared these tiny moments of joy in the dark and dangerous past.

First up:

TALES OF THE GOLD MONKEY! What a fucking awesome show! It had everything: planes, violence, a one-eyed dog, sexy (important to a ten year old) women, violence, Nazis, exotic locations and more violence. And cigars.

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Cigars were very important on TV in the 80′s.

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Tales of the Gold Monkey was a cross between (rip off of) Indiana Jones and Only Angels Have Wings (which apparently no-one else has seen either, so it’s pointless mentioning).

Set on a fictional South Sea island (probably – I was ten! I have no idea where it was set.) Tales of the Gold Monkey was a rollicking adventure series, the story of pilot Jake Cutter, played by Decker from Star Trek (not to be confused with Riker from ST:TNG who was completely different. Completely. Honest, he had a beard and everything!).

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Jake was the pilot (and one time owner, until he lost it in a poker game or something like that) of Cutter’s Goose, a frankly awesome sea plane … or possibly the only sea plane I’ve seen portrayed in a TV show. One of the two.

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Jake, together with his alcoholic engineer, Corky(?) …

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… and Jack (a one-eyed dog who barked once for yes and twice for no (or the other way round, probably the other way round) and was the most intelligent character in the show)

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… they flew around a bit and fought Nazis and hunted treasure and punched people and … just generally had adventures. They may or may not have discovered a few lost civilisations – I can’t remember.

Yes, I know I can just use the Internet to fill in the details, but that’s really not the point, is it?

Is it?

What else?

There was Sarah (I think she was called Sarah, she looks like a Sarah in my head) who was … um … something. A US spy, perhaps? Did she run the company which employed Jake? That sounds about right. I think she owned Cutter’s Goose. Or maybe she didn’t?

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Now I come to think of it, maybe Jake lost Jack’s eye in a poker game and not the plane? I’m guessing Sarah was Jake’s will-they/won’t-they love interest and/or added to keep Dads from turning over in the way all 80′s adventure shows added at least one token woman to be tokenly sexy … but then usually dressed them in oddly unsexy, neck to ankle dresses with lots of frills.

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Apart from Jodie in The Fall Guy, of course.

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Oh, and Daisy Duke.

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And maybe one of the truck-bound engineer women in Knightrider? I’ve a feeling there were two of them and one was decidedly more token-sexy than the other … but I may be wrong.

Did this happen on women-based adventure shows like Charlie’s Angels or The Bionic Woman? Did they chuck in a scantily clad bloke just for kicks? Probably not.

Fuck it, I will – just to add balance.

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Tales of the Gold Monkey did have a female co-lead (or co-sub-lead) anyway. Oh and a Dragon Lady-type character who probably wasn’t actually Chinese since I’m not sure they let Chinese people be on telly much in the 80′s.

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In my mind she ran the drug trade and was in league with the Nazis and was very sexy, but I might be getting her confused with a character from Buck Rogers?

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Or maybe even Flash Gordon?

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Fucking hell, did Princesses in space never wear clothes?

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I think there was a fornicating vicar who was a Nazi spy and a guy who ran the bar (Golden Monkey Bar?) who might have been in Planet of the Apes.

Or am I making this up now?

Maybe Tales of the Gold Monkey wasn’t as formative a memory as I first thought? There certainly seems to be less of it than I thought I remembered.

I don’t know why no-one except me saw this show. Possibly it was an age thing? It only ran for one season so anyone a year or two younger than me (apart from my brother, who definitely saw it) might not have been allowed to stay up until whenever it was on whatever day it was on?

Or maybe it was shit?

Maybe I’m largely getting mixed up with this:

I’ve got a vague feeling Bring ‘em Back Alive was on at the same time on the other side (yes, THE other side. There were only two channels back then … if you don’t count BBC 2, which no one did when we were ten).

Regardless of the quality of the actual Tales of the Gold Monkey, the version in my head is awesome and I’d love to write a movie version of it. So, you know, if you can arrange that for me it would be greatly appreciated.

I’m going to stop now because I’m bored.

TALES  OF THE GOLD MONKEY – find it, watch it, love it!

Categories: Bored, Random Witterings | 4 Comments

Hi-tech vs. State of the Art

There is no point to this picture

Which is better?

Do they mean the same thing?

Can I arbitrarily choose one over the other?

Does it actually matter?

These

Well … yes, it does. The knock on effect of one over the other is an entire page of script and several hours more work.

By the way, this post is really fucking whiny. If you’re having a good day, don’t bother reading this – it’s all a bit pointless.

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There’s that odd point in a script’s life where everyone loves it. It’s done. We’ve spent months heading down numerous blind alleys and years tweaking it as new people come and go from the project and opportunities rise and fall.

Yes, if it goes into production then there’ll be continuous fire-fighting as we try to match the budget or cope with the usual strops, disasters, incompetence, death and just general misfortune … but for now, the script is as good as it’s going to get.

Except for that one lone voice, somewhere in the production tangle, who decides the script is too long. It needs to be under so many pages. Needs to be.

Personally, I’ve never met the people who say this because it always come to me through a third party – the pronouncement comes down from on high and suddenly the script needs to be trimmed.

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My first drafts are always under 110 pages (well, nearly always … except when they’re not) because I control exactly what I’m putting in there. Second drafts are usually shorter because I hate everything I put in the first draft. Third draft onwards stuff keeps getting added – we need this scene and we want this actor who wants to do this and we’ve got this location which we MUST use and someone’s lent us a Ferrari so we need that in there somewhere. Oh and we need a sex scene. Preferably in the Ferrari … but with a towel down.

And so on.

The script gets longer for a bit, then it gets shorter for a bit and finally it balances out somewhere in the mid hundred-and-teens.

Then the “under x number of pages” bomb gets dropped. As it always does, even when the script is already lean and everyone agrees that everything in the script is absolutely essential to the story.

Obviously half of the absolutely essential stuff won’t get filmed because the actors on the day will have a ‘better’ idea, but at the moment it all seems essential.

There’s just too much essential stuff, can I fix it?

I hate this point in the script, it’s a fucking moronic request because I’m not going to make it shorter by cutting anything expensive or time-consuming … I’m going to make it shorter by cheating.

This script will magically lose five to ten pages without actually losing anything worthwhile. It won’t be cheaper to make or quicker to film, it will be exactly the same film … just have less pages.

That’s why it’s fucking moronic.

I don’t blame anyone, I’m not calling anyone a fucking moron … I’m just pointing out the accepted wisdom on what page count actually means in terms of screentime/budget really just means a day or two of pointless fiddling for me.

This always felt impossible when I first started – how can you trim five to ten pages from a script without changing it?

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Well, now I can. I’m sure everyone has their own tricks, but basically I just try to kill all the widows and orphans.

Get rid of them. Every single fucking one. No block of dialogue nor piece of action can have even one word slipping onto the next line. I hate doing this with dialogue, so I’ll do it with action first – if that’s not enough, then I go back through with a dialogue pass.

Frequently I can get away with just tweaking the right-hand margin by one character. Weirdly, if I do this to the whole script, say move the global dialogue margin one space to the right … then it’s immediately noticeable. It all just looks wrong and people can tell I’ve cheated.

One of the first things I do when I get a Final Draft script from someone else is put the margins back to where they should be so I can see how long the script actually is. But one space here and there, now and then … it’s less noticeable. Practically undetectable in fact. Two spaces stand out a mile, one space … yeah, fine.

If I’ve used an ellipsis to end dialogue or action then I’m not so bothered – that can run three or four spaces out and it’s not really a problem. To me. Other opinions are available.

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If that’s not enough (and it’s surprising how much space I can reclaim) then I might have to delete a word or two or comb through the thesaurus for a similar word which is one or two characters shorter.

I try to get the first line (of whatever, dialogue, action … sometimes even scene headings) of page 2 onto page 1. There’s always a way, somehow. Then I do the same for the first line of page 3 (onto page 2, not page 1 – that would be fucking weird) and so on. Every page HAS to have the first line on the preceding page.

Except when it’s impossible. Then I don’t bother.

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Sadly, among the first casualties are the bits which make reading the script easier. Passages like:

He shoots …

 

Misses.

 

She shoots …

 

Misses.

 

Reload! Reload! Hurry the fuck up! Reload!

 

She drops her powder – oh shit.

 

Triumphant, he snaps his pistol closed, takes careful aim …

 

… sneers …

 

… and …

 

… the escaped Bolivian rhino smashes through the wall, charges straight over him and tramples him into strawberry jam.

Become:

He shoots … Misses.

 

She shoots … Misses.

 

Reload! Reload! Hurry the fuck up! Reload!

 

She drops her powder – oh shit!

 

Triumphant, he snaps his pistol closed, takes careful aim … sneers … and … the escaped Bolivian rhino smashes through the wall, charges straight over him and tramples him into strawberry jam.

Or maybe:

He shoots … Misses. She shoots … Misses.

 

Reload! Reload! Hurry the fuck up! Reload!

 

She drops her powder. He snaps his pistol closed, takes careful aim … sneers … and … the escaped Bolivian rhino smashes through the wall, charges straight over him and tramples him into a gooey mess.

Or in extreme cases.

They shoot, miss and scramble to reload. She drops her powder. He snaps his pistol closed, aims … and is flattened by a charging rhino.

Now the last sentence is probably better being shorter. The spacing of the first bits just makes it all a bit worse. And that’s my problem with this process – I’m not making it cheaper or more tightly written, I’m just making it a little bit worse for no real reason.

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Because of the way Final Draft (and probably other programs) clumps action or dialogue together, a small change on page 1 can make a HUGE change at the end of the script. In my last script, saving one line on page 1 dragged an action block up from page 2 which knocked on all the way through the script until it moved ALL of page 106 onto page 105. All of it. An entire page of action and dialogue moved to the requisite 105 pages by changing four words:

State of the Art into Hi-Tech.

Saving those nine characters cuts off an entire page of script. Not just one line which had spilled onto page 106, but an entire pageful of text.

And everyone’s happy.

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Everyone except me.

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Because I like the phrase STATE OF THE ART more than I like the phrase HI-TECH. Same all the way through – I originally chose all those words and pacing for a reason. The script is now shorter, but it reads worse as a result.

Does it matter?

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Maybe. Maybe the short, truncated rhythm will put readers off. Maybe it won’t. In the end, if the film gets made, no one will ever know … but, damn it, the script is my art form. It’s what I produce. The film is my work filtered through the minds of a small army of creatives. Sometimes for better, sometimes for worse. But the script … that’s mine and I’m forced to make it (slightly) worse to please people who think the page count is somehow important. Which it isn’t.

Not really.

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But the myth persists and as long as people believe it, I’ll continue to spend hours staring at every page in the vague hope I can delete a preposition or remove a punctuation mark without removing all meaning.

Writing – occasionally it’s hard work.

Beckley

 

Categories: My Way, Random Witterings, Sad Bastard, Someone Else's Way | 1 Comment

Stupid script readers

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All script writers instinctively know that all script readers are failed writers.

It’s just a fact.

Not a true fact, but a fact all the same.

We also know that all script readers are fucking imbeciles who wouldn’t understand how a story works if we explained it with graphs and slides and diagrams and possibly even a cute, animated cartoon character.

This too is a fact. Despite being completely wrong.

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How can it be a fact and be wrong at the same time?

It can’t, you fucking idiot … and it’s not. Those statements are true/wrong at different times.

Script readers are imbecilic, know-nothing wannabe-writers … immediately after reading their notes and for about an hour or so afterwards. Possibly more, depending on how right their notes actually are. After that, there’s a gradual dissolve from being wrong/stupid to being right/annoying.

Sometimes they’re even embarrassingly right.

Even when they are genuinely wrong about something, the fact they’re wrong about it is important.

Let’s say a moronic script reader (for I have just read his/her notes and am near blind with rage) has completely and utterly missed the point of something I’ve written. Ten pages of their twelve page report is going on and fucking on about how the script fails to properly address something I haven’t even fucking mentioned and didn’t intend to.

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They’ve read the script, wrongly assumed two guys are having an affair with each other and then further assumed that it’s woefully unclear that they are having an affair when they’re fucking not.

Fucking.

Each other.

“The writer needs to bring the affair more to the front,” they witter “if the audience are to understand the emotional implications for all concerned.”

“Perhaps there’s more to be mined from exploring how the men feel about their affair given the prevailing homophobic sentiments of that organisation at that point in history?” they’ll chunter on and fucking on.

“Maybe,” they’ll ramble, in an endless fucking stream of pointless fucking wrongness “the dual protagonists should get caught? Since the main strand of the movie is the consequences of their actions, this might help lift the dramatic question out of the murk and … “

Blah, blah, fucking blah.

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There aren’t even any fucking men in this script! They’re all women! And none of them are having an affair! Not with each other or anyone else! The reason the consequences of their actions are not mined more is because there are no fucking consequences of their fucking actions because they’re not fucking fucking! Why the fuckity fuck can you not see that?

Ah, finally, a sensible question.

Why can’t they see it? Why do they think there are men in this script who are having an affair?

Instead of assuming stupidity, let’s assume this is a well-educated, well-read, intelligent individual who, for some reason, has misunderstood the point I’m trying to get across.

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Why?

That’s what’s important here.

I could rail against them and their inability to comprehend simple fucking English. I could decide they’re just too fucking stupid to read my script … but the fact remains, whether they’re smart or dumb … they misunderstood my script.

That means my script can be misunderstood.

downloadBy anyone.

Possibly by everyone.

This will never do.

If this script reader, no matter their qualifications, experience or ability, has made this mistake then maybe everyone else will?

Maybe calling one woman Ashley and the other Sam was a mistake? Maybe there’s some line somewhere which is ambiguously worded which will confuse the fuck out of everyone who reads the script? Maybe there’s nothing wrong with the script, but some of the people who read it are bringing their own opinions/baggage and assuming things to be true which weren’t intended?

Whatever the reason, something probably needs to be fixed.

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Even, and this is probably rare, even if the script reader is a fucking moron … the script still needs to be fixed so that no one else will ever make the same mistake.

Maybe that means underlining the introduction of the two women, ASHLEY and SAM? Maybe it means picking more feminine names? Maybe it means combing through for words like affair or longing or desire and deleting/changing them?

The problem as I see it is less one of misunderstanding and more one of miscommunication – I haven’t communicated the idea properly and if one person has gotten the wrong interpretation then so might the next. And the next. And the next … because, at the end of the day, I have no control over the IQ of the people reading my script and even the smartest people make mistakes … especially when it’s not crystal clear to begin with.

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I can’t choose whose desk this does or doesn’t land on – all I can do is try to make sure it’s clear, simple and moron proof.

Which is tricky when (possibly) the stupidest person reading it is the moron who wrote it in the first place.

Chimpanzee_seated_at_typewriter

Categories: Industry Musings, Random Witterings | 1 Comment

Repointing the pyramid

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Somebody I follow recently tweeted:

Saying the script’s great but the end needs tweaking is a bit like saying “Great pyramid, but can you move the point six inches to the left?”

Actually, it might not have been recently. Or someone I follow. Or even on Twitter. I have no idea. Not even convinced it’s 140 characters and I’m far too lazy to bother counting to find out.

It might be a famous quote.

It may even have been something I overheard in a public toilet, but that seems unlikely.

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Whoever said/wrote it in whatever context, pat yourself on the back and (if you read this) feel free to identify yourself in the comments so others can (virtually) pat you too.

Because it’s a great analogy.

Recently I’ve had to do the opposite. I’ve had a script which needed the beginning moved six inches to the left. Or right. To be honest, no one was really sure where it needed moving to.

The problem was, no one who read the script cared about the protagonist. For he is a massive cock. Which was kind of the point. The idea was to have the protagonist gradually reveal himself to be the antagonist and for his girlfriend to gradually take over as the protagonist.

Bluestone_the_Great_unmasked

Which, structually, works really well.

In terms of caring about the protagonist … not so much.

The problem is, the stakes don’t really become apparent until halfway through the story. Until then, it’s interesting … but only in an intellectual way. That’s not good enough, it needs to be interesting in an interesting way.

The solution was clear, the proper protagonist needs to be more of a protagonist from the beginning. Dual protagonists from the word go. More than that, she needs to be the primary protagonist in a 51/49 percent split. It’s about both of them, but it’s more about her than it is about him.

Sounds easy enough, just give her more dialogue, subtly refocus the early scenes so she’s the instigator from the get go, essentially shuffle him six inches to the left and her six to the right until she’s in the spotlight instead of him.*

superman-ii-prison-shadows

Easy.

Except it’s not. Because it turns out, under the glare of the spotlight, that as a character, she’s paper thin. Bordering on transparent.

She seemed fully rounded and well thought out with motivations and goals and all the stuff a character is supposed to have … but somehow, moving her into the spotlight made all that stuff disappear. And, as a consequence, the entire film collapsed with her.

Now this isn’t a writing boys vs writing girls moral. It’s not about me developing male characters better than female ones. It’s about a character designed to be a protagonist being more meaty than one designed to (initially) support the protagonist.

sylvester-mccoy-bobbie-langford-doctor-who-431x300

If it helps, think about (arbitarily) trying to tell Star Wars (the proper Star Wars, the first one. I’m not down with all that Episode 4 – A New Hope retconning bullshit. It’s fucking called Star Wars because that’s its fucking name) from Obi Wan’s point of view.

Obi Wan’s a great supporting character, but really all he does is impart wisdom, fill in some backstory and then get killed. That is his function. He doesn’t learn anything or need anything, there’s no central irony to his character … or at least none I can think of with PEOPLE FUCKING SHOUTING! IN MY FUCKING EAR! WHAT? WHAT THE FUCK DO YOU WANT?

Oh right, I have to move. Hang on.

TCF

I’m back.

I should probably stop typing everything I’m thinking but … well, I’m in the flow.

Sorry, where was I?

Oh yes, so Obi Wan works well as a supporting character in Star Wars, but if you decided to tell the whole film from his point of view then you’d (probably) find out he’s a bit on the thin side. You’d need to give him an inner goal or a need or perhaps a more concrete goal from the off.

Maybe you’d need to go into more depth concerning how he feels about being the last (as far as he knows?) Jedi?

Or maybe there’d need to be more about how he secretly looks out for Luke (assuming he does?).

Or maybe even a good hour of him looking in the mirror and wondering what the fuck happened considering he’s apparently only in his mid-forties. I mean, seriously, what the fuck? What kind of bad paper round would you have to have as a kid to look like that in your forties?

Obi-WanSouthCarolina

See? All this prequel bullshit makes life so complicated.

No prequels, just the trilogy. Just the trilogy, just the trilogy …

Imagine me rocking back and forth and dribbling, if it helps.

The point is, in order to move any secondary (tertiary?) character into the lead role isn’t as simple as repurposing a bit of dialogue or the odd scene, it involves a complete and utter tear down and rebuild of the script.

It’s repointing the pyramid.

Finding a motivation, need and want for a protagonist which ties in thematically and carries an inherent irony AFTER the script has been written is a complete and utter pain in the arse.

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Five fucking times I’ve started, got as far as page 40 and realised it makes no fucking sense.

Yes, I should have planned it out before I started rewriting.

But I didn’t.

Not properly.

Every time I started, it seemed to work. It seemed to be clear and obvious and … well, it fucking wasn’t.

But I’ve cracked it now. I think. Maybe. It seems to be working anyway and I’ve got to the final act. In a way, I guess I’ve moved the base of the pyramid six inches to the left without moving the point.

The only question I have now is … was did the client mean his left or my left?

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Bugger.

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* Does that work? Would that not put both of them in the spotlight? Or both of them out? Wait, let me think about this. I need some volunteers and a lightbulb. Or my fingers. I’ll do it with my fingers. Yeah, it works. Kind of.

Categories: My Way, Random Witterings, Things I've Learnt Recently | Leave a comment

Too much too soon

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I’ve lost a few jobs over the years by being too keen, by doing more work than is required; which probably sounds counter-intuitive, but actually makes sense if you just fucking let me finish, alright? Stop fucking interrupting!

What’s that?

No one’s interrupting except the voices in my head?

Oh really? What the fuck would you know, Mr Sock? You’re just a fucking sock, you’re not real. It’s me doing your voice. Me! Without me, you’re nothing!

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What’s that, Mr Sock?

If I’m going to have a mental spasm I should stop typing until after I’ve had a little lie down?

Oh. Yes, right.

Um … I didn’t type all this, it was dictation software left running. Sorry.

What’s that, Mr Sock? I’m a fucking liar?

Fuck you, you woolly bastard.

Sorry, got distracted there.

Right. So. Where was I? Ah yes, making sense.

The scenario usually runs something like this:

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A producer/director/actor or some combination of all three gets in touch regarding a film project they have which doesn’t really exist. I mean, it sort of does. They want to make something, they have some money of some description and possibly even a track record. The project exists in potentia, but in reality all they have is the vague feeling they want to make a film of some kind. Any kind, maybe, they’re not really sure.

What they are sure about is they absolutely have to film it only on Tuesdays and (for finance purposes) it all has to be set in Pease Pottage … although, for tax purposes it actually has to be filmed in Antigua; but they can easily fake Pease Pottage in Antigua, they just have to digitally erase the palm trees. And the climate.

Pease Pottage Honest

 

It also has to be a genre film (although not horror, sci-fi, western, a rom-com, martial arts, action, thriller or comedy – although it has to be funny), feature at least three parts for actors over-fifty who refuse to play characters over thirty, a dog, lots of nudity (but not from any of the actors, male or female), a Lamborghini (which can’t be driven), at least one sword fight and show child-abuse in a positive light.

Other than that, it’s completely up to me. I can do whatever I want, what have I got?

Besides a fucking migraine.

Oh, and they absolutely have to have a final draft before the end of the month or they’re going to lose the big name stars.

The ones I’ve never heard of.

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I know, I know, I should learn my lesson and walk away from these things. And to be fair, I am doing so more and more.

What has tended to happen in the past is in order to make the ludicrous deadline, I need to start working before the contract arrives … which I do, because I’m a trusting soul.

Never, ever trust anyone. That’s a lesson to learn right there.

So I beaver away, come up with a bunch of ideas, talk it over with them, incorporate their feedback into the plot and generally hash it out until we (amazingly) have something they like the sound of.

Even if I have (accidentally) forgotten the child-abuse.

Now they need a one-page synopsis.

That’s all, just one page.

Contract still hasn’t arrived, but that’s fine. It’s only one page after all … but they need it immediately. By nine the next morning.

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Okay, so I should claim I need the contract the next morning too. That’s exactly what I should do and am doing from now on; but on several occasions, I’ve been more trusting … like the fucking fool that I am.

Just one page.

Except it’s not one page, because the idea has to be so convoluted to match the laundry list of conditions that I have to plan it all out on index cards before I can condense it down to one page. Then I find I need to write it all out to make sure it makes sense, because I’m not sure it does.

After staying up ALL FUCKING NIGHT I have a ten page document which is EXACTLY what we’ve agreed on. The deadline is in four minutes, I just don’t have time to whittle it down to one page … so, fuck it. Sorry about this, guys; but I’ve skipped a step – this is where we’re heading anyway and since you don’t need the one pager to show the financiers or the actors, just as a document for us to discuss, then it’s possibly actually better this way.

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Except it isn’t.

Because, although this document features everything they wanted and everything we’ve already discussed and agreed on … it isn’t actually what they want. It isn’t what they want because they have no fucking idea what they actually want.

They haven’t got an idea for a film, the only idea they’ve got is that they want to make a film.

It’s a bit like someone asking you to paint their kitchen, only they’ve no idea what colour they want. All they know is they’d like something dark-ish. Or light-ish. Or something in-between. Maybe a primary colour? Or one of those colours you get when you mix primary colours together? One of those.

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So you pick a random colour. Blue, what about blue? Oh, they love blue! What shade? You discuss it, show them samples, suggest they look at other people’s kitchens which are the same colour … until they state, adamantly, that they want a specific shade.

Great.

So you paint their kitchen … and they don’t like it. They didn’t realise that was what blue was. They thought blue was more redish yellow. They didn’t realise I meant blue blue, even though that’s what they said they wanted.

They don’t say this right away, of course. First off they forget to look at the colour of the kitchen for three months because although it was vitally important you stay up all night painting it, they don’t actually need to look at the colour for ages yet. There’s no rush for them, just you.

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The second reason they don’t say this right away is because they decide not to bother saying it at all. The fact you’ve painted the kitchen the wrong colour clearly means you’re not the right painter for them, even though you’ve painted the kitchen the colour they asked for and not got anything on any of the woodwork and even managed to do that fiddly bit across the top of the boiler without spilling a single drop … despite doing a good job, the job they asked for, the fact you’ve painted it a colour which, on reflection, they don’t actually like, means you’re clearly not suited to this job … oh, and hey! Since they haven’t got round to sending the contract yet, they don’t actually need to pay you! They can get someone else to paint the kitchen another colour. Or better yet, just give up on the whole idea because they’ve lost interest in kitchens and might just get the bathroom painted instead. No need to tell the painter what they think of the colour, let’s just pretend he doesn’t exist.

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What’s that Mr Sock? I’ve stretched that metaphor well past the point of being useful? Why yes, I do believe you’re right.

No, you can’t come out of the hamper.

Because I don’t like you, you insufferably smug git. Get back in your hamper. Back! Back in your hamper!

Essentially, instead of developing the idea to suit the (pretend) film they think they’re going to make, they just give up and cease all communication.

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Maybe if I’d delivered a one-pager it would have been different? Maybe if it was a bite-sized idea they would be more inclined to pass comment and work towards something better? There’s a lot less information in a one-pager which is therefore easier to interpret in a way which makes sense to them. A ten-pager nails down characters and tone and theme and all those sort of things. There’s very little room for interpretation in a ten-pager. A one-pager can be anything.

It also feels easier to change, to discuss, to develop. A ten-pager? Well, it’s all decided now, isn’t it? It’s not what they want, so no point pursuing it. They don’t know what they do want, but they know it’s not this.

And because they didn’t have a strong investment in a specific idea in the first place, just some money and some free time, then they’ve no real interest in continuing. A bump in the road? Might as well just give up then. No, don’t bother telling the writer we’ve decided not to bother – he’ll work it out in a few months time when we haven’t replied to a single email, phone call or text.

lost-mobile-phone

This has happened to me a couple of times now. Apparently it takes me a long time to learn a few simple lessons, namely:

  1. Never do more than is expected, no one will thank you for it.
  2. If the client is unclear what they want, keep ideas loose and vague for as long as possible – that way their expectations are being met.
  3. Don’t do anything until the contract is signed by you and them. Not that contracts actually guarantee you’ll get paid. I’ve worked on films where no one got paid, despite their contracts. Where everyone sued the producers, and won … and still didn’t get any money. Films where I was the only person to get even a fraction of my payment, despite not actually having a contract at all. Doesn’t hurt to wait though.
  4. Most importantly: never, ever get involved in these type of projects in the first place, it’s just not worth the hassle.

This all probably sounds very cynical, and in a way it is … but maybe that’s actually a good way to be?#

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Or maybe not?

I don’t know.

I would ask Mr Sock, but we’re not on speaking terms any more. Although his cousin, Ms Teatowel is here and she has this amazing idea for a movie. Well, not idea as such, more of a yen to make something, but that bloke from Eastenders has agreed to be in whatever it is, well, not agreed as such, but he muttered something which sounded a bit like yes when she cornered him in Tesco. Which bloke? Oh you know, the fat one who was always in the background of the market scenes in the first couple of years – never spoke, but he’s quite famous. Or was. She wants to shoot it in one location, in Arabic with Dutch subtitles and it has to feature at least three hamsters and …

Hang on, this is all sounding a little familiar.

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Categories: Bored, Career Path, Industry Musings, Random Witterings, Things I've Learnt Recently | 1 Comment

The need to know list

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As I’ve mentioned before (and will doubtlessly do so again), I hate writing the first ten pages of a script. My first few drafts rarely make any sense until at least a quarter of the way through … and frequently not even then. I tend to start too early or too late or with the wrong character or on an image/scene/idea which has nothing to do with the story or theme.

Sometimes I have too much information and not enough story. Other times I plunge headlong into the story without allowing people the time/information they need to join the train. Usually, somewhere around the third or fourth draft I sit down and write out a NEED TO KNOW LIST.

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Now, you may be one of those instinctive writers I’ve heard of (but never met) who automatically do this kind of thing without thought or plan. Good for you, I’m not you but hope to be one day.

Sometimes this all just falls into place. More often than not, I need to sit down and work it out with a pen and paper:

What do the audience need to know in order to get started? What information do I need to get across, cunningly disguised as entertainment?

I tend to start with a list of questions to answer, something like:

  • Whose story is it?
  • Why is it this person’s story and not the person sitting behind them?
  • What’s the central irony of their character which connects them to the film’s theme?
  • What do they want?
  • What’s stopping them getting it?
  • Is there a way to personify that ‘what’? Can I turn the ‘what’ into a ‘who’?
  • What do they need to learn/overcome/realise/let go of which will finally allow them to get what they want?

And probably other stuff I can’t remember at the moment.

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I should probably create some kind of form and just fill in the boxes.

Those are generic story questions – not all stories can easily answer those question, nor should they. Usually, the ones which can’t answer those questions are fundamentally flawed somewhere … but not always. Not by a long shot. Some stories are just different and that’s that.

Probably.

After I’ve answered (or not) those questions, then I move on to world building questions:

  • Are there any special rules to this universe?

This could be things like:

Ginger people are telepathic, brunettes are empathic and blondes are shunned by society.

Or:

When we landed on the moon in ’69 we found out the dark side is just scaffolding and nothing above us or beyond the horizon is actually real.

Or:

The main character has a bionic left leg and can hop over large buildings … but only on a Tuesday.

Basically, anything which is special to this story, to this universe, anything which is different to the world we live in. I find if I include this information upfront, it’s fine. People are happy. If I suddenly reveal everyone called Keith is bulletproof halfway through, it feels like I’m cheating somehow.

Although, I guess that would be fine if you already knew people called Keith had a variety of special powers, some of which were yet to be discovered. Or that different names denoted different super powers. Or perhaps the bulletproof Keiths just developed their powers mid-film? In which case it will be a surprise to everyone, not least the Keiths themselves.

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I’m sure there are lots of exception to this sort of thing, but I like to have the extraordinary rules laid out for me early on so I can get on with enjoying the story. I tend to be very accepting of unusual stuff in the first ten minutes of a film:

Ah, so in this world, costumed vigilantes can fall ten stories and just get up? Okay, no problem.

As opposed to:

Okay, so in this world there are some perfectly ordinary people who wear costumes to fight crime. Fine … and then halfway through watch a guy fall ten stories onto his face without injury.

Once I’ve got a list of all these things I think people need to know in order to understand the film, I then start crossing things off. Because I’m nearly always putting in too much information at this point.

In one script, I spent the first ten pages wrestling with the protagonist working out how voodoo dolls worked, how she researched them, how she put it all together … until the producer pointed out everyone knows how voodoo dolls work, you just stick fucking pins in them, now can we please all just move on?

Stormtrooper-Hindsight

Similarly, in Valkyrie, they originally tied themselves up in knots trying to explain that not all German soldiers in WWII were Nazis, some were just soldiers … until they realised it doesn’t fucking matter. People watching German soldiers in WWII uniforms just see Nazis. No one thinks about them as German infantry or paratroopers or whatever – they just see Nazis and it doesn’t really matter, just get on with showing that some of them are good guys and some of them aren’t and stop trying to shoehorn party membership cards into every shot.

Or something like that. That may not actually be true, I don’t know.

The point is, most audiences are smarter than people give them credit for and will probably get the point far faster than we expect. So I examine the Need to Know List carefully and cross out everything I think I don’t need.

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Next step is to see what information I can combine with something else. Ideally, I’m looking for scenes which get across two or three bits of information in one go. Preferrably without explicitly mentioning the information I’m trying to get across.

If, for example, my story is about a lazy guy who lives in the future surrounded by hovering robots who do all the work for him (doubtlessly later to be somehow turned into one of these robots and forced to experience what it’s like to become a slave to some other lazy git until he finally snaps and leads a robot revolt of some description) then the Need to Know List might include:

  • Lazy person (just him or is everyone lazy?)
  • It’s the future
  • Hover technology
  • Robot technology
  • Is all this tech commonplace or just for the rich or brand new?
  • Robots do all the hardwork

Then the first thing I’d probably cross off the list is the fact it’s the future. That goes in the scene heading, maybe; but other than that the design of the buildings/cars/fashions will tell us it’s somewhen else … not to mention hovering fucking robots all over the place. The fact it’s 2147 or 2232 or 2391 is probably completely irrelevant.

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Unless it isn’t.

Hover technology and robot technology doesn’t need to be explained. We see a robot (or several robots, depending on how widespread this technology is) hovering and we get it. There are hovering robots in this world. Fine. We don’t need to know how they work or who invented the hover technology (unless it’s relevant to the story and that person is going to show up later on) or how the robots were invented/manufactured.

We know what a robot is, we know what hovering is. If we can see it, it’s not important to explain it or where they come from.

Unless it is. Unless, say, the reason he ends up as a robot is because all robots are built using human brains – then I’d have to think about whether or not everyone knows this and is fine with it or whether it’s a surprise to the main character and whether or not to clue the audience in before he finds out?

That this guy is lazy? I could have a character tell him he’s lazy, but that’s a bit shit. It would be better to show him being too lazy to do something simple and then forcing a hovering robot to do it for him. That one scene would tick all the boxes on that rather short Need to Know List.

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If I wanted to show that everyone was lazy, I might have a group of people getting the robot to do things for them. If I wanted to show it was just him, I might show other people doing the thing he’s too lazy to do.

I don’t know. This isn’t exactly something I’ve thought about in any great detail.

The point underneath all this rambling is I like to back away from the script and marshall my thoughts somewhere else before returning for the next round of rewrites. The Need to Know List is a tool which works for me.

To be honest, it would probably work better if I did it before I wrote my first draft.

Bugger, I can’t believe I’ve only just realised that. Surely that’s the one thing I needed to know years ago?

stupid-questions

Categories: My Way, Random Witterings | Leave a comment

Easter synopses

A FRIENDLY WARNING

There’s going to be some waffle.

Then there’s going to be some stuff about synopses which is quite interesting.

You may wish to skip to about halfway down.

Or you may not.

I don’t know, I’m not you.

You may have already known that.

Unless you are me.

Which would be weird and possibly a bit awkward come bed time.

Hello! I’m back! Did you miss me? Did you even notice I”d gone?

I didn’t notice I’d gone. I didn’t intend to go anywhere, I just accidentally took the Easter holidays off from all writing of all kinds everywhere. Apparently this is the kind of thing which happens when you have a small child.

Did you have a good Easter? I did. I did things like this:

Okay, so I know technically the Easter holidays finished a week ago, but I accidentally took an extra week off to play with my toys. Essentially I was turning this:

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2014-04-26 20.58.10

Into this:

 

2014-04-26 20.37.402014-04-26 20.38.08Clearly that didn’t take me an entire week to do, but I was … um … doing stuff. Yes. Stuff. That’s what I was doing.

Anyway, I’m back to the mill now. Or desk. More of a desk, I suppose.

(That’s the end of the waffle, by the way)

The thing I’ve been working on recently is not a thing. It’s lots of things. Specifically, lots of synopses for potential film projects to work on with an actor friend of mine, Jay Sutherland*. Here he is, pissed up and in charge of a firearm:

Jay’s great. You should hire him.

So before Easter I was slowly working my way through a pile of ideas, scribbling down one pagers so we can select one to work on and … there’s no easy way of saying this, they were all shit.

All of them.

Not the ideas, the synopses.

Possibly the ideas too, but that kind of self-abuse isn’t helpful right now.

The first draft of all the synopses were shit because I do the same thing every time: describe bits of plot, action and events instead of describing the character.

KISS

It’s one of those really simple, blatantly obvious things which I forget every fucking time. Just answer the three basic questions:

  • Who’s it about?
  • What do they want?
  • What’s stopping them getting it?

Okay, so there’s more to it than that. The first two questions work best when they’re connected by irony and the last one works best when there’s some kind of thematic connection; but in essence, thinking about these three questions makes my synopses far, far better.

I also find it useful to think like a DVD cover – describe the above three questions in relation to the first act, hint at what sorts of things will go on in the second act and that’ll do pig. That’ll do.

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Some people think you should include the ending in a synopsis. I’m not really one of them. Except when I am. Generally I think it helps to pique a producer’s interest if you don’t include the ending – make them want to question you about it.

Other people think you need to include the ending because producers are too busy to go around asking questions and won’t be interested unless they get all the information upfront.

I guess either or both could be true. I tend to go with the former, I may be wrong.

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But there  you go, that’s what  I’m doing – synopsisising like a bastard while interesting things are swirling around in the background.

Not literally. It’s not like I’m surrounded by a maelstrom of flying teapots and china knick-knacks.

Unless they stop when I turn round.

Which they might be. Who knows?

Oh fuck, I’m waffling again. Probably time for a tea break.

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* Technically he’s my brother’s best-friend’s brother. But let’s not split hairs. I like him, therefore (in my world) he’s a friend of mine. You’re a friend of mine too, for much the same reason.

† Ha ha! Tricked you! It was all waffle! There was meant to be more substance to this, including examples of the synopses I’m currently working on … but I chickened out because I don’t want people ridiculing me and calling me names.

‡ More people. I don’t want more people ridiculing me and calling me names.

 

 

Categories: Bored, My Way, Random Witterings | 1 Comment

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