I've not done a blog since November. Although these are for myself, some feedback on previous ones would spur me on to be regular. However, there's the upside that there's not anyone clamouring for them. I can write what I want, whenever.
In this blog, I'm going to review two talks I recently attended. The first was run by Gurpreet Bhatti, a masterclass organised by Theatre 503. Gupreet is a playwright and screenwriter. She's written some controversial plays and wrote for Eastenders for many years. She asked us to come to the session with two things:
- An arena/subject area/world which you feel might be provocative/dangerous. And a character who is connected to this world.
- Some thoughts about the blocks/fears within your own writing. Where do you feel you stumble? What do you avoid?
For the first, I'd written down mountaineering, politics, child/social services and the Troubles. I settled on politics as it seemed to come without any shadow of plays I'd already seen. My character was a spokesperson - someone asked to representant the government.
For the second request, I had the fear of never being commissioned and finding those scenes that reveal character rather than deliver plot momentum as being the hardest for me to deliver. I also dislike those excercises where you have to detail all the physical attributes of your characters or answer those questions e.g. what food does he eat on Tuesdays.
After a short introdution to the dozen on the call, we did 15 minutes of freewriting as an internal monologue from our main character. Following another disussion, we had to write 3 relationships or concerns the character had most concern over. I had him and his wife, him and his best friend and his self-perception.
We did another writing session, this time an internal monologue on their deepest desire and their greatest fear. Mine was his fear of letting his family down and his desire to keep them safe. Pretty much opposites which most on the call also found.
Gupreet then spoke about radical compassion for our 'bad' characters. We shouldn't excuse them, but understand them. We went into small groups and discussed some of the blocks we had and discussed between ourselves possible solutions. We can back into the main room and shared them.
We discussed what to do if the block is in what a character might do in a scene. A suggested help is to think what they would've done just before. This sounds to me like a director's note to an actor. She spoke about discussions with dramaturgs over the different endings for a play and how you need to let discomfort in.
Gupreet recommended reading plays and have the work read out loud. To separate yourself from your work and if you get lost in the topic or theme, to go back to the character.
This was a great workshop and really great to engage with other writers. I've got more booked.
Antoine le Bos
Antoine ran two sessions on pre-writing. Unfortunately, I missed the first due to attending the workshop above. Antoine runs the Less is More writers retreats or to give it its more formal title: The European development programme for limited budget feature films. The event was run by BFI. Antoine is also a screenwriter.
Although I missed the first session, I didn't feel out of depth. He was a eloquent and charismatic individual who used philosphy, slides and whiteboard flourishes to pepper his talk. The principle of his talk is to spend more time on research or pre-writing and this will save rewrites later on. Logical stuff but he really went into detail of how to make this work.
Fiction is friction. Novelty can be achieved if you take two homologous sequences of numbers and mash them together. This can be used to invent new stories. Pre-writing is a method of ideation and in his view should be 80% of the writing activity. Prose is a trap.
- Stimulation through images, sounds, music, objects or tarot cards.
- Look outwards
- Watch people
- Difficult moments
- Examine human interactions and contemporary pathologies
Life is a full tank of flesh. Take the bus or wander around the supermarket. Imagination from a void is often poor. There is no average person in a film. They need to be specific. Look for stimuli: novels, short stories, family gatherings. It's not stealing.
Outside stimuli (reality) helps you to take internal thoughts (unreal) and make them material.
Use others: working groups, virtual rooms, tell people your idea. It's give and take. LIM puts 3-8 people together for an hour and they take notes. Often the writer is forced to say nothing. Brainstorming on other people's projects
- Excerises the brain
- Solves own problems
- Provides heterogenous collisions
Use orality. This provides flexibility and allows for spontaneity. You might think and say something new. It's a digging tool. It's a way to create and test:
- New structures
- New characters
- New angles or POVs
- New story worlds
Antoine presented a circular diagram for his pre-writing strategy. These tools helpd to discover the Engine (want) and the heart/soul (need) of your story. Emotions carry ideas. The strongest combination is stories with both narrative and thematic stakes. He presented an interesting diagramme which I can't easily replicate here but that shows the thematic questions driving the narrative with both for and against arguments attacking it from both sides.
Constraints push creativity. Like something escaping from a prison. Generate your own constraints e.g. less locations.
After some Q&A, it was over. I'd recommend signing up for the Film London newsletter. They provide a whole range of interesting opportunities. Hopefully, the abridged recordings will appear.