Thursday, 31 July 2008

Red Planet Progress - Working on Characters

I've been a bit quiet on the blogging front because I've been having deep, meaningful discussions with some very strange characters. Most worrying is they have all come out of my head.

It's the stage I've reached on my Red Planet project. So what have I been doing.

1) I worked out what I wanted the series to be about. Not the detailed plot but the underlying theme. Usually I try to do this backwards. Write the story then try and dig for the theme. This time I did it the other way round. Don't know if that's normal or if I will do it again but it is working for this one so I'm not complaining.

2) I then considered the tone and genre. This was very fluid for quite a while and to be honest it didn't stop changing until much further down this list. Currently I am settled in a very dark horror. Yep I'm going for the 9pm slot but I have to confess that the slot fitted the story I wanted to tell rather than my identifying that was what the commissioners were looking for. Nice to see the latest comments from Laura Mackie though.

3) At the same time as (1) and (2) I knocked about a few characters. Some had been sitting around for a while, moaning that I hadn't used them in anything. Way too needy so I locked them away in the big, studded chest again. They'll soon give up screaming. I then went hunting and came home with some brand new ones.

I decided to have a max of 6 characters after studying some of my favourite returning series. These are the ones that appear in most, if not all episodes. A protagonist, an antagonist, two other main characters close to them and two satellite characters.

I love these characters and can't wait to start writing for them. I think this is a good sign.

4) I've written the backstory for the series and for each character. Some of this will appear at different stages, including some that feeds into the series climax but a lot will never appear at all. It helps me see the characters better and makes sure I really do know my story.

I then bounced it all off Dave so he could ask Why does A feel like that about B? Why would C do that? Where's the contradiction in the character (see Lucy's post on that one). I've done this before on courses. The most fun way is to get someone to interview you while you are the character. They don't need to be writers, just nosy. It can be a bit painful when you think you've got the character sorted but I find it really useful. And I can pretend I'm a brilliant actor at the same time.

Interestingly it was the protagonist that showed the most holes. The first character to be found and the drive behind the whole story. Because of this her motivation and behaviour had to be spot on. It wasn't. So more talking to my invisible friend while I pottered around the shops.

Now to get down to the nuts and bolts story. Lots of work still to do before passing it out to others for a good grilling.

Saturday, 19 July 2008



That means stop reading and go somewhere else if you haven't seen it yet. Go on. Press a nice link on the right and read some interesting blogs about things you've already seen.

Right. Still here? So you are the smug lot that can get to cinemas the week a film comes out. You then watch with a self-satisfied grin while the rest of us flit past blogs with spoiler alerts and sit on the sofa, remote at the ready to avoid the trailers designed by morons who don't get that some of us DON'T get to see it until DVD release so DON'T want to know what happens yet.

OK rant over. After seeing a bit more than we wanted in the trailer we dived out and got the DVD to watch before the experience was ruined. Glad we did. We really wanted to see this in the cinema but sprog minders are a bit thin on the ground round here so we've had to learn patience.

We turned off all the lights, pulled the curtains, stocked up on munchies, bribed the gerbils with a skipload of toilet rolls to not spin or rattle anything and settled down. Didn't leave the sofa until it was finished. Didn't want to.

What I loved about the film was that it ignored the big picture. It didn't answer questions like what is the monster, why is it there, what are the authorities doing about it, are there others attacking elsewhere, do the humans win. It just ignored them and concentrated on the people trapped in the middle of it. At ground zero. You knew what they knew.

Personally this is the part of a story that interests me. In "The Day After Tomorrow", for example, the big spectacles of New York flooding then freezing were very impressive but weren't something that gets me back for a repeat view. I wanted to know about the boy's school they kept referencing. How would a bunch of kids cope. What happened to the party that left the library before they died in the storm. Did they realise? Did they doubt? Were they all happy about going or did the group rip itself apart first. I didn't give a stuff about the problems the government had in negotiating refugee access to South America.

I think the Godzilla remake had a similar problem for me. It was about the people in the centre of the decision making. Not about the people in the centre of the consequences. You had the scientists and the army up front. The ordinary people were just a body count passing the camera.

So back to Cloverfield. I wouldn't say it was perfect but it kept me on the edge of my seat and there were lots of moments where I curled into a ball. And those creepy, spidery, bitey bug things.... I spent ages waiting for them to turn up. It'll be now. No. OK they'll be now. No. They'll be.... Aaaaagh.

I loved all the Godzilla references (the original one) and I'm sure there was a bit of The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms there too.

I also felt the characters were established well enough that their repeated rejection of escape was believable. Each had their own reasons for staying and I bought into them. They stayed because they couldn't leave, not because they didn't want to.

Right post over. If you haven't seen the film and read this anyway then you are very silly. Go see it.

Sunday, 13 July 2008

Red Planet Competition

Just in case you haven't noticed the posts on nearly every writing blog out there.... Red Planet Comp is back and Danny is running a helpful blog here.

I entered last year and got nowhere. Looking back I'm not at all surprised. A slow start, overwritten and continual change in tone. I'm better now. Honestly.

So the rules have changed this year. It's TV only this year and we have a bit longer. That's a big relief because last year I took the laptop with me on holiday to get it done in time.

My first thought was still yikes though. I've come up with TV 1hr pieces and half hour sitcoms series before but never thought about 1hr episodes in a series or serial. This means I'm not going to be tweaking something I've already got.

Initial panic passed and I got down to knocking ideas about and brainstorming. I briefly considered trying to second guess what they'd be looking for or checking where holes were in the current output. However I decided in the end to write what I would love to watch and that I'd be happy to add to my portfolio. I did add the extra condition that it had to be something that wasn't already out there.

So I've gone through my favourite series and looked at what I liked about them. My favourites all have two things in common.

1) They are ensemble pieces. Even if the series is named after a single character the other characters are just as strong. And they are all 3 dimensional. No stereotypes, even if they appear that way when you first meet them.

2) There is balance. The series have an overall story, discrete stories for each episode and development of relationships. But they don't let any one predominate.

Well I've come up with something. It's meant to be horror and chucking the ideas down late at night has made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end so I think I'm on track. Let's just say I'm not going out on my own when it's dark for a while.

There's time to bin it and start again if I find it isn't working out but this is going to be my project for the next few weeks I think. If my nerves can take it.

Something Different

Has it really been 2 weeks since I last posted something? Ooops. Well I've had a busy fortnight. Travelling for work, sprog stuff and village life. For a change I thought I'd give a taste of that village life. Within a 24hr period we had a Ceilidh followed by the Village Gala.

My ankle was playing up but I limped along to watch the Ceilidh so the sprogs could still attend. The younger villagers had been rehearsing at the school so they would know the steps. Then on the night they all cleared off to play hide and seek or act cool instead.

They got hauled back in for the odd dance or to grab food but other than that it was a parent's event. I was able to play the invalid card and have a good laugh at everyone getting steps wrong, cannoning into each other or twirling partners until they lost grip and flew into the crowd. Dancing is a martial art round here. Only one fight this year and that was between two very little boys so quite a civilised event.

Next was the Gala. Like previous years it clashed with the nearest town's carnival. I asked once why we didn't shift dates and was put right. We had that day before they did so the mouse ain't backing down.

We all woke up to a typical warm, summer morning Cumbria style. In other words a downpour. But just past lunchtime it changed to a scene from the Ten Commandments. No, not the parting of the Red Sea sadly but rays of light streaming down onto the Marquee. Well it would have been stone tablets but they were busy patching holes in the church roof.

Everyone raced out to set up the stalls and tables. I was on early washing up duty but there'd been a glut of volunteers so I escaped. Only to get roped into helping set up the coconut shy. There I was, gripping a wooden stake while someone else hammered it with a mallet. Not an easy task our way where most of the ground is 2" topsoil covering slate or granite.

Anyway, just at that critical stage where you're holding a stake up in one hand, balancing two wooden boards in another, gripping string with your teeth while your feet slowly sink into the 2" of mud and you mumble a prayer that voice recognition software's cheap if he misses, the skies opened again. We were soaked in seconds so just kept going.

Rain then held off for the visitors and only returned to finish the Gala with a magnificent storm. Forked lightning, rolling thunder, the works. All we needed was a heavenly choir and trumpets to finish the job.

So what did I get out of it? Well I won a painting by a local artist in the raffle. It was a pastel one so a bit tricky to get home in the downpour. She hadn't had time to spray fixer.

I watched children and parents throwing eggs at each other. They were supposed to catch them but you really get to see the malevolent side of family life when you arm them with missiles. The assault course run by three of the Dads became a water fight after they made the kids jump over the paddling pool instead of walking along a plank. And the women of the village won the tug of war!!!!!!!!

Got to catch up on village gossip. Much more reliable than the local paper and they don't leave out the juicy bits. Also saw the plans for the new village sports hall and added votes on the list of activities to do there. One on the list was pickle ball. Considering the egg incident above I thought this might be a more extreme version but sadly no. Follow the link to find out what all the pensioners are raving about.

Anyway I was completely knackered after all that spectating and staggered home before I got nabbed to take apart the coconut shy. I then put my feet up for the evening and refused to move any more. Who says it's quiet in the country.