So you want to write a screenplay, huh? And sure why wouldn't you? But where to start? Read them. Read as many as you can get your mitts on. Or at least that's the theory I'm currently road-testing without spending a bean given so many are freely available online.
Only this week, studios made available some of the 2015 Oscar-nominated screenplays, some of which are listed below if you want to clickety-click and get stuck in.
Phew! A load has been lifted. The
opening chapter of my novelTough
Lovesnagged joint runner-up
position in the recentLinen
Press Beginnings Competitionfor
its ‘multiple layers, depth, political backdrop, and vibrant, rich Irish dialogue’.
Hearty congratulations are due to Kate Farrell for her wonderful winning entryOr The Cat Gets Itand fellow runner-up Jay Merrill forReality Show.
And the prize?A pep-in-my-step Linen Press critique by
Judge Rebecca Brown. Here it is below if you’re interested. Otherwise, it's
back to work for me and I'll see you on the other side.
* * *
I love the opening in which a mum,
with her child in a buggy, sets off at a run down a hill, pretending to be a
pilot while above them a plane comes out of the sky preparing to land at Dublin
‘Brace for impact!’ I order, heaving the buggy forwards in to a
‘Faster mammy!’ Sarah’s brown eyes laugh back at me. ‘Faster!’
Barrelling down the hill, Sarah’s squeals get louder and louder,
the wind catching the hood of her purple anorak, releasing a mop of curly hair
darker than her eyes and so different from my own.
There’s so much here - the setting
of Dublin, the nice parallel between the real plane and the push chair plane,
and the hint of concern about a child who does not look like her mother - a
theme that is developed in the next paragraphs when they almost collide with a
woman who says:
‘She’s not yours, is she?’
And the response:
‘She’s mine,’ I toss back. ‘All mine. Not that it’s any of your
And so the stage is set and we
wonder. Ciara delivers Sarah to her parents while she goes to work. Dialogue
drives this narrative, and it’s brash and energetic and real, the Irish brogue
adding warmth and colour:
Throwing open the door, Dad reaches down and swings her into his
arms. ‘Sarah Moloney is it yourself?’ He kisses first one flushed cheek, then
the other. ‘Jayney mackers you’re freezing.’
The domestic narrative is layered
against a strong political backdrop, giving it depth and context. Ciara’s father
is reading about the Sands hunger strike while Ciara’s mother’s heart strings
are tugged by photos of tragic starving children in faraway continents, seeing
starving brown-eyed-brown-skinned Sarah’s everywhere. And there’s more politics
with Ciara’s volatile, troubled son, Finn, who is off to protest yet again:
I pick up the megaphone and place it on the table. ‘What is it
this week? Liberate Palestine? Ban the bomb? Free Nelson Mandela? Animal and
Dominant in this first chapter is
the theme of maternal anxiety. We’re left with Ciara’s recounting of her
interview about Finn with the psychiatrist, her maternal angst and guilt, and
her absent partner’s heaping the blame on to her:
‘You’re far too soft on him Ciara. What Finn needs is a kick up
the arse out onto a football pitch five times a week.’ Tilting his head back,
Gerry exhaled a steady stream of white smoke into the damp air. 'This is all
your fault anyway. None of this would be happening if it weren’t for you. None
of it. Next time Finn’s in trouble, I’m coming down on him like a tonne of
bricks. No more discussion and no more pompous gobshite quacks costing an arm
and a leg.’
What will Finn do next and how will
greater concern is how Caren's going to cope. I’ve still got another 50K or so words
to cobble together before Tough Love can start doing the rejection
rounds of the publishing houses and it’s slow going I can tell you. Still,
there’s nothing like a bit of praise for ramping up the typing speeds.
I don't post here that often, it seems a bit daft to be 'announcing' I'm taking a break from 'blogging' after being on vacation these past months.
I am. To write a book. How unusual is that, hey? It seems like
everyone is writing a book these days. However, as I've quit the day job, put the Diva Daughter into care, and the Lover on ice, I'd better deliver. So it's fingers out, heads down, and go-fast typing until Christmas , which is when the Prodigal Son returns from Oz and I'm back to sweating over a hot stove cooking fatted coddles wearing a nose-clip.
Naturally, I've been doing a lot ofresearch by way of preparation for the steep curve. On the way I found these 10 writing tips listed below from crime author PD James. They are, by the far, the most
sensible tips I've ever read. Or, as my favourite short story writer of the day, Nuala Ní Chonchúir, described
them: "Unpretentious and straight forward".
And before you ask, no, I'm afraid I'm not going to talk about the opus-in-progress as per PD James tip number nine. Suffice to say it's a chaotic comedy of coincidence set in Dublin of the early 1980s.
As the Diva Daughter would say ... Toodles!
PD James's Ten Tips for Writers
1. You must be born to write
You can't teach someone to know how to use words
effectively and beautifully. You can help people who can write to write more
effectively and you can probably teach people a lot of little tips for writing
a novel, but I don't think somebody who cannot write and does not care for
words can ever be made into a writer. It just is not possible.
Nobody could make me into a musician. Somebody
might be able to teach me how to play the piano reasonably well after a lot of
effort, but they can't make a musician out of me and you cannot make a writer,
I do feel that very profoundly.
about what you know
You absolutely should write about what you know.
There are all sorts of small things that you should store up and use, nothing
is lost to a writer. You have to learn to stand outside of yourself. All
experience, whether it is painful or whether it is happy is somehow stored up
and sooner or later it's used.
I love situations where people are thrown together
in unwelcome proximity. where all kinds of reprehensible emotions can bubble
up. I think you must write what you feel you want to write because then the
book is genuine and that comes through.
I believe that someone who can write, who has a
feeling for words and knows how to use them will find a publisher. Because
after all, publishers do still need to find new writers. We all get old and we
die and that's that and there have to be successors.
your own routine
I think all we writers are different. It's
interesting, isn't it, how different we are?
Some people have to have the room, the pen and
others do everything on a computer. I write by hand and I can write more or
less anywhere as long as I've got a comfortable chair, a table, an unlimited
amount of biros to write with and lined paper to write on. And then the next
day when my PA comes, which she does at 10 o'clock, then I've got quite a lot
to dictate to her and she puts it on to the computer, prints it out and I do
the first revision.
In a sense, therefore, I revise as I go. It's
important to get up early - before London really wakes and the telephone calls
begin and the emails pile up. This is the best time for me, the time of quiet
in the morning,
aware that the business is changing
Goodness gracious, how the world of publishing has
changed! It is much easier now to produce a manuscript with all the modern
technology. It is probably a greater advantage now, more than ever before, to
have an agent between you and the publisher.
Everything has changed and it's really quite
astonishing, because people can self-publish now. I would once have thought
that that was rather a self-defeating way of doing it but actually publishers
do look at what is self-published and there are examples of people picking up
very lucrative deals.
write and don’t daydream!
To write well, I advise people to read widely. See
how people who are successful and good get their results, but don't copy them.
And then you've got to write! We learn to write by writing, not by just facing
an empty page and dreaming of the wonderful success we are going to have. I
don't think it matters much what you use as practice, it might be a short
story, it might be the beginning of a novel, or it might just be something for
the local magazine, but you must write and try and improve your writing all the
time. Don't think about it or talk about it, get the words down.
your own company
It is undoubtedly a lonely career, but I suspect
that people who find it terribly lonely are not writers. I think if you are a
writer you realise how valuable the time is when you are absolutely alone with
your characters in complete peace. I think it is a necessary loneliness for
most writers - they wouldn't want to be always in the middle of everything
having a wonderful life. I've never felt lonely as a writer, not really, but I
know people do.
a good setting
Something always sparks off a novel, of course.
With me, it's always the setting. I think I have a strong response to what I
think of as the 'spirit of a place'. I remember I was looking for an idea in
East Anglia and standing on a very lonely stretch of beach. I shut my eyes and
listened to the sound of the waves breaking over the pebble shore. Then I
opened them and turned from looking at the dangerous and cold North Sea to look
up and there, overshadowing this lonely stretch of beach was the great, empty,
huge white outline of Sizewell nuclear power station. In that moment I knew I
had a novel. It was called Devices and Desires.
go anywhere without a notebook
Never go anywhere without a notebook because you
can see a face that will be exactly the right face for one of your characters,
you can see place and think of the perfect words to describe it. I do that when
I'm writing, I think it's a sensible thing for writers to do.
I've written little bits of my next novel, things
that have occurred to me. I've got the setting already. I've got the title,
I've got most of the plot and I shall start some serious writing of it next
month, I think.
talk about a book before it is finished
I never talk about a book before it is finished and
I never show it to anybody until it is finished and I don't show it to anybody
even then, except for my publisher and my agent. Then there is this awful time
until they phone.
I'm usually pretty confident by the time I've sent
it in but I have those moments when I think, 'well I sent it to them on Friday,
by Saturday night they should be ringing up to say how wonderful it is!'
I'm always aware that people might have preferences
and think that one book is better than another.
when to stop
I am lucky to have written as many books as I have,
really, and it has been a joy. With old age, it becomes very difficult. It
takes longer for the inspiration to come, but the thing about being a writer is
that you need to write.
What I am working on now will be another detective
story, it does seem important to write one more. I think it is very important
to know when to stop.
Some writers, particularly of detective fiction,
have published books that they should not have published. I don't think my
publisher would let me do that and I don't think my children would like me to.
I hope I would know myself whether a book was worth publishing. I think while I
am alive, I shall write. There will be a time to stop writing but that will
probably be when I come to a stop, too.
Write short stories? Have a publication track record in creative writing? Excellent. Read on so.
The Sunday Times
EFG Short Story Awardis now open for entries. Not only is this the world's richest competition
for a single short story, it's also one of the most prestigious. Get this … one lucky winner receives a whopping £30,000 and five shortlisted writers each receive
here’s the rub. This competition isfor
original, unpublished stories up to 6,000 words. While it's open to writers
of any nationality, entrants must have a previous record of publication in
creative writing in the UK and Ireland. The closing date is Friday 26 September 2014.
For more information hop
over to The Sunday Times website by clicking here. Best of luck!