Writing And More - A Blog by Alan Devey
script reading for one of the big international competitions recently and, having
been through the openings of hundreds of submissions, I thought I’d share my
thoughts. So here are some broad reflections on the process that might be of
use for writers everywhere.
Characterisation: It’s amazing how many otherwise
gifted writers introduce characters by describing the colour of their hair or some
other superficial detail. Being ‘blonde’ tells us nothing about your creation
and besides, actors are generally cast on their ability, nothing else. Try
describing your protagonist in three adjectives instead (e.g. lethargic,
pessimistic, secretive) or with a single arresting phrase (“an older man lost
in the modern world”). There’s no point telling us anything about a character
we won’t grasp from what you’ve put onscreen either – it all has to be up there
for an audience.
Attention: The first
sift of scripts involved reading the logline, short plot synopsis (one
paragraph) and initial two pages. Any
writers who hadn’t worked up their supporting material (or, in some cases,
bothered to provide any at all) were at an immediate disadvantage, as were those
whose scripts took a while to get going. Have vital plot points happening early
if you can. Similarly, it’s no good leaving it 8-10 pages to introduce your
Narrative: Whether in comedy or elsewhere, a
good approach, I think, is to create interesting, three-dimensional characters,
give these characters problems and make those problems big. There’s nothing wrong with a more low-key piece, but if very little
happens in your script you’ll have to work much harder to sustain our
attention. The big thing for production companies right now is ‘returnability’;
multiple series mapped out in advance, beyond the first six episodes. It’s difficult
to convey you’re good at this without thrashing out multi-episode narrative
arcs in advance.
Originality: The Holy Grail right now and the
first aspect we rated on; quickly followed by a separate but equally weighted
score for the premise (how fresh and involving the idea felt). If your work is
a little rough and ready but a brilliant concept, the industry is more likely
to be open to it, because minor flaws can be easily fixed. But however
effective or polished your script, if it feels derivative or has been done many
times before, it’s likely to get overlooked.
Storytelling: I was
reading for a screenplay competition, not an audio one; yet I still saw openings
more suited to radio or a podcast. If you’ve written an audio comedy script
say, that’s great, but characters sitting around talking through extended
scenes that don’t go anywhere isn’t particularly dynamic in terms of visual
entertainment. Remember to exploit the opportunities (and maybe even utilise
the limitations) of that medium you’re working in.
Quality: A high
proportion of scripts I sifted were comedic because, after reading 125+ sitcoms
at London Comedy Writers since 2016, I’m more confident assessing comedy than
say, fantasy or ‘faith’. Broadly, the standard was similar to that which we see
at LCW, week in, week out; if more polished (it’s sensible to bring an earlier
draft to a table read/critique). Very few sitcoms or comic features were so enthralling
I felt compelled to go on reading, but those that drew me in really stood out.
There’s a huge market for comedy these days, what with streaming services and
YouTube channels adding to traditional outlets, so there’s room for more
writers than ever. Keep at it.
no real secret to getting there, beyond sheer hard work. Learn early how to
take the kind of notes you’ll eventually get from people in the industry then
use that feedback to refine and improve your work wherever possible. Because a
script should be the best it can be before being formal submission to anyone,
or paying your entry fee.