Living for 5 years in England for five years taught me the value of history. In the current climate that we live in today, I have had a fear that history is not nearly as important as it was. Along comes, MJ Pettengill and her book “Etched in Granite” to give us up that we are still connected to the past. “Etched in Granite” is a compelling and sometimes a dark look at the way people lived at the Poor Farms. “Etched in Granite” is the story of Abigail Hodgdon, who is condemned to the poor farm, when both her parents pass away under tragic circumstances. Her father is killed during the civil war and her mother dies when the family farm burns down. Abigail is left distraught and blames herself for leaving her mother’s death. The night of the fire, left her mother alone to attend a barn dance and meet her love Silas Putnam. What only her sister knows is that Abigail is pregnant with Silas’ child and that night she planned to tell him, but when the farm burned down, she was forced back to the farm to try and save her mother. Miriam and Moses Blake take her in to live with them. Moses is a kind man, who runs the Poor Farm. After a time Abigail discovers Miriam is a tyrant. Miriam treats Abigail more like a servant than a boarder and things become hard for her there.
Once, she reveals to both of them that she is pregnant with another man’s child, they send her to the Poor Farm. The conditions of the Poor Farm are wretched. The harsh treatment the inmates receive is horrible. Among the filth, death and sleeping on bed sacks, from the women and men that run it is horrible. Among the filth, harsh treatment, the death around her and poor sleeping conditions, Abigail somehow manages to survive with the help of an Indian woman named Nellie Baldwin. Nellie has been condemned to live there after her husband died in a mill accident. To make matters worse, Abigail, she has to deal with seeing Silas there every day, since he is the Foreman who runs the Poor Farm. Most of the story deals with their undying love for one another, that neither of them can act upon. The book moves quickly. I found that I could not put it down. There were times, I found myself on the edge of my seat. What I loved about the book, was the way MJ Pettengill cleverly told the story. The story is through the eyes of three people, Abigail, Silas, and Nellie. Each chapter is a diary of each character’s day. Chapters move fluidly as they are interwoven. Nellie’s story was the most compelling to me as she drifts in and out of flashbacks to tell the story of her life and then her day.
This is a page where I will give you a look into what scripts I have ideas for and where they came from.
I’ve talked about this before. Script ideas can come from anywhere. Sometimes, the idea can come from reading an article. If the article makes me think, then I can come up with an idea. If the idea comes from reading a book, then the idea can hit me in the midst of a really good chapter. There are other times, when the idea comes from the strangest places. The strangest is when I am dreaming. One play I started writing happened to do with a Private School in Britain which came from a dream I had. Another idea that came from a dream, I saw myself on stage acting in a series of skits and all these skits were about college. I did write a series of skits about college. One I did turn into a play called King Stud, which I produced and Directed a long time ago. I have another one that came out of that odd dream. The best ideas have come when my mind is drifting and just thinking. Some of them can be wild. Other’s come from conversations I have with people.
Here is a look at some ideas I have that I plan on working on in the future.
I spent five years of my childhood living in England and for some odd reason, I have not tapped into that experience much, but I do have a few ideas in the factory that are set in England. At this point there are two films I have written that are set in England, one is Derby Double and it’s sequel Derby Double Redemption. Scousers would be my second.
Where the Idea Came From.
I’ve had this idea for well over 20 years or so. I used to work for a radio station in St. Albans Vermont. One of the stations played a lot of oldies from the 1960’s. One of the best bands to come out of that era was Herman’s Hermit’s from Liverpool. One night I am waiting for the break to come so I can play commercials and Mrs. Brown You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter came on. It’s always been one of my favorite songs and suddenly this song sparked an idea. I wanted to know who Mrs. Brown was and better yet who was her daughter and why was she so lovely, or was she? I also wanted to know more about the boy who was commenting on Mrs. Brown. Enter Mrs. Brown, Mrs. Brown’s daughter Rachel and our protagonist, a ne’er do well named Gerry McNamara and the setting had to be Liverpool and of course I wanted the River Mersey as a backdrop for some scenes.
Now the idea has changed somewhat since I began working on it. For instance, the title. When I found out that Herman’s Hermits had actually made a British Kitchen Sink movie with the name Mrs. Brown You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter,” I changed the name of the piece and called it Scousers. A Scouse is slang for someone who lives in Liverpool.
When I started working on this, it started as a play set in a pub, but for some reason, I wanted Liverpool to be a backdrop and decided to write a movie.
The premise is pretty simple. Jerry McNamara’s local pub happens to be the Pub that Mrs. Brown runs. Mrs. Brown doesn’t really care for Gerry, because he lives with his mother Dierdra and seems to have no direction in life. He’s on the dole and he breaks woman’s hearts. Mrs. Brown’s biggest fear is that this guy is going to be interested in her mentally ill daughter, Rachel. When the piece starts, Rachel has just gotten out of a mental institution and Mrs. Brown refuses to allow Rachel to come down into the pub. Rachel, rebels and somehow manages to let her mother find a job. She finds a job at a Vet working as an Assistant. Rachel discovers she likes dogs. Jerry finally meets Rachel when he brings Dierdra’s dog down for a check up. Jerry finds Rachel interesting and a much different girt than one of his usual one night stands. Jerry becomes interested in Rachel and asks her out. When Mrs. Brown finds out, she is dead set against a date of any kind. I haven’t quite figured out where this movie goes from here, although I was tinkering with Jerry’s backstory and found his father had passed away and had been a former British Olympic swimmer. I decided this piece of information would be interesting to play around in. I had this idea that there was some swimming race along the Mersey that Jerry decides to enter. I had written about 40 pages of a movie, but for the moment have scrapped it, because I need to think about it a bit more.
Today was a good writing day. I managed to get quite a bit accomplished. So far I seem to have knocked 23 pages off the script. It would have been more, but I had to add two scenes. One may not be that important and I can certainly shorten it or cut it.
I have introduced The Interpol High Command Leader, Max Frisdale into the movie. He is the exact opposite of Jack a man that Elizabeth admired and respected. (More on him in the third movie as he unravels a huge Manning family secret.) Max isa climber and will do anything to succeed even if it means stepping on a few toes. I introduced Max into the first movie after I wrote the second one, to explain some backstory, but after reading the last draft of Derby Double, I saw that I didn’t do a very good job and he became an obstacle. I have corrected the obstacle, by putting him into the movie far earlier. He now shows up around the first half hour rather than an hour and a half in. In the sequel he’s a much bigger character and he will become very prominent in the last movie in this trilogy. By putting him in the first half hour of the movie, I had a chance to develop his contentious past with Elizabeth. I got a sense the scene worked. In the scene, Elizabeth wants to be involved in whatever undercover operation that involves putting Renneville behind bars. She has no idea what the plan is, but feigns that she does and turns the tables on Max. Suddenly Max realizes he needs her for the plan to work Max is forced to pull Elizabeth out of retirement and makes her a part of the plans.
The second scene was interesting. I didn’t really have a scene where I explored the relationship between Trevor and Elizabeth. Elizabeth thinks of him as an older brother and a mentor from her days at Interpol. I thought it would be cool to have them talk about Mick and how she duped Max into putting her on the case. I got a sense that these two are close, which I really hadn’t before, even though I had put them in other scenes together.
A lot of the scenes I cut today, were necessary and didn’t really move the script along. It dragged it out. I prolonged Elizabeth’s grieving period over her Father’s death. I cut the scene where she finds out about her father’s death. I Once again I had to cut what I thought was a neat idea at the time. In the scene, Elizabeth has read her Father’s diary and gone into his computer, where she finds a lot of files on Albert Renneville, who had been embezzling money to himself through IRA connections. I thought it would be neat, if Lord Manning through the diary played a game of riddles and that is how she found out the truth. The problem with the scene was it dragged and some of it may have made sense at the time, but after re-reading it, I couldn’t figure out where I was going with it. So I dumped it and jumped to his funeral. I was going to cut the Trevor scene at the Cemetery, but I decided to utilize it to make the Max scene work. All in all this was a good day. I am getting there piece by piece. On to the next scene tomorrow. This is how Roary returns and joins forces with Interpol to help disrupt Renneville’s gun smuggling and betting schemes.
When I write a scene I don’t always have an idea on how to start. I know what the scene is going to be about, but sometimes it’s a struggle. Sometimes I write aspects of the scene in a notebook and that helps me start it. Other times that may not work, so I think about the scene and I look around. Where is the scene is happening and what’s going on in the background? If that doesn’t work. Get the big picture, like you would driving. The Big picture usually starts off with a question. What if? Ask yourself what if and a whole world of possibilities opens up for you.
In the sequel to Derby Double, which I called Redemption, I decided to make Mick the focal point. I wanted him to have a girlfriend, but I wasn’t sure who this woman was going to be. I set him up at The Baron’s Head pub, which became the pub for Sheffield United players. Mick and his best mate Kenny Dayken are playing darts. I decided that he becomes distracted by a girl playing Snooker. At that point I was stumped. I knew nothing about this girl. All I knew was she played Snooker and she was really good. I got my big picture, it was a pub, there was a lot of conversation going on, Mick was playing darts. Maevis the Publican’s wife was working her ass off clearing tables and serving customers. I concentrated on the Snooker. The Snooker reminded me of a ladies pool tournament I saw on ESPN. Then it came to me, and I asked, what if this woman is Britain’s lady Snooker Champion. She’s fiery and competitive. I didn’t even have a name for her. She was just some girl in a pub playing Snooker. For some reason the name Audrey stuck out in my head. When I lived in England Audrey was a common name and I always liked it. So now I had this name Audrey but no last name. What would her last name be. I couldn’t simply have Mick hit on her and try to ask her name, that seemed too cliche to me. Instead I asked, what if Mick asks Maevis. So Maevis tells him her name is Audrey Muckwith. Now the name Muckwith, should have stuck out in Mick’s head, but it didn’t. I didn’t want it to. I wanted Mick to find out who she by some strange occurrence.
Mick does end up hitting on her and she’s not having any of it. She walks out of the pub to practice for her Snooker Tournament somewhere else.
A few weeks later Audrey shows up at Sheffield United’s training ground to drop David Muckwith off. Now Mick knows who Audrey is related to and he’s a might intimidated. David Muckwith was embroiled in the match fixing scandal and he also was let go by Sheffield Wednesday and was picked up by United. During the previous season, the two nearly came to blows on the pitch numerous times. Mick isn’t exactly going to be inviting Muckwith to tea.
From this what if situation, a few things occurred, I found Mick’s love interest and I took a minor character from the first movie and expanded him into the second movie. There was something I always liked about David Muckwith. He’s was an intriguing character to me and I wanted to explore him. The more I began to explore him, the more I began to realize that this guy was a Defensive Animal. He was the type of player that you could imagine playing for Wimbledon’s Crazy Gang. When that idea came to me, I decided to mold him after Wimbledon’s Vinnie Jones, one of the most ruthless Center Halves to play the game. As hard a guy as David was I discovered that there was more than meets the eye to David Muckwith. He was a misunderstood guy. He had anxiety issues and went to therapy. His Doctor suggested he calm himself down, by working on puzzles. He was deeply loyal to his sister and his Uncle. Family was important to him.
So the next time you’re writing a scene and you’re stuck on how it should start, get that big picture and ask what if? I know by asking what if, I discovered the Muckwith’s. Two of the most fascinating brother and sister characters I’ve written.
Over the last two months I learned some valuable lessons about writing. I had been dormant on my blog and my writing. There have been various reasons, some of it was finding the passion to write. It has been dead. I felt very depressed about it. I decided to force myself through it and become a much more disciplined writer.
I have considered myself a binge writer. I can go for months at a time and write quite as much as I want. It seems effective, but it leaves me tired and takes its toll on other aspects of my life. I am now setting some parameters for myself that will help me be a more effective writing. From this process I have already started to learn some lessons. These are the Writing Lessons I have learned in the last twenty four hours.
1: Discipline yourself. I Set aside two hours in the day to write. I haven’t decided what works best. I know some people have particular times when they feel they can get the most done. I am going to explore that. My plan is to write the first two hours after my daily routine, then put the writing aside and get on with the rest of the tasks that I need to complete for the day.
REREAD YOUR WORK UNTIL YOUR BORED
2: Reread your work until you are bored with it. There’s an advantage to reading your script so much that you become bored with it. The advantage is that you become a more objective writer. It also helps you rediscover the passion.
USE AN EXERCISE TO FIND THE PASSION
3: If you’ve lost that passion use a writing exercise to rediscover your passion. To force myself to find that passion to write, I decided to reformat my scripts. They were not in the proper format and I needed to do that anyway if I ever wanted to get them published. After I reformatted my plays, I set about to reformat Derby Double. I hadn’t read this script in a long time. To my horror I discovered two drafts missing from my computer. I had a printed draft so I had to take that and put it into my computer. As I was doing that, I realized that this version of the script was fair. There were a lot of holes in the storyline and once reformatted, I discovered something absolutely horrific. It was well over 200 pages long. I’ve always considered this script to be an epic. An epic is a longer than 120 pages, but it certainly shouldn’t be five hours. Since this is part one of a trilogy I plan to write, I now know there is going to be a lot of cutting involved.
NEVER FALL IN LOVE WITH YOUR BEST STUFF.
4: Never fall in love with your best stuff. Here’s an example of what I mean. I have a bad habit, I overwrite. When my juices are flowing, the ideas come at me fast and furious. I put too much into a scene. At rewrite time it becomes a chore to cut. In some cases it becomes torture, especially if I think I have written this really great bit in the scene. Here’s one of the biggest lessons I have learned about writing. Never fall in love with something you think is needed or great. It may not be. I am now in the process of going back to basics. I am going through each scene and reworking them one scene at a time. I plan on rewriting these scenes more than once, before I move onto the next. This will allow me to cut and tighten and fill in any holes in the story. Today was the first day and I found myself cutting some of Seamus O’Brien’s narrative. Some of the narrative I hated to part with, because it was beautifully written dialogue. I did the same thing with Hannah. I dropped some action I didn’t feel was needed or slowed the scene down. I went through a printed edit of the scene today and did more cutting. I found another bit between Hannah and her parents as she is giving her speech, that I loved, but it slowed the script down and I dumped it.
These most recent tips I have learned about script writing appear to be working. I have found that I have started to breathe new life into the passion I have for writing. I have discovered a new objectivity and most of all I am learning to cut. Now if I can overcome this overwriting problem, writing would be easier. I do have a solution for that and I plan on learning how to do that next.
The origins of Derby Double began in 1987 in a small apartment in Manchester Massachusetts. I was living with my sister at the time. She had encouraged me to come down to the North Shore right after I had completed college. It was a time when I needed to figure out what I wanted to do. I had no idea what I wanted to do, but I did want writing to be a part of my life. She got me a job at a little restaurant called 7 Central. I did anything they asked of me. When I wasn’t working, I was writing.
At Christmas I went home for the holidays. I was looking for something to read. I raided my Dad’s bookshelf and found a book, on “All Time Football Greats.” It was published in the 1970’s and the book had been a gift from my Dad’s boss. Believe it or not, I had this book since I was a child and I never read it. The book was a look at the careers and lives of some the greatest Football players that had played the game. Most of the players were British with some world players sprinkled in.
The book came out, when George Best was the talent of a day. I remembered him well. Some people called him the Northern Irish Pele, because of his craft, guile and natural ability. I watched him on “Match of The Day and “The Big Match,” two important soccer highlights shows that were popular. When you watched George, you didn’t want to turn away, because you never knew what he was going to do. Usually what he did was brilliant. He had tricks that the average player only dreamed he could have. He literally could turn a game on it’s head and take it over in an instant. He wasn’t just a great goalscorer, he was the playmaker of his day.
George’s biography was the last in the book. I found it a fascinating look into a very conflicted shy man. On the pitch, George was free and happy and played with a passion like no other. Off the pitch, the rigors the game caught up to him. His fame and fortune, which he didn’t seek drove him away and led him to boozing, lots of women and partying. When things became too intense for him, he would walk away from the club for days, weeks and months at a time. The game outside the game had become a chore for him and all he really wanted to do was play, because George simply enjoyed being on the Football pitch.
After I read George’s biography, a character came to me. A Football player like George Best, a cocky, cheeky player on the pitch and a shy misunderstood personality off the pitch. Now I could have done a movie about George Best, but I didn’t want to do that. I wanted something different. There was a movie in my head, but I wasn’t sure what it was.
I decided to come back to the character later. It was time to figure out the rivalry I wanted portrayed on the pitch. I chose something completely different. The English Football League has some of the biggest rivalries in the sport. There’s the Liverpool Derby with Liverpool and Everton. The Manchester Derby. The Arsenal, Spurs rivalry. I didn’t want any of that. I also didn’t want the rival to be a big club. I wanted something that wouldn’t be seen as cliche. The club that wins the Championship should be a club that has never won it or hasn’t won it in a long time. I scoured my Football Books for team histories. Sheffield United stuck out to me. They hadn’t won the Championship in close to a hundred years. So the natural Derby rival was Sheffield Wednesday. I could have switched it and made Wednesday the underdog, but I didn’t. I realized Sheffield United was perfect. Although I was a Chelsea fan, I always enjoyed watching the greats. Tony Currie was one of my favorite players of the day and one of the most gifted. He was a player whose skill epitomized Football’s nickname, the beautiful game.
Now that the club was in my head, I went back to who this character was. I read George’s Best’s biography again. I discovered George was the son of a Protestant Dock worker and he lived in Estate housing in Belfast. His religion shouldn’t have been important, but it became important. I had always wondered what it must be like for a Catholic Football player to play in a country that had established law an order in theirs. I wondered what it must have been like for the Catholics of Northern Ireland to play with the Protestants of Northern Ireland. I always wondered why there was not more violence on the pitch. Somehow religion had been set aside so the sport they loved could take center stage. That spoke volumes to me and that was to be part of my character’s core.
I decided my character’s name would be Seamus. Gaelic for James. Seamus would be Catholic and that in the midst of his brilliant career, it would end through a horrifying injury on the pitch. He dropped out for ten years only to discover he wanted one last chance at a winners medal. So he joins Sheffield United and he makes the team and would help a rag tag Football club to glory. This was the basis of my story. It also became a struggle, because ignored the more controversial idea.
I wrote a script that played it safe. Seamus religion was a background but not the main focal point. In fact I had two conflicts in the picture. I wanted to explore match fixing, which is a big problem in the sport. So I had Seamus come into contact with the British Mafia. The second conflict, was the Sheffield United Owner was a wealthy steel magnet named Lord Herbert Manning, who wanted to keep Seamus away from his daughter Elizabeth. I never finished the first draft, because there was a little voice inside my head. His name was Seamus O’Brien and he was pissed off at me. “Hey Murray, what’s your problem? You put my childhood in Belfast Northern Ireland and you made me Catholic, but you don’t have the guts to see the very story that is staring you in the face. You’ve put a match fixing plot in this movie. It shouldn’t be the mob, it should be the IRA.”
The day Seamus spoke to me I woke up and smelled the coffee. Seamus needed a deeper, darker past. It couldn’t be the injury that took him out of the game, it should be something far more tragic. It had to be a death and it had to be the death of the woman he loved. From there things took off. I began to realize that there had been a few popular movies about how the Republic of Ireland came to be, but not many had been done on the Troubles in Northern Ireland. Suddenly I didn’t care whether I pissed people off about the Irish conflict. I did my research. I began to understand the complex religious issue that haunted Northern Ireland. I learned about prominent Protestant and Catholic politicians. I learned about the Protestant rabble rouser Ian Paisley, who always seemed to be in the news when I lived in England. Names like Gerry Adams, Bobby Sands, Bridget Devlin and Martin McGuinness were now prominent in my brain as I learned about important parts of Northern Irish history. With all the knowledge at my fingers, the fascinating backstory of Seamus O’Brien came alive. Bridget Devlin was of particular interest to me. I remembered her as a prominent outspoken civil rights leader and I remember her death was big news. Bridget became the inspiration for Seamus’ finance Hannah Laughlin. As the troubles moved from the 60’s through to the 90’s, the violence got worse and both Protestants and Catholics began to weary of the war. It sucked in everyone that lived in Northern Ireland and ate them alive. I wanted to explore that aspect. Both sides spoke out. I decided to use this by creating a political wing for peace, called the Belfast Peace League.
To create further conflict, I had two of Seamus’ childhood friends heavily involved in the IRA. His best friend Roary Riordan, travels to England with Seamus to trial Manchester City. Seamus is signed to apprentice forms and Roary is sent packing back to Belfast. It was a harsh blow. Roary’s cousin was Paddy Cleary, a man with a tortured soul. His brother Sean was a poet, who formed the Belfast Peace League and Paddy idolized him. He watched him shot down by a military Protestant Wing called the Ulster Volunteer Force. From then, Paddy became bitter and angry and saw he had no choice but to avenge his brothers death and join the IRA.
After Hannah is cut down, Seamus discovers who killed her. A trade unionist from Sheffield England, with IRA ties. His name, Albert Renneville. Instead of seeking revenge, Seamus disappears from Belfast and joins the International Police.
Ten years later, Seamus goes undercover to bring down Renneville who ordered the hit on Hannah. He joins Sheffield United and turns the club around while bringing down the IRA.
The movie has gone through many drafts and cuts. There were times when certain characters were sort of there, but not fleshed out. My antagonist Albert Renneville was extremely difficult to write. During the first few drafts I had left out the murder of a key character, Lord Herbert Manning. Leaving out the murder, caused a huge problem. I had no where to go with Renneville, but create him, black and white. I didn’t want that. My feeling is that villains should always be gray and not caricatures. I wrote in a bit of background which allowed me to explore Lord Herbert, his daughter Elizabeth and Renneville. After I put the background scenes in I added the murder. The scene happens on a night when Lord Herbert Manning is about to hand over his business to his future son in law Albert Renneville and Elizabeth Manning his daughter. Before the meeting, Lord Herbert Manning had found out that Renneville had been embezzling money from his Steel company and using it to buy caches of guns for the IRA. The scene helped me establish the relationship between Renneville and Elizabeth. These two things allowed me to add a gray color for him. With a little more gray in Renneville’s character, there was one other aspect I needed to fix. He was too bland. He had color, but he had no taste. I fixed it by sheer accident. I re-read his first scene with Seamus. In the beginning of the scene, I noticed that I had him play with a toy train set. In the script he explains that the set is a gift for his son Roger. Suddenly it dawned on me that Albert should have this obsession with trains. I made sure that Albert invested in trains and that one of his visions for Manning Steel was to get the company involved in the train industry. He buys an antique locomotive train. I also made sure that when Seamus meets Albert they would meet at a train station. Renneville came alive and I was free to add touches of humor.
Creating Elizabeth Manning was difficult. I had the general idea for Elizabeth but I felt she was just there for the love story. I wanted her to be far more than Seamus’ love interest. I wanted her to be one of the focal points of the script. In the draft I never completed, Elizabeth had no substance. Once I changed the concept to the IRA, I came up with a different concept for Elizabeth. I began to see Elizabeth as an Emma Peel type. As a little kid, I loved the Avengers and Diana Rigg was my favorite actress. Elizabeth was sophisticated, intelligent, funny and a take charge woman. She was the type of woman, you’d hire to run your company. Once her father dies, she takes her Father’s stock and is given the club by the retiring owner.
I created a deep past for Elizabeth. She had gone to work for Interpol and had left due to some bad decisions she had made. One involved being responsible for one of her Interpol colleagues being killed. For the first few drafts, I had the intelligence, the sophistication and the funny, but she was not as take charge as I would have liked. During those early drafts Elizabeth is kidnapped by Renneville and Seamus has to save her. When I had my friend Kim read it, the damsel in distress ending, really bothered her. She thought it was too cliche and that it might work better if she saved him. I loved the idea. It just fit with this Emma Peel persona I created. I flipped it on its head. Elizabeth doesn’t just save Seamus at the end, she saves him throughout the whole movie. It also fit Seamus’ character. I have a scene when the love interest has sparked. Seamus is worried about Elizabeth, so he hands her revolver. She plays with the revolver and opens it. Elizabeth remarks that is very tidy. Seamus explains he hardly uses his weapon and when he has to it’s to maim and not kill. This fits Seamus perfectly, as he is a man that abhors violence.
Derby Double continues to be a work in progress for me. There are still some holes in the script and it is still too long. Right now I am working on a new draft that I hope will help shorten it and clean it up. The story is good, hopefully when I have finished the script it is worthy of being on the big screen. If you are interested in how this script is coming along I plan on creating a writing diary page on this blog. I will keep you up to date there.
Don’t worry this won’t be the do’s and don’t of how to write, however if your writing fiction, a screenplay, or a play I can take you through a process that I go through that might help.
We’ve all been there before, you have this great idea, but how does turn from an idea into a masterpiece of writing. Something I learned a long time ago was create your own process. I like to begin by putting all my ducks in a row.
It starts with an idea. Usually my ideas are not fully fleshed out. It’s maybe a small thing like, two college kids meet and become best of friends. Their friendship changes once they start dating. A simple idea, but there are a couple of good things in here. Right away you have the conflict in the second sentence and you have three questions you are asking the audience? How does a friendship change when it becomes a relationship? Does acting on the feelings that you are having for the opposite gender, effect the friendship negatively? Can that friendship be destroyed, which then damages the relationship.
After I have the idea, is formulated, I begin to work on character sketches. I like character sketches. They become my bible for all the characters. It’s horrible to write a play or a screenplay or even a piece of fiction without that character sketch. In fact, if you’re writing a novel, I would suggest a well thought out character sketch. It doesn’t have to be for a movie or a play. There are so many things you can learn from character sketches. First a decent character sketch gives you an idea of what the character looks like when he or she come to life. As you writing you will suddenly begin to realize that you are seeing them with every piece of dialogue or action you write for that character. For me, it goes a little further than that. I feel their presence in the room. If you a good character sketch, that character can take over your keyboard. Secondly, the history of a character gives you an idea how the character reached that point of conflict in the script. The third thing is the history of a character and the plot can sometimes go hand in hand. If you have a hole in your plot, reread the character sketch and you may fill that hole or make a complicated plot, easier to write. There have been times, the only thing I have is a character. If I put together a solid character sketch, the plot suddenly emerges. A British soccer movie I wrote called “Derby Double” started with a character with no plot. Once I wrote the character sketch, the plot arrived. If you’re not sure on how to write a character sketch, a good book I could suggest on this is called Successful Script Writing by Jurgen Wolff and Kerry Cox. If you’re writing a novel, this book may not be what you’re looking for, but there is a really great character sketch chapter with a set of questions you can ask yourself about your characters. I have used this, not only for my writing, but while directing a play. Some of the questions may not be relevant to your characters. I found some were not and chopped and changed it to suit my needs.
If you’re writing something of a historical nature, or a particular topic, be sure to research the subject before you get started, because if you don’t, your writing is not going to be believable to the reader and it will be hollow. When I wrote “Derby Double,” my lead character Seamus O’Brien was a former soccer player. The IRA assassinates her at a peace rally in Belfast. Seamus rips his knee open, playing soccer on the same day and his career is over. He joins Interpol to find the killer and is forced to play soccer again to bring the villain to justice. In order to create a realistic portrayal of Seamus, I had to do my research on the IRA. I used the internet and two very informative books on the subject. I enhanced a scene with new knowledge. In one of the books, I wrote there was a picture of an IRA funeral, with soldiers dressed in military fatigues and hoods. It was chilling to look at. The picture gave me a great idea for a funeral scene.
I don’t always follow this rule, but the older I get the more I feel structure is in order. An outline definitely helps with structure and keeping your plot on track. The outline is a way for you to see the whole script that you haven’t written. My suggestion would be after the outline to reread it and make sure everything is in the order you hope it will be. Then throughout the process of writing your piece, look at it again.
THE SKELTON OR ROUGH DRAFT:
Once I have put the first four together, I begin my rough draft. I call my rough draft the skeletal structure, or the Skelton script. I always see the rough draft much like the skeletal structure of a body. You can’t have the core of a body unless you have a skeletal structure. The most important thing to know about that rough draft is let it be as awful as it’s going to be. Yes, don’t worry if it’s awful. I have often reread my rough draft years after writing it. I find it amusing because it usually is so bad. Don’t stop and rewrite it over and over until you get that perfect rough draft. I have only done this once and it has been with my current script. I found it something was not working right and I couldn’t move the story along. Don’t do that though. What you should be your concern is finishing whatever it is that you are writing. the story, play or movie. Remember the rough draft is for you. I never show a rough draft to anyone. Why? I want to read it first and be my own worst critic. I have to be, because as I am reading, I see the holes in the script. I come up with new ideas that I hadn’t thought of, or enhance an idea further. In fact I don’t even consider the skeletal draft a real rough draft. I consider it a fake draft, so that I can improve it for the real rough draft. That second rough draft is where I begin to fill plot holes, I chop, change and move things around. The best part of the second draft is the character’s are enhanced. Some characters may not even be there in the rough draft. Don’t worry about that, you’ll give them their voice, a few drafts down the line. I may even change a character name if I feel the name isn’t working. So don’t worry about that rough draft. Laugh at it. You’re allowed to.
Remember the writing process is important. As I have aged, I have felt a writing process to be a comfort zone. It also makes me feel like a writer when I know what I am working towards.
Over twenty years ago, I was listening to a bombastic radio talk show host, when Chick McSorley came into my head. Chick didn’t have a name, or a face, he was just a glimmer of an idea. When you have a character in search of story it can be problematic. The day he came to me, I didn’t brainstorm. I tried to write the first pages of a scene. The scene was hollow and had no direction. Chick remained lifeless without a story or any true identity except his bombastic attitude. So where does a writer go from there. Nowhere, you just put the character back in your head and let him percolate for a while
My characters love to talk to me and seven years later, Chick did, while I was reading a book about Baseball Announcers. He made it blatantly apparent to me that his story needed to be told and he screamed at me. “Hey Murray, this is me. Yeah, I’m a bombastic Baseball Announcer, I work in a radio station in Washington DC. I’m was a former big league Shortstop with a lot of promise. I busted my knee twice and my career was in the can. Losing my livelihood sucked, and I started drinking and I became a bitter SOB. I’d make a hell of a character. You need to bring me to life.”
Chick was right, I needed to bring him to life. I worked on him for about five years off, but never finished a first draft. Once again I had to put Chick on the shelf to percolate some more. It wasn’t until this past week, that I picked him up off the shelf to see if some new insight had come to me.
Originally Chick was an analyst for a Major League Baseball team. In the last few days, I ditched the The Major League Baseball idea. A flagship station for a Major League Baseball team didn’t seem to fit the character of this very messed up radio station. A few days ago, I moved the station to Maine and it’s now the flagship for the Red Sox double A affiliate, the Portland Seadogs. Of course since I moved the team to Portland, that meant I also had to change the call letters of the station. Yesterday, the irony of the new call letters hit me, they fit the name of the Broadcast company in a sense and it was not my intention to do that, but I really like the call letters now and plan to keep it.
The premise for this play is a simple. You’ve probably seen this type of story told many times before. It’s the disgruntled veteran who is forced to work with some wet behind the ears kid to. The play starts a few weeks after the death of legendary broadcaster Ned Plummer, Chick’s only friend and broadcast partner. The station is in search of a new play by play guy. The Owner of the station gets this whacky idea that he will look on Youtube and find some young talent. He finds this young kid named Marty Busby. Marty is fresh out of Syracuse communications department. His forte has always been Basketball, because of the fast pace. When the Owner finds Marty, he is working for a college network broadcasting a Baseball game. Marty hates Baseball. He finds the game laborious, slow and tedious. It doesn’t suit his style. Marty can never think of anything to fill the time. During this broadcast, Marty’s worst fear happens, a rain delay. It’s bad enough that Marty has to fill during a Baseball game, but now he has to fill more time during a rain delay. Marty’s producer has this hair brained idea that he should sing show tunes. He picks “Being Alive” from “Company”, but loses his voice during the peak moment of the song. The Owner of the station, decides this is Ned’s replacement. Chick resents this kid from the start. Chick embarrasses Marty throughout both the talk show and the Baseball games. Finally, it comes to a head and Marty stands his ground and begins to relax on the air. As the season moves into a hot pennant race, Chick and Marty slowly find respect for one another and from time to time, Chick gives Marty some pointers. Along the way a new friendship is born.
This has been a difficult play to write because the story has no ending yet. When I find myself in this situation, I usually have trouble moving through a first draft. I would write forty pages of the script and feel the writing was forced and not very good. Other times the writing was better, but it was taking far too long to get into the story. The last few days I have been working through the kinks. I have ditched a prologue that I liked. I found the Prologue was bogging down the story. I have decided to give Marty’s love interest a promotion. She becomes the Producer of the sports broadcasts and their sports talk show. As I have worked through some of the trouble spots, I realized that Chick McSorley is no longer a character without a story, he’s a character that is deeply flawed and he speaks through me to find some direction. I always find the flawed characters the most interesting and difficult characters to write.
As the days move along, I will keep people up to date as to what is happening with a play, I call Play by Play. It’s about broadcasting and the wild world of radio broadcasting.