BBC Writersroom Roadshow – Dundee 2009

Can you get a hernia from coughing too much? I have come down with a stinking cold and my cough mixture is only offering temporary relief. It tastes foul, too. I wish I were a kid again and medicine tasted like banana milkshake or strawberry Ribena. I am constantly too hot or too cold and my veering body temperature seems to be completely independent of whether or not the central heating is on. As I walked shivering through the streets of Dundee yesterday to go to the BBC Writersroom Roadshow, I had no idea if the abundance of people in t-shirts was due to uncharacteristically warm weather or to the hardy nature of Dundonians.

The roadshow kicked off with George Aza-Selinger telling us a little bit about the Scotland Writes competition. After that, Paul Ashton ran through some advice on what the BBC Writersroom is looking for in the first ten pages of a script.

I’ve already blogged about the Scotland Writes launch event and the Edinburgh Screenwriters meeting where we heard more about the competition so there’s not a lot of new information to add to that. Regarding the synopsis, they are looking for “a two page summary, just to give you that chance to add in information at this stage that we don’t know yet from reading the first ten pages.” You don’t need an episode or character breakdown in your synopsis – “If you need to describe the characters outside the script then the script isn’t really working”. You do need to say what the story is about and why you are telling it – “People need to know the whole feel of the story rather than the details.” About the impending postal strikes: “We will blog about it on our website and let you know. You can always send us an e-mail if you want to know your script has arrived.”

Now for the BBC Writersroom Guide to the First Ten Pages:

  • Start the story on page one, grab the reader’s attention straight away. Don’t preface, set-up or introduce story or characters.
  • Format is incredibly important. Master the format and make it your own. Watch drama, see how the stories are structured. “Too many people try to subvert the format before they’ve mastered it.”
  • Direct the action and the story. Write what an actor can show. Don’t direct the camera.
  • Know your world and story, genre and tone. There should be a focused way in to your story, “don’t try to set up too many storylines at the beginning.”
  • “Character is the most important thing.” Characters have to be compelling on an emotional level. Avoid cliche, subvert stereotypes. “Come up with people you want to spend time with. You don’t have to like or admire them, you just have to want to see what they are going to do next.” Your characters have to make the reader sweat, cry, laugh and cringe. “We spend a lot of time reading scripts that are really well crafted, well turned, but it doesn’t make you feel anything.”
  • There are only a finite number of stories so you need to have a fresh, unique perspective.
  • Good dialogue expresses character.” Don’t write on the nose, use subtext.
  • “You need that desire to tell a story – that’s got to be there or you can’t do great writing.”
  • “We need a sense, when we get to the end of a script, that the ending is inevitable but not predictable.”
  • Be yourself. “We’re looking for writers; we’re looking for people.”

Further advice on creating your best possible first ten pages can be found on the BBC Writersroom Website.


4 thoughts on “BBC Writersroom Roadshow – Dundee 2009

  1. You’re so lucky. You find all these wonderful writing thingy-magingy (yes, I just said thingy-magingy) things to go to! I really need to figure out how to get more involved, not just with stuff like this, but with using my work. Such an inspiration, really!

  2. Hey Mckenzie, thanks! Yes, I think I am lucky because there do seem to be a lot of literary/writing related events happening around here. I tend to find out about these things on the internet and I’m signed up to loads of mailing lists to keep me in the loop about local events. I hope you find some writing thingy-magingy things near you too!
    (BTW I didn’t manage to get persnickety into a conversation yesterday. I will keep trying.)

  3. Yes, you are lucky! While the lit scene here does exist, it is normally a showcase.

    Sounds like it is standard form for all types of writing. Do you write scripts as well, Helen?

  4. Hi Jennifer, I’m sort of dipping my little toe into scriptwriting. I did a couple of short courses this year and have joined a screenwriters group which meets once a month. Before doing the courses I wrote two scripts: a three minute film and a half hour sitcom for stage. Having done the courses, I can barely think about these scripts without cringing. Now I’m finding it very difficult to write any new scripts because I’m acutely aware of what I’m doing wrong. I think there’s a mental barrier there that I have to break through.

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