Tuesday, June 30, 2009
Now, how to de-frazzle?
Monday, June 29, 2009
Perhaps it wasn't best idea to tell the world that I would be finishing the screenplay by the end of the month. That's tomorrow. (Midnight tomorrow to be exact.)
I'd better get to bed.
Saturday, June 27, 2009
Unfortunately, having been banished from the living room, I have no space to see the whole thing in one glance. It is a case of going along the landing and into the bedroom. The above clip should give some sense of what it looks like (even though upside down and back to front!)
Thankfully, this approach to screenwriting does seem to be working. I have spotted a couple of problems and been able to address them.
Thursday, June 25, 2009
I have edited through from start to finish, ironing out continuity errors and harmonizing the voices (so characters don't change their speech patterns too much from one scene to the next).
The script has crept up to 78 pages now - roughly 78 minutes of screen-time - which puts me in the right zone in terms of length. I have 2 scenes to add - which will push it up to something like 83 pages. But further editing will tend to shrink it down again as the dialogue becomes sweeter and shorter. So it looks as if I will end up close to my original estimate of 80 pages.
I have told Chris Jones I'll send him a draft by the end of this month. (That will probably be a minute to midnight on the 30th.)
Anyway, what with all the hours of editing, my brain feels moderately fried. So I will leave it at that for today. Thanks for bearing with me.
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
When I entered school, at the age of five, my teachers discovered that on the scale of ability with which they measured all pupils, I defined the lowest point.
‘You’ve had two bright children,’ they told my surprised parents. ‘You were lucky in that. But this one will never achieve anything.’
My primary school was a solemn looking building of grey stone and Welsh slate. Carved into the lintel of one of the two doorways onto the street was the word ‘BOYS’. The word ‘GIRLS’ adorned the other. But by the 1960s we all jostled through the same entrance in a co-educational scrum. There were thirty of us sitting on our small chairs behind small desks. Fresh faced and, to a greater or lesser degree, innocent.
The teachers must have clicked that something was wrong the first time they laid eyes on my exercise book. I was not the same as the others. My attempts to form letters on the page were no more than scribbles along a line. Every week that passed reinforced the initial impression. Other children wrote words then sentences. I wrote nothing that was legible.
I was inferior to the other children in almost every respect. I couldn’t read or write. I lacked that bad-boy charisma worn so effectively by the other under-achievers. Coming from an academically inclined family, I knew nothing of football or rugby. The least disastrous lesson for me was art, in which I achieved mediocrity and a blissful, if temporary, invisibility.
Not that I started out trying to be invisible. I toddled through the doors of that stone building and across the squeaky wooden floor with an innocent positivity and a belief that all children were more or less like me.
There was no single moment when I realised my mistake. Understanding grew in two phases. First was my dawning awareness that I was different from my classmates because of my stupidity.
I remember sitting, bent low over a comprehension exercise, my left arm forming an L shaped screen around the paper. I was seven and could string letters together by that stage, though I didn’t want anyone to see my clumsy scrawl.
I could also read some of the words on the printed page, my mouth miming the vowels as my finger hovered next to them. But to read a sentence was a challenge. I had to decode the words one by one. I had to keep them all in my mind, remembering the beginning of the sentence by the time I eventually arrived at the end of it. That took ferocious concentration. Enough to set up a tightness across my forehead, as if I was being gripped there by a vice. If at first the meaning didn’t come, I could always tighten the vice a little more. I was good at concentrating. I was getting lots of practice.
By the time I’d struggled through two of the ten questions, other children were finishing the whole activity. One by one, they trotted up to the teacher’s desk, books in hand, hopeful expressions on their faces. One by one she invited them round to stand next to her as she marked their work. A line of ticks down the side of the page. A smile. A word about something they could do better. One by one she released them to play or draw pictures.
Finally the allotted time had passed. I approach her desk, last in the line of stragglers, having attempted only eight out of the ten questions, exhausted from the effort. There was no time for marking. She had to move us on to a new activity. The bright kids were rested and now they were and starting to get bored.
It was the following day before I could collect my work. My scrawl of pencil shot through with red biro corrections. A line of crosses down the side of the page. ‘Three out of ten See me!’
I approached her desk with dread, wanting the world to disappear into blackness.
How, she wanted to know, could I be getting the spelling of words wrong, when they were there in the printed text on the opposite page? It could only be carelessness. I should take more pride in my work.
I was seeing her. That concerned expression. How could she get through to me? I may have struggled to read the words on the page, but I could read her clearly enough. I’d always been able to know what people were feeling, to feel the echoes of their emotions in myself. That over-active empathetic sense.
Such a nice boy I seemed. An enigma though. I looked to be trying. But the evidence was clear. I must be lazy. Or stupid. Although neither description seemed quite to fit. If there was only more time, perhaps she could have taken me aside and worked out what was wrong. But time only for an admonition. You must try harder. Try harder. Try harder. I don’t know what you were thinking of - handing in a piece of work like this. Were you day dreaming again? Next time, try harder.
So I did. Always harder. Sharpening and compressing my focus. There had to be a way of doing it. Everyone else was doing it. Just a little harder.
There is a point when an instrument has been strained so far beyond its tolerance that it snaps. But the brain it seems is not like that. There is always more concentration to be extracted. I just had to try a little bit harder...
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
Significantly, the report provides an authoritative statement that dyslexia does exist.
It also offers a description of dyslexia, which seems likely to be helpful in reducing confusion and may well become a standard definition. (The existence of a multiplicity of definitions has curiously been used in the past as an argument against existence of the condition. Some strange logic there.)
The report admits that research into dyslexia has tended to keep a narrow focus on reading and writing, even though many dyslexics would regard other issues as more significant. It does mention (in section 5) some of the related issues that dyslexics face - though this is touched on rather briefly.
On the negative side, the report does seem to fall too easily into the language of disability. If there are references to typical dyslexic strengths, I have been unable to find them. It seems to me that this was a missed opportunity.
Dyslexic strengths are under researched and under reported. When we look at the widely published lists of successful dyslexics, we are reminded of people who learned to harness exactly these strengths.
A brief report on the screenplay:
Three acts are written. It comes out roughly 10 pages short. I still have two aspects of one sub-plot to work into it. These are connected with a character who is dead already by the beginning of the movie - developing her back-story and investigating her death. In my estimation, inserting this material will take the screenplay to my target length - of around 80 tightly worked pages, roughly 80 minutes of screen time.
Bearing in mind that each minute on screen costs money, and that this is to be a low budget movie, the intention is to make it as short as possible whilst still being long enough to be considered a feature film. My aim had been in the 77 to 83 minute range. Happily, we seem to be heading for the bulls eye.
Today, I am reading through from the start to the finish, editing as I go, identifying places where my insert scenes could work.
Friday, June 19, 2009
But (as always) the advice on this blog comes to you free!
There are people who believe SEO is just a sprinkling of common sense dressed up with the smoke and mirrors of a conjurer and the hype of a good marketing machine. There are also people who believe that a good SEO consultant will boost the volume of traffic attracted to a website by one or two orders of magnitude. As with most things, the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle.
So here is one little observation to add to the mix. Having just reformatted from the old Blogspot templates to the newer system, I notice this blog coming out lower in Google searches than it was doing last week. I don't know whether this change happening at this time is coincidence or not. But I thought I'd share it with you anyway.
The common list of other things to do in order to boost the number of people finding your site from Google, Yahoo and others includes:
Research commonly searched for phrases. (Google, YouTube and others have helpful predictive text which flashes up lists of the phrases people most commonly type in as soon as you start to type.)
Use key phrases in the title of the site, the title of the page, the title of the article and the first line of the article.
Include captioned photographs.
And most importantly - get other sites to link to yours.
Do please add suggestions to this list. Especially if you are an SEO consultant or have had an SEO consultant work on your site. :-)
Thursday, June 18, 2009
Duh. Slap palm to forehead. I'd not moved the counter software into the new blog page template!
The glitch is now amended and thankfully people are still looking in from time to time.
The opening act is sitting in one pile. That is fairly tight already. I may need to back-write some details into it to justify what happens later, and I will need to work on the dialogue, of course. But the scene by scene structure is more-or-less in place.
Similarly, Act 3 is sitting in a pile. The details of what happens may change. But the basic structure is fairly well established.
Placed in a long line on the floor are the pages of Act 2. This is the area of the script where most of the changes are going to have to happen. This is still fluid. With it laid out like on the floor, I can see in one glance where the long and short scenes lie. I can spot patterns and rhythms.
What I have found today are three significant sub-plots which can be developed. These will break up the rhythm of the main story and make it feel less linear. There is a character who has already died at the beginning of the movie. Her story can be developed as can the investigation into her death. There is also a power struggle going on between two of the secondary characters. This is going to be opened up. And finally, I need an excuse for one of the convict characters to start a fire in her cell. I'm not sure what that is going to be yet, but I know how they put it out!
I also watched the original movie again, trying to get the voice of the central character, Ellen Carter. I haven't quite got it pinned yet, but I'm not far off. Her main characteristic is that she doesn't say too much. She looks at people and they tend to say things to her.
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
Today I gave in and switched to new blogger.
I must admit to being rather nervous. I've done much tinkering with the basic template over the years and was afraid of losing all that work. As things turned out, the switchover has been fairly straightforward. I still haven't got everything sorted. I'll still want to tinker with the fonts and colours. The information in the side-bar will be shuffled to some extent. The links list will be expanded.
If you have any problems with the new layout, please let me know.
If you haven't been following this series, I would strongly encourage you to look at it. I'm sure it will be repeated on the BBC. It is also available at the moment on iPlayer. I am not sure if it will be accessible outside the UK, but it is the kind of BBC product likely to be sold around the world.
The series explores the genetic heritage of modern humans from our origin 200,000 years ago in East Africa. It follows the great journeys of exploration that led to our populating the world. The presenter, Alice Roberts, is a medical doctor and anthropologist. She is also enthusiastic, sincere and immediately likable.
The story she tells of our ancestors, pieced together from fragments of evidence, is astonishing. It emphasises once again the common humanity of all people. I can't put it better than by quoting Alice Roberts's final statement in the last program.
Referring to the slaughter of native Americans by European settlers she describes it as:
"...a tragedy which seems so much more senseless in light of what we now know about our human story: our origins in Africa, the journeys our ancestors made and the close genetic bond we all share.
The differences between us all are really just superficial. We're all members of a young species that goes back less than 200,000 years and we're all surprisingly closely related.
This is the story that has emerged from the study of stones, bones and our genes: that wherever we've ended up, all over the world, we are Africans under the skin. And uncovering that story, retracing the steps of our ancestors has given me a profound sense of our common humanity, our shared past and our shared future."
If you follow this blog, you'll probably be aware of my view that, in the words of Baha'u'llah, we are all "leaves of one tree" and "fruits of one branch". You will also be aware that my emotions are never far buried. So you won't be surprised that I wept profusely on at the end of the program!
It is a truly beautiful series.
Tuesday, June 16, 2009
The script has come in 10 pages too short. But that is good, as I have realised there are several scenes that still need to be inserted.
I'm still on target for producing a real first draft by the end of the month.
Monday, June 15, 2009
As you will probably know, I'm working on a screenplay for a sequel to the film White Angel. I have been through the various stages of:
- jotting notes,
- consulting with a writing partner
- laying index cards out on the floor,
- writing a treatment,
- getting feedback on treatment,
- writing another,
- and another,
- starting to write the screenplay and
- finishing Act 1.
The whole thing will be completed in very rough form within the next few days. I will then go back and start working on the individual voices, also on inserting things that I missed on the first pass and possibly adding a couple of scenes that have come into my head since the last treatment. The whole process will end up with a first draft by the end of the month.
That's the plan, anyway!
All of which explains why the blog output has been somewhat less over the past week or so. It also explains why I have not been so active in the blogosphere commenting on other people's work.
Saturday, June 13, 2009
Ivory kindly let me play around with her iPhone on Thursday - which has given me more of an idea about how I might use one.
Yesterday I came to a decision. I'm going to shift a load of my organizational stuff onto Google calendar, google mail etc. But I am going to hold back from buying any gadgets for a few months. (I am having a fairly intensive period of writing during the next 6 months, so my organizational load will be limited). Then, when the next google phone comes out, I will probably go for that. Presumably it will be called the G2. By that time, I'll probably be renewing my laptop as well - and will go for one of the long battery life Samsung netbooks.
Why the Google phone rather than the iPhone? Simply because of their open-source policy. Whilst I have complained about Google's attitude in trampling over copyright holder's rights, I am perfectly happy for them to release their own intellectual property to the creative commons.
Apple's more-or-less opposite approach of centralisation and secrecy seems less wholesome and, however beautiful the iPhone is, I feel uncomfortable with it.
So there we go - thanks again for the input.
Friday, June 12, 2009
1) Trust. There is no preconception at this stage. The dominant emotion is nervous anticipation of the journey ahead.
2) Excitement. The characters and events begin to emerge. There are too many possibilities to hold in the head at once. But all the possibilities that do emerge seem to be strong.
3) Progress. The story is being formed. Chapters or a treatment are written. At the end of every writing session the word count has leaped forwards.
4) Crisis. The story gets stuck. The way forward is unclear. Long walks are needed. And the support of other writers. (There may be several stages of progress and crisis. Many novelists get stuck thirty to forty thousand words into the story. They have entered Act 2 and can't yet see all the way to Act 3.)
5) Vision. The last crisis is over. The way forward is clear.
6) Desperation. The end is in sight. The story is there in the back of the mind, but has not yet been told. At this stage, it will not let the writer rest. It never completely leaves the mind, from the moment of waking in the morning to the moment of sleeping at night. And it seeps into dreams. Carrying the story is exhausting.
7) Relief. The story is written - at least in first draft. It is out of the head and on the page.
8) Pride. Editing the story. It is improving every day. The writer finds passages that seemed mundane in writing, but now have obvious and surprising quality.
I am presently at the "Desperation" stage with the White Angel sequel. It is exhausting me. But it will be over soon. I'm so consumed with the film that my blogging is somewhat less consistent than it has been. Normal service should be resumed in a week or so once White Angel 2 is out of my head and on the page.
Thursday, June 11, 2009
But the dialogue in prose and script is very much like poetry. It has brevity and rhythm. It wants to be spoken aloud. Similarly, descriptive passages from prose and poetry can be filmic. Perhaps the forms are not so different as we might think.
Today I will be enjoying all three forms. This blog is prose. I am catching a moment to write it after an hour or so of script writing - which I will be going back to shortly (after a cup of tea and a moment standing in the morning sunshine.)
This evening, I'll be going to the weekly meeting of Leicester Writers' Club. Today we have the adjudication of our annual poetry competition. I know I'll be hearing some excellent material read out - which will be a treat. I enter this competition every year, though with little hope of winning as the club is blessed with many fine poets these days.
My experience of working in all three forms is that each enriches the others. Working with poetry freshens up my prose writing. And vice-versa. Working with script sharpens my storycraft.
I'll end here with a poem - not at all in my usual style. It plays with a peculiarly dyslexic appreciation and confusion of left and right. It was first published in a pamphlet distributed around NHS waiting rooms in Derby.
Mirror, mirror on the wall,
I can’t work you out at all.
I stare at you and see the sight,
of me turned round swapped left for right.
But I can’t work out how you know,
not to swap me head for toe.
If I were now to twist you round,
would I see me up side down?
Tuesday, June 09, 2009
Monday, June 08, 2009
Here is the event I was going to.
But here is the event that was actually taking place.
If you read very closely, you will see that the first link gives today's date - June 8th, whereas the second link gives the date July 8th. (The pages may be changed by the time you read them, of course).
Somehow - entirely my own fault, I am sure, I copied the date from the literature network web page into my diary. So, people of Hadfield, when I turn up in exactly one month from now, you will know how much I value you, because I will have done the drive twice.
Yes, this sort of thing happens to dyslexics. If you read the usual dyslexia check-list - which coincidentally I found myself browsing as I sat in my car outside the closed library - you will see that one of the important signs of dyslexia is: "Mixing up dates and times and turning up for events on the wrong day."
The worst thing about turning up for an event on a month early it is that it causes embarrassment to other people. "You didn't drive all that way did you? I am so sorry for you!" But I decided years ago to embrace this aspect of who I am with open arms. If I find myself in this situation, make the most of it.
Which today I did. The drive was beautiful and surprisingly calming. I arrived relaxed, sat in the car and came up with some excellent ideas which I think are going to be extremely useful. Among them are a series of excellent title possibilities for a movie idea that I have been working on with a couple of people (a project I have not said much about on here). Then I enjoyed the mountainous views on the way back.
In today's situation my philosophy works. The problem comes when I get something wrong the other way around - as I did last Saturday. I got mixed up with the times and dates and did not realise I should be giving a class. This is what I really regret. To be honest, I have done it so many times over the years that I am emotionally sensitized. When I realised - after it was too late - I was very distressed. I still am. I hate letting people down.
What should I so about this - I really don't know. Encourage people to send me a reminder a couple of days before? Try to make it up to people by offering them something by way of compensation? Probably all of the above.
And try to lighten up about it. It shouldn't reduce me to tears.
"Sure. Love to."
"It's a long way, you know. People don't always realise how far north it is."
"No worries. It can't be that far. It's in Derbyshire, after all."
I looked at the map yesterday to plan my journey. She was right. It IS a long way. How come the East Midlands stretches all the way to Manchester?
(For those of you reading this in the USA or Australia, please be advised that on this small island we think of a hundred mile journey as a fair hike.)
So - it is blog-lite today as I am about to hop into the car and zip up to Hadfield to give a session on crime writing. During the session I hope to get the group to collectively plan out a story - whether it is for a novel or a movie I leave up to them. It's a popular workshop which I have done several times in different places. Always fun to do. Not so much a writing workshop as a story workshop.
So the actual time I would need to leave would be in two hours. But to prevent me from worrying about time (one of those dyslexic issues) I'm going to set off just as soon as I post this and power down the computer.
Saturday, June 06, 2009
The first is the Being Dyslexic community. This is a free to access social network site for dyslexics and people concerned with dyslexia. Much of its client base seems to be based in the UK, though there are members from other parts of the world as well. On its forums questions, discoveries, advice and support are freely shared.
I stumbled across it a few weeks ago and was instantly hooked.
Lots of people are interested in dyslexia. There are neuroscientists - people who scan brains to work out the physical differences between dyslexics and non-dyslexics. There are educationalists - people who try to figure out how to get dyslexics to achieve 5 or more GCSE passes at grade C or above. Much of the information on dyslexia is produced by these two groups. The refreshing thing about Being Dyslexic is that the material there comes from a third interested party - the practitioners, the owners of dyslexic brains.
The strap-line on the front page of the site is: "Being dyslexic is being someone amazing." I love it.
Then to my second recommendation. I have mentioned it on here before without realising that it could be useful for those who want to understand dyslexia. It is the novel Ghosts of Eden by Andrew Sharp.
This is a book I read in manuscript form some years ago. Since the book launch, I have been reading it again. This time a truth hit me that I'd missed before. One of the characters is dyslexic. It is never stated in the book. But all the evidence is there.
The following contains a very small spoiler, so if you are already convinced to read the Ghosts of Eden, perhaps you should stop here, and come back once you have finished it. Otherwise, do read on.
The first section of the book deals with two cowherd brothers living in East Africa. One is well respected, the other is having problems and is a worry to his family. The respected one has a natural gift for understanding the cattle. He knows them and they respond to him. He can also tell stories in the way the adults do, using the same rhythms and fluency. He knows what people are thinking before anything is said, and intuitively senses the outcome of events before they happen. In short, he is gifted and destined for greatness. If he has a shortcoming it is that he tends to be impulsive. But this can also be a path to greatness, for he is the one who will act when others might stand around thinking and talking.
But life is about to change for the two boys. The white man's education is coming. They head off to school together and suddenly their position is reversed. The boy who was so able is suddenly disabled because this new world values different qualities. Conversely, his less able brother suddenly flourishes. The white man's education values the ability to read and write, to spell correctly, to remember abstract information. Here the day is measured in hours and minutes instead of by the passage of events. Here impulsive behaviour is bad behaviour.
In short the super-able becomes disabled and the disabled becomes super-able. Why? Because different qualities are valued.
Last Thursday I asked the author if he had intended the able cowherd boy to be dyslexic. He said yes, though he hadn't spelled it out because that was not the main theme of the book.
In my opinion, the opening of this novel - which can be taken as a stand-alone story - should be compulsory reading for anyone concerned with dyslexia. You can buy copies here. (And no, I don't get a commission!)
Thursday, June 04, 2009
The first act looks good to my eye. It's come out at the right sort of length and with the right sort of tone. I had been concerned about the strength of the central character. Make her too weak and it becomes a victim flick make her too strong and all the tension goes out of the story. Seeing the first act written and having added the dialogue (as the great man once said) it all seems to be working.
The second act is planed out in detail and I am just about to get into the dialogue adding phase. But before doing that, I need to get my head around the sub-plots. It is important that I haven't missed any opportunities and that events develop in the best possible order. Getting this right will make the story feel more compelling and less linear.
For this review, I'm using a technique taught to me by Clare Littleford. I have printed out my extended treatment of Act 2, cut it into scenes and am laying portions of it out on the carpet. I can ask myself how the story would change if I moved a scene from one place to another.
This is the sticky tape stage - reassembling the story in a better form.
Having said that, I still feel as if I am driving in the dark.
The only thing I feel sure of is that the world of books is going through a period of rapid change and that the change is going to get much faster over the coming years as digital readers spread. The publishing industry is not a system in equilibrium. And with the system out of equilibrium it is a time of opportunities for far-sighted writers, publishers and retailers.
Tuesday, June 02, 2009
I have adjusted the graphs from yesterday's post to take into account your various observations and suggestions. The y-axis represents profits generated by the publisher from each title. The x-axis represents books from the No. 1 bestseller on the right down to progressively less well selling titles on the left. As the graphs are only guesswork, I'm not going to suggest an x-axis scale this time.
Graph one - the publishing industry 20 years ago:
Thus larger amounts of money are being made by a smaller number of titles, the total size of the market remains more or less constant and the mid-list is squeezed to almost nothing.
This leaves me with two questions - after which I will shut up on this topic (for a while at least!). 1) Why do some really excellent novels get rejected by publishers large and small? 2) How in the future are the excellent books below the bestseller list going to have any profile?
My working hypothesis for question 1) is that the number of novels being written now is SO great that excellent writing is sometimes missed in the slush pile, even though more novels are being published than ever.
As to the second question, perhaps I will just have to wait and see.
Monday, June 01, 2009
However, my understanding of the situation is as follows:
The publishing industry can been seen to have three elements - writers, publishers and sales outlets.
The writers are producing novels. More novels than ever before. I'm an example of this. I would not have been able to attempt to write a novel if it hadn't been for the advent of the word processor. My dyslexia would have been too great a barrier. I may be an extreme case, but I recon other people have been enabled by technology in similar ways.
Contrary to popular belief, the publishers are producing more titles a year now than they used to. I've failed to come up with detailed statistics for the last couple of years, but from what I read the trend seems to be growth.
What has happened to buying patterns since the end of the Net Book Agreement? I sketched the following 2 graphs to illustrate what I believe the change to have been. They are not based on any real data. Rather they illustrate a change in pattern that corresponds to what I have been told is happening.
The x-axis on these graphs represents all the books published in the year, from the #1 best seller on the right, all the way down to the 10,000th seller on the left. The y axis represents money made by each title. Thus, the best selling book made lots of money and the worst selling book made little.
Here we have a picture of the market during the prime of the Net Book agreement:
And here we have a picture of the market now:
The total number of books being published is dazzlingly large. But the number of books being sold in any volume has reduced. (I understand the value of the market in total is not growing or shrinking at present.)
The big sellers are selling more and being promoted more. The small sellers are selling less and being promoted less.
Now - with the arrival of the e-book - the number of novels being published each year is likely to increase at a huge rate.
My question is - how will a reader know what books are worth looking at? The top selling couple of hundred novels will be easy to identify. They are being promoted. They are given prominence in Waterstones, Tesco etc. But what of the rest - the mid-list and below? Here we have a huge expanse of publications in which the excellent has a problem making itself seen above the mass of frankly poor writing that is now finding its way into print.
This is my impression of what is happening. I have no real data to justify it and, as always, am open to being told I am wrong!