Thursday, 15 July 2010


Just got the news that I’m off to Dublin next week for two weeks to do Shadow Storylining on Fair City. Weh-hey!

Very excited…

I have no real idea how it works or what it will involve. All I know is that they work about six months in advance so are doing Christmas and New Year at the moment, meaning we’ll be talking about January in the middle of July. Weird. What happens in January apart from the sales and hangovers? I can’t remember.

Anyway, they’re sending me some story documents over the weekend so that I will be up-to-date on what is happening on the show over the next six months. Start next Tuesday. Don’t know whether I’ll be sitting in a corner just listening to them for two weeks or what, but I can’t wait…!

Thursday, 8 July 2010

360° Festival 2010, Report 4: Writing for TV - Tim Loane

Day 2, part 2.

And after a Tesco’s lunch special, it’s back to the delights of Studio 1. And we were in for a cracking time. Because it was the turn of Tim Loane and his session of writing for TV. Tim has a wealth of TV writing experience. He created and wrote/storylined the first series of the excellent Teachers on C4, wrote all of the new series of Minder for Channel 5, directed an Oscar-winning short film “Dance Lexie Dance”, and has developed many other TV series for the BBC, ITV, etc. He is also an actor and director in TV, film and theatre. So, he keeps himself busy.

Tim started off with a bit of background in how he got into writing, which was basically as an actor who got sick of the scripts he was being presented with, and so decided to have a go himself. Since then he has worked in Radio, Television, Theatre and Film, and he had a LOT of interesting things to say. He was entertaining, full of energy, funny and had a real desire to answer everyone’s questions as fully and as honestly as possible.


TV is, to a large extent, about conforming to the constraints and rules that it sets. You have to think of genre (cop show, sci fi, etc) and fit your story into one of those. Television is about delivering what the audience expects (again in terms of genre, story archetypes, slots, etc). Do you think genre prevents creativity? Are you one of those writers who doesn’t want to conform? Who wants to break the mould? Ok, fine. Go and write poetry! We have to think in terms of genre, not as a straitjacket, but as a spine.


The usual formats are:

Single (90 mins) – basically a film,

2 x 90 mins – those thrillers on Sun/Mons that ITV does sometimes,

Series (Dr Who, CSI or anything with a story of the week and which can, theoretically, go on forever),

Serial (Our Friends in the North – one ongoing story over a set amount of episodes which has a beginning, middle and end),

Serial/Series hybrids (something like The Sopranos, which has lots of serial elements within a series), and I don’t know about you lot, but I think a LOT of shows now fall into this category. How many series these days are REALLY story of the week with NO arc whatsoever?

Soap – EastEnders, Coronation Street, Hollyoaks and Emmerdale are the obvious ones, but what about Casualty/Holby/The Bill/Doctors, which have story of the week and series/soapy elements like the “hybrids” about, the only difference being that they never end.

Telenovela – doesn’t really exist in this country. Very popular in South America and are basically soaps BUT with a definite ending. They go on for 9 months to a year, and then end.


Each channel and every commissioner is really, genuinely trying to find something new, despite what you might think or what you might see on television. BUT you also have to realize that the medium is inherently conservative. So, you have to take all the above (format and genre) into consideration and then study the schedule. See what each channel puts where, and see where yours fits. That’s its home. And it has to fit somewhere, so make sure it does! Otherwise, you are making life very difficult for yourself. Mind you, that did make me think that Tim is talking about a situation where he is pitching ideas as a professional produced writer to commissioners and prod cos within the intention of having them made. How much do we, as spec writers, need to try to conform to the channel/slot idea? Or do we forget about that and try to come up with something original that will stand out, even if it would never get made, so that we get noticed? I suppose we need to try to do both. Easy then….


Is it an art? Is it a craft? The answer is, it’s both. There is no point in trying to design a beautiful building if you don’t know the physics of how to build it.

As a writer you are DESCRIBING the picture, sound and the action. All three. All the time. There is little room for ambiguity. Be VERY clear.

Linear narrative – cause and effect. What happens in this scene causes this and then that in the next scene. If you don’t have ongoing cause and effect in your scene, if the scene doesn’t move the story forward, CUT IT!

Show drama through conflict – SHOW, don’t TELL. Characters, in good writing at least, don’t explain how they feel. We know that by what they DO.

Following on from these three points – sound, pictures, cause and effect, and showing conflict – you should write the dialogue last. It’s the easy part! Don’t be tempted to start writing dialogue before you have sorted out everything else first. And most of all, don’t be fooled into thinking that writing dialogue IS writing. It really does come last.

Screenplay is STRUCTURE. Tim spends weeks and weeks sorting out his structure before writing dialogue. The 3 Act Structure is central. Read Chinatown (try here, or just google it). Read screenplays and analyse them. Are you writing something for TV that is only 30 mins? It doesn’t matter. The principles are the same. You still have to follow the same story structure. If you are writing for commercial television then you also have to take into consideration that the commercial breaks need a narrative or an emotional climax. And it’s better if they have both!

Screenwriting is problem solving. If you want to get to B at minute X (cause there’s a commercial break, or it’s your mid point, or whatever), how do you get there structurally? Answering those questions, solving those problems, aren’t the constraints that TV places on your creativity as a writer, they are what make television what it is, and solving them will make your television writing better. And lead to a script that is more satisfying for the audience.


In another one of those “experience from the coalface” sessions, Tim then filled us in on how Teachers came about. Basically, he had been talking to Channel 4 about a script he had written, a “state of the nation” take on Northern Ireland in the 90s, about a group of young people. Channel 4 liked it, commissioned it, Tim wrote it, got paid, all fab, and then 7 weeks before shooting was due to begin… they got cold feet and cancelled the whole thing. So Tim went home.

Then, Channel 4 got back in touch and said they wanted to use the same type of characters from the State of the Nation piece he had written, but in a series they wanted him to create. Which they wanted to be a returning series. And it needed to be filmed in Bristol, because… because of television politics… I can’t remember if they stipulated that it should be about Teachers or whether he did. Anywayt, he wrote it, they loved it, it got made VERY quickly indeed (cause of the whole Bristol thing, for some reason).

Tim showed us the first 10 mins (which you can see here) and which I advise you to have a look at. It’s great. You get to meet all the main characters, the main plot which will arc through all of that 1st series, get a sense of… no, no… KNOW what the tone and arena of the whole series is/are, and it’s funny and entertaining too. Not bad going! Tim said that the first 10 minutes should:

· Set up tone

· Plot and sub-plots should be established

· Make sure the first 10 minutes are centered around one character, even if the series isn’t.

In terms of developing your episode/film/series, etc, Tim outlined the following, which you may want to do, or which you may be ASKED to do:

Logline: They spent a long time, while developing and writing the series, trying to work out what the core of the series was. Basically, what the logline was. When they got that (“Teachers are as immature as the children they teach”) it informed the whole series, everything fit into place, and they had something to refer back to when deciding on plots, scenes, etc.

Treatment: The story as a short story. NO dialogue.

Step Outline: Write a single line for scenes – this enhances clarity because you see the need or not for that scene.

It is usually at this stage and only at this stage ( or rather, if your idea passes this stage) that you get paid. And you get to write the script!

A little note about writing specific song titles into scripts. It’s fine to do so, to suggest tone, but that particularly song will very likely NOT be used.


They are your best friend. You NEED one, make no mistake, and the real reason you want one is not because they find you work or because they sort out your contracts, but because they know the business better than you. You have to think about the advantages of big agencies against small – big and successful and they know everyone but you are one of many, OR small and more personal approach to your career but may not have the same contacts. Finally, it obviously is a lot easier if you are approaching them, not just with a spec script, but with a contract/job offer already.

Finally, Tim saved the best till last. Three quarters of his work, and his best work, is sitting on a shelf in his office. There are SO many instances of things being commissioned and then not made, falling at various hurdles, at various stages. Still, at least you get paid!

Next time – Radio and Agents….

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

360° Festival 2010, Report 3: BBC Comedy Academy

The day’s first session was with Michael Jacob from the BBC Comedy Academy.

Michael stated off by giving us a bit of his background. He was in a band with Marks and Gran. When they made it big as comedy writers they employed him as a reader in their company. From there he became a Script Editor on their sitcoms Birds of a Feather and then Goodnight, Sweetheart. Since then he has worked on My Family, Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps and Smoking Room. Recently, he has headed up the Comedy Academy. In the current scheme there are two writers from Northern Ireland and he has also run a BBC Northern Ireland radio comedy scheme.

And he had this to say:

Screenwriting Gurus – he doesn’t hold much store to taking a script and de-coding it. That’s only for people who can’t tell stories very well. So there!

You can write a script but directors and producers and casting can completely alter it. Never mind all the commissioners and controllers who put there tuppence worth in and can ruin it completely.

And with that he showed us an episode of Fawlty Towers, "The Kipper and The Corpse", details of which are here. And God, was it funny! Having not seen it in a while, it was interesting to see how well structured, written and performed it was. Every scene counts, every word, every action. And even though it is, at heart, based on farce, EVERYTHING that happens is character-based. When you look at it, there are actually only two or three true “gags” in the episode. Anyone wanting to seriously write sitcom could do worse than go study those episodes. Except, of course, that’s only for people who can’t tell stories very well….

It was also interesting to compare it to the sitcom we’d seen the day before. Humphrey Barclay had played us an episode of Agony (yes, I know, I didn’t mention that in yesterday’s write-up. So, sue me). Anyway, Agony was so much of it’s time – slow and not very believable and quite a “stock” sitcom. Fawlty Towers could still be shown today (in fact, it still is) and be a huge success. In going through the episode, Michael showed us how the first scene expertly sets up the hierarchy of the characters and the main plots, and is funny at the same time. There is also a sequence of 16 continuous scenes in the middle of the episode which creates huge forward energy and a sense of disaster. Michael described it as writing as choreography, and yet it feels and looks very unforced. Agony, by contrast, had lots of time shifts which really slowed it down.

Oh, and apparently it’s a well-known comedy rule that words with a hard “C” or a “K” are inherently funny. So get plenty of those in your scripts!

Michael then moved on to talk about My Family. Reiterating Humphrey Barclay from the day before, he reinforced teh point that you can’t change the characters too much. The audience wants to see the people/characters they know and feel comfortable with. Familiarity is the name of the game.

Unlike most UK sitcoms, My Family is based on the American model, in that it is team written and has a writer’s room. The creator is an American and was brought over to do just that. The writers all sit around in a big room and pitch in ideas and jokes, which doesn’t exactly allow for the writer’s voice, but should mean a higher percentage of jokes and also allows for more episodes, not just relying on the same writer to come up with all the episodes.

Birds of a Feather, in contrast, also had a team, but individual writers wrote specific episodes.

The writers on My Family get a salary and if they are credited with individual episodes (someone has to write the final script) they get a script fee too. However, there are writers in the room who have been there for years and never written an individual script. The show also has standing sets (as opposed to only putting the sets up on recording days) so that the cast rehearse on the sets all week and change things as they go along, with the writers in the “room” on hand to make those changes.

Finally, Micheal gave us the lowdown on the Comedy Academy.

It’s there to find writers and to give them a push.

Each writer has a mentor and they attend talks and take part in a residency week, at the end of which they all have a showcase of their work (15 minute pieces).

There are 6 places.

It's unclear how the academy will work in the future as funding isn’t clear.

An interesting point Michael made is that there are more sitcoms on CBBC than on BBC1 at the moment, so it’s a good thing to keep in mind when coming up with ideas.

Finally, as a word of warning, everyone is much more cautious at the moment because of funding issues. Sitcoms are very expensive to produce and rarely succeed. They are very hard to get right and you can’t second guess what the audience will go for. There are also more and more layers of people who can stop it at any stage of its development, or ruin it.

But hey, that’s not going to stop you, is it?

Back next time with Tim Loane and his excellent TV Drama writing session!

Be there.

Or don’t.

Monday, 5 July 2010

360° Festival 2010, Report 2: Writing Sitcom

After Paul Ashton's great introduction, Humphrey Barclay and Vanessa Haynes were next up with a session on writing sitcom.

Humphrey is a comedy legend who directed The Cambridge Footlights (John Cleese et al) and lots of radio and TV sitcoms, including Doctor in the House, A Fine Romance, Desmond’s, Spaced, etc. He is now, bizzarely, a Chief in Ghana!

Anyhoo, his Q & A was with Vanessa Haynes, who he worked with during the nineties. Vanessa has worked as a script editor on The Bill and now develops comedy and drama for Kudos Generator in the new office they have set up in Belfast, with the hope of finding new writing talent to take to network television and the nation. So, that’s all right then.

So, how did Humphrey start out?

He went to Cambridge, where he joined the drama groups, got lots of comedy parts, and was picked to do The Footlights. It was at about that time that the Monty Python lot came along and they all worked together, with Humphrey taking on the role of director. BBC radio, looking for new comedy talent, turned up and offered them all loads of work. Oh, the good old days! As a result, Humphrey developed and produced a lot of radio comedy. When Rediffusion was setting up (for you youngun’s, Redifussion was one of the original ITV contract holders for London) they offered him a job. Once there, Humphrey helped create shows such as “Do Not Adjust Your Set”. He also got Eric Idle from Monty Python to come up with ideas and people – Terry Jones, Michael Palin, Denise Coffey, David Jason.

Sitcom –there are some great ones and some truly awful ones. What is sitcom? What defines it?

Humphrey came up with a great definition of what makes a sitcom a sitcom. He really nailed it. Except our hero (me) didn’t manage to write it down in time. But it went something like this:

“An open-ended thirty minute TV series of comedy in narrative form, with some characters, in some setting, in some episodes. It’s called comedy because it’s primary intention is to amuse. And situation because it is always held/set in a permanent situation – occupational, familial, etc.”

And there you have it. Now, didn’t you think you knew that already. More to the point, could you write one? There were a few more words of wisdom Humphrey had to impart, which may help you on the way to sitcom heaven.

  • The audience has a deep desire for the familiar. Like chess, like Wimbledon. Now, keep with me on this one, cause Humphrey had a good point here. What he meant was that we all know the rules of chess (errr…) and Wimbledon (err…) and, more to the point, we know what to expect from a game. At the same time, each game is different. So, great desire for the familiar, but surprise them.
  • It has to be enclosed, so that we don’t waste time with setting and setting up. Compare the amount of sets and settings for something like My Family or Gavin and Stacey and dramas like Spooks.


Character based – Fawlty Towers

Relationship – Men Behaving Badly

Team – Doctor in the House

Romantic – Gavin and Stacey

Satire – The Thick Of It

Family – My Family

Occupational – The Vicar of Dibley

Star-based – The Cosby Show

Sci-Fi – Red Dwarf

What do they all have in common? They are all comic stories, featuring funny, original, interesting characters in conflicting relationships, built around a strong central idea that inexhaustibly generates comedy. That’s another sitcom definition in my book!


Humphrey gave the example of Desmonds (have a look at this pronto, young whipper-hipper-snappers). It’s basically a barber-shop comedy, but the barber-shop is West-Indian. It’s a family setup. It’s also a work comedy. And in the tradition of West-Indian barber shops, it’s the local drop-in centre for all and sundry. So far, so great, in terms of having a setting which allows for inexhaustible comedy ideas. A couple of other important points:

  • Universal: you could take that show and set it anywhere. It was universal. And that is another important factor that you should have if you want a hit on your hands and lots of money in the bank – your concept has to be universal. However…
  • Don’t try to appeal to everyone, or it won’t have a voice.
  • Find your producer. They’re all different, and they all like different things. This is a good thing. The producer is out there who is gonna love your idea as much as you do, even when no-one else gets it.

And what makes a bad sitcom?

· Too long.

· Lack of focus.

It really comes down to characters in the end, and the two most important things to realize about character are:

  • When they walk on we should know who and what they are.
  • You, as a writer, walk all around them, and see all the other sides of them. Yes, you have to write types, but not stereotypes. Archetypes. And if you don’t know the difference between the two, don’t worry, that’s why I’m here. Well, that’s why wikipedia’s here. Have a gander at this.


15 page introductions to ideas and scripts are NO GOOD and NO USE. It has to be on ONE (count ‘em…) ONE page.

Look at American sitcoms. They don’t have long speeches. Ours do. Which is better?

What makes the sitcom work has to be in Episode One. ie we have to know why we love it in episode one, and also what we are getting, so avoid making episode one all set up and not funny. It has to be the funniest episode. We will get the premise as it goes along, just give us a typically funny episode.

DON’T put things in brackets that the viewer doesn’t know and can’t see (ie character description). However, write things in the order they are seen. Ie. In the order you want the shots to pan out.


Played like theatre in front of a studio audience, with sets across a stage. There is ONE week of rehearsal and it is played out in real time, like a play, usually with 4 cameras in front of the stage to pick everything up and to move between sets, and then everything is mixed in the control room upstairs. Well, it used to be. Nowadays, it tends to be all recorded at this point and then mixed together later, which allows the director to choose the best shots. There are no LAUGHTER TRACKS, contrary to popular belief. Although, Humphrey did admit that the laughter was sometimes “augmented”.

Studio sitcoms also tend to have more jokes, which you should consider when deciding whether to write multi-camera with an audience or single camera. An audience-based sitcom usually has about 3 jokes to the page – if you have an audience sitting there, you have to keep the laughter coming.

When they were deciding on Spaced they decided NOT to go for a studio audience as the texture of the script was so reverential to film that it had to be cinematic in the way it was shot.


Shot like drama. Often on location. No audience. Not so many jokes.

Last minute advice from Humphrey?

Make page 1 fly!

Make sure your idea is open-ended, so don’t change or develop the situation too much. Surf your franchise – don’t change it!

The ideal pitch? 1 line, followed by a 3 line, followed by a paragraph.

And that's it! Thanks to Humphrey and Vanessa.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

360° Festival 2010, Report 1: BBC Writersroom Paul Ashton - "The Perfect 10"

Right, so apparently everyone's gone off to Leeds to hob-nob with the great and the good, leaving the rest of us here to... to....

well, gnash our teeth in jealously.

But! Not to be outdone! I thought it might be a good time to post the reports from the BBC NI/Tinderbox Theatre Company 360° Writing Festival held this year (and, by the way, isn't that just the snappiest blog title you've just about ever read up there? Go on, have another look... Back? Classy stuff, eh?) They've already appeared elsewhere, but if you haven't seen them, or you're slogging away on the first 10 pages for your entry to this year's Red Planet Prize (you are entering, aren't you?), these pearls of wisdom from Mr Ashton might just be what you've been waiting for...

For those of you who didn't see the reports from last time (have a look down the sidebar of the blog and you'll find the links), it's four fun-packed days of talks, workshops and mingling with other writers on Film, Theatre, TV and Radio. And lots of BBC tea. And biscuits. Lots of biscuits.

So, without further ado (I’ve never written “ado” before. Is that how it’s spelt? Call myself a writer…) here’s the report from Day 1.

Paul Ashton – BBC Writersroom: The Perfect 10

Paul is the Development Producer at the Writersroom and a very nice bloke he is too. He started off by giving us an overview of their work, and revealing a recent success story for the writersroom.

Jo Ho had never been commissioned as a writer before sending in a script to the Writersroom. That script was read and she was discussed at a regular meeting the Writersroom has with drama department heads, etc . Even though they didn't commission the script, they liked the characters she had created. So Jo was called in, met some producers from CBBC and was commissioned to write a new series, “Spirit Warriors”, which is one of the most expensive series CBBC have ever produced.

So it does happen!! Paul did point out though that this is quite unusual...

There is an interview with Jo on the Writersroom, here.

Paul then went on to “The Perfect 10”. Even though this was based on the same talk Kate Rowland gave last year, Paul came at it slightly differently, and there was loads of great stuff in what he was saying.

A few opening facts/advice....

  • 15% of what gets sent to the Writersroom gets past the 10 page sift.
  • The first 10 pages have to grab the audience. Theatre and television have the luxury of a captive audience. Television and radio don’t, so get them hooked quickly! The first 10 pages have to do a lot! Even if it is a multi-character, multi-strand story. Even if it is a “slow-burner” story, it HAS to grab us immediately.
  • DON’T send your script to them in a decorated box, with a hose inside and a poem on the lid. He then showed us a pic of someone who had done just that… And no, the script wasn’t very good.
  • Very often the best letters they get with scripts are very simple. “Hello. This is me. Here’s my script. Hope you like it.” Let the script speak for you.

And on to the Perfect 10…


Choose the right medium/form and then challenge and subvert it. By form, Paul was talking about the form of television writing and the rules that go with that. You don’t need to re-invent the wheel. KNOW the wheel and then you can worry about trying to improve on it, but you can’t do it the other way round. There is a reason that tv writing works in a certain way and has certain rules – because it works. TV writing doesn’t come naturally to anyone. You have to master the form. To give a simple example, the more white on the page the better. Not to do so doesn’t mean that you are being clever, it means you have not mastered the form.

Say what you mean and mean what you say. Quite often they find with scripts that people think they know what they are saying, or that they are saying something, when in fact they’re not. Your theme needs to be stated early on, and stated clearly, and then followed through. It’s no use sending a script through saying “this is about loss” if that isn’t stated and followed through.

You have to write things that actors can do/show and you have to show in the script not tell. And by the way, there is a n actor on the Writersroom reading team.

In relation to putting camera angles, etc in your script (which has come up often on this site!), Paul said something which I thought was quite interesting. As a writer your job is to be in control of the character, story, plot and dialogue (and everything else that conveying the story might mean), so you don’t need to be in control of camera angles too! Don’t direct the camera. Mmmm… That’s gonna ruffle feathers…


Hamlet. Act 1. Scene 1. A ghost turns up. Something’s wrong…! Shakespeare gets straight in there. There is no time to warm up. Hook the attention and hit the ground running. This does NOT necessarily mean an action sequence, but it does mean that the story should have already started when we come in. If the writer is using the beginning to work out the story and where it is going, fine, but that is a first draft. Don’t include it in the script you send in. Your story should have:-

  • Momentum, purpose and direction
  • Show characters in action
  • Scenes should be the middle of a moment or near the end, not before the moment
  • Don’t preface, set up, introduce – show, show, show!
  • Beware of exposition and backstory


  • · Know your world and story.
  • · Don’t try to do too much.
  • · Know your genre and tone.
  • · Give us a focused way in.

It works for Paul if he reads a script and he DOESN’T take notes, because he’s caught up in the script and in the world of the story.

A lot of writers want to be ambiguous. Be careful of this! It often means the writer doesn’t know what they want to say. Having said that, complex is brilliant! But ambiguous is tricky. To do either needs clarity in the writing.

Genre is not a bad word. It guides you and the audience. This comes back to that idea of some writers wanting to re-invent the wheel. Take something like “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” It is incredibly complex, but it is still, at the end of the day, a rom-com. So, you don’t need to be slavish to the genre, but you do need to use it, know it, and know how to use it.

Have a focused way into the script. This comes back to the first 10 pages. Take Shameless. It’s the story of a whole family of complex, mad characters in a very particular world, all of which needs to be set up. The usual way of doing that would be to open episode 1 with them all around the breakfast table. We meet them all. They all get to show who they are and where the live. What does Paul Abbot do? He takes the daughter (the driving character in series one) and opens with her in a disco far from the estate. She meets a guy and they have a bit of a run around over a stolen handbag, his gallant effort to get it back, etc. Their relationship will drive the opening episodes in many ways so this is what he opens with. Then they go back to the house, trip over a drunk dad and wake up the next day to… that breakfast scene with everyone. Seen through the eyes of an outsider – the boyfriend (for us the audience). So, he still sets up everyone, but it’s focused.


This is the one thing you CAN’T get wrong, in the sense that, if you get this right, people (meaning the Writersroom and all those prodcos out there) will forgive you a lot. In fact, Paul said that it is really distressing to see a script that is perfect in every other way, in form and content, and yet you feel nothing for the characters. If you are going to get anything right and everything else wrong, get the characters right!

Definition and Definitions: Character comes from Greek and means a stick which makes a mark, an indelible mark you can’t rub out. What is it that is DISTINCT about your characters? There have been hundreds of characters on EastEnders over the years. How many do you remember? Those are the ones you need to create. And its HARD!

Vivid and Compelling on an Emotional Level: If you don’t make the audience FEEL something for the character, you’re in trouble. The audience has to want to spend time with them.

Desire/Need/Problem/Obstacle/Journey: If your characters don’t REALLY need anything or have a journey then you are in trouble. We want to watch people trying to get something, and trying hard, and having lots of problems getting there, or not getting there.

Individual, not cliché, distinctive: What makes your characters not like characters we have already seen. Your characters individuality is shown by action, by what they do. In Robert McKee’s ‘Story’ he gives the example of a group of characters at a bus stop when suddenly there is an explosion. What each person does after that – runs away, helps, leaves their friend to help someone else – REVEALS character.

See the world from their point of view: Everyone sees things ever so slightly differently. How does your character see things differently?


Stories matter on a human level: Why tell your story? And why does it MATTER? Your story should not be a distraction, it should be ESSENTIAL.

Explore concepts via characters: It’s easy to get lost in concepts, but they have to be coherent. Always pull yourself back to the character.

Empathy/connection/vulnerability/fear: You have to feel something for the characters. How will the audience connect with them?

Emotion = the universal element: They Full Monty was a story which was VERY particular to a time and place in recent history and yet the emotion of a disenfranchised man who has lost his job is told well, so it works.

Physical Effect: A good script should have a physical effect on the reader. It should make you laugh, cry, sweat, have palpitations, and hopefully all of them. What is the physical effect that you are hoping each of your scenes will have on your reader? Every scene. That’s a good test of the worth of a scene! Make sure you have this in your plans for each scene. If the effect is “That’s okay”, well, that’s not good enough. And that works for all genres.


What have you done in your script that no other writer would do? Remember:

  • · Cliché and predictability kills story.
  • · There are a finite number of archetypes
  • · You need to have a fresh take, a unique perspective, an original touch.

In “Oh, Brother, Where Art Thou?” the writers told the story of Odysseus by Homer. It has all the elements of the Homer telling, but it is totally different. Take the archetype and do something surprising with it. What are YOU going to bring to the story? Which is of course linked to your voice as a writer.


Unfortunately, Paul began to run out of time at this point and had a plane to catch (!), so the rest of the perfect 10 were summarized, but…

Story IS structure.

Beginnings, Middle and Ends – know the beginning and the end and then get your characters as lost and all over the place as you possibly can in the middle.

The story must be going somewhere, even if as an audience we are not aware of it, so that we get to the end and we think “ah, that was where it was going. Of course, it makes so much sense now.”

Make sure the structure has lots of peaks and troughs and is not just a flat line.

Make sure there is a dynamic purpose for EVERY story beat, sequence, scene, moment.


People don’t tell each other things they already know in an obvious way, so don’t have characters do it in your script for the sake of exposition.

Good dialogue expresses character.

Bad dialogue relates/explains.

Don’t write on the nose – subtext is key! However, you can’t write subtext, but with good writing and characters it will be there.


Does your story keep you up at night?

Are you compelled to write it?

Expedience = Dilution and Second Guessing is Pointless i.e. don’t write what you think you should be writing to get on, or what you think Writersroom or anyone else wants.

10. YOU

Have an individual, distinct, original writer’s “voice”

Write a script that no other writer could have written the WAY you have written it.

And that’s it. Easy!

Oh, and one final piece of advice from Paul…

Send us a script, but not before it’s READY!!!

Paul gave a great session, full of lots of useful advice, a lot of which we may have heard before, but sitting there mentally ticking off whether I was including everything he was talking about in my latest script, I realized there is always something you need to go back to, something you’ve missed, something you can improve on.

So, get writing!

Actually, that was the first part of day 1, but I think that’s enough for now. And I’m falling asleep. And the cat’s trying to catch the cursor on my screen, stupid animal, so I’m going to bed. The second part of Day 1, Humphrey Barclay on Comedy Writing for TV, will come tomorrow. As will the lowdown on the networking session. Bet you can’t wait…