Over the next week, those creative souls who submitted scripts to Scriptroom 4 (most of whom braved our new e-submissions system) will be receiving an update about their script. It’s certainly a different landscape to enter a room full of readers not surrounded by paper but tapping their fingers across tablets instead.
This is my first Scriptroom and it’s been fascinating to take a measure of what 2900 writers chose to write about. When discussing story, people talk a lot about clichés and how to avoid them. It made me ask: Do we have to avoid clichés to write good stories? When I looked at the readers' notes, I found there was probably an equal amount of clichéd subject matter in the scripts that made it through to the final read as those sifted out in the first and second reads.
What sets a script apart isn’t necessarily a completely original idea, it’s an original voice. You could join the current trend and write a police procedural that hits all the “right” marks in terms of structure and storytelling guidelines, but if it’s not a script that you’ve made your own – that speaks to who you are as a writer and what sets you apart from the other 2899 Scriptroom submissions, it’s probably not going to make the final cut. So rarely do scripts go from an unsolicited pile into production that it’s good to keep in mind that all important cliché: This is your calling card as a writer. Even if it’s not perfect, (when is a script perfect?), if the person reading it can be drawn into the world you’ve created and begin to invest in your characters’ story, you’re on the right track. This is what’s going to get your foot in the door.
I am going to try to avoid doling out too much advice because there’s enough of it out there for writers and on our wonderful Writersroom website. I will speak from the experience of reading early scripts by writers who managed to get their foot in the door and have gone onto solid careers in television, theatre, radio and film. It’s so difficult to pinpoint or articulate what sets certain writers apart. It’s probably not enough to say: You just know! Reflecting on over a decade of reading unsolicited scripts, the one uniting trait in the scripts that were successful calling cards was a very clear voice that came through the story: a style that was distinctly their own. That’s not to say every character was a mouthpiece for the writer. Nor is it to say style overtook substance. Rather, it was a feeling of being pulled into a story and world that I hadn’t inhabited before, because it was specifically from their imagination. I probably couldn’t recall the plot of most of these scripts, but I could describe the world or atmosphere of the story. In a slightly more personal and oblique way, I could probably recall the emotional landscape and way it made me feel. In the most basic sense, stories are meant to move us. A simple tale of a man and a dog can elicit the same tears as a sprawling World War One drama. I urge you to locate that special something that makes you different. I urge you to exercise that muscle…
Dog Walking (Photo: Ron Saunders)
And that’s my segue to some more concrete advice. Every writer must have heard that anecdotal comment: when you finish writing the first draft of a script, don’t press send. Press save and then, rewrite! I don’t believe a writer has ever written a first draft fit for public consumption. The ease of a completely electronic script submission system makes it even easier to send things off without giving it a second thought. Let me urge you to be patient, take your time and give your script that second thought!
Editor's Note: Abigail Gonda is the new Development Producer at BBC Writersroom in London, taking over from Paul Ashton. We plan to email all writers with Scriptroom updates next week, when we will also confirm the dates of the next submission window.