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.

Tablets

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!

Take a look at these great tips for rewriting offered up by Paul Ashton

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.

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  • Comment number 64. Posted by Bridge57

    on 21 Jun 2014 11:10

    Hi Abigail, sorry to butt in to this thread but I don't know how else to contact you to ask this: When is there likely to be a window for feature film script submissions?

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  • Comment number 63. Posted by Mikey Jackson

    on 3 Mar 2014 11:57

    Agreed, TraaB. Building a portfolio of different genres and formats is essential.

    Once again good luck with the agent. :)

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  • Comment number 62. Posted by TraaB

    on 2 Mar 2014 15:02

    Thanks for your best wishes FirstImpression.
    Following on from my initial approach to the agent they have asked to see more examples of my work. I've now sent them two other things that both made top 5% here at the Writersroom and a short film script that was highly commended in a competition.
    I've now sent them four totally different things; two TV pilots- one period and one contemporary, dystopian drama; a feature film script and a short film. I still don't know what might happen, if anything, but from what I can gather a writing portfolio of different projects is needed to be taken seriously as an unproduced newbie.

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  • Comment number 61. Posted by Mikey Jackson

    on 2 Mar 2014 13:08

    No matter what creative writing qualifications a writer has under his/her belt, if he/she has neither the necessary talent nor spark, then said qualifications are pretty worthless.
    Writing isn't a trade like a plumbing where people get better with higher qualifications.

    I can see what you're saying about competing with the have-a-triers, but those who are simply taking a punt because they think its easy to knock together a script aren't exactly competition.

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  • Comment number 60. Posted by Luke

    on 28 Feb 2014 16:49

    I appreciate the work that the Writersroom has to deal with but those figures of scripts coming in are I'm sure to many writers rather off putting. It just seems too much of a lottery against all that competition. Couldn't the system be modified so that writers who have invested in attaining qualifications in creative writing, or have credits (TV, Theatre, Film, Radio) can be seen via a different entry point rather than what seems a big melting pot? It would certainly help the 'readers' hone in on scripts written by people who haven't just decided to 'have a try' or do it as a hobby.

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  • Comment number 59. Posted by John oakley

    on 24 Feb 2014 21:01

    Although submitting scripts electronically is easier all round, it has a serious flaw. On-screen, a reader is likely to stop scrolling at the mandatory page 10 but with hard-copy it's always tempting to flick beyond to see if anything catches the attention. Many TV dramas and films actually fail because of flabby second acts and weak endings, even if the opening is strong, so Writersroom should operate a new reading system for e-submissions: first-ten; page twenty five; last page: not much extra work but more likely to stop good scripts dropping through the net than with a rigid first-ten. Hollywood take note too!

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  • Comment number 58. Posted by MikeP

    on 20 Feb 2014 17:54

    I'm really intrigued by what you had to say about voice and emotional landscape. I would agree that these are important elements but they are not as easy to define as plot. You say you know it when you read it and I wonder if you could be a bit more specific. For the poor newbie it's difficult enough struggling with characterisation, dialogue and plot without wondering if I'm creating an engaging emotional landscape. Is voice the same as tone or are they different aspects. I'm sorry if these come across as obviously newbie queries and thank you for your patience.

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  • Comment number 57. Posted by Chris Neville-Smith

    on 18 Feb 2014 13:08

    55. Thanks. Interesting to see you encourage writers to self-produce if they can.

    I think the main reason I'm cynical about the status quo is that most people - throughout writing courses, script submission departments and books on writing - don't mention this option at all, as if it either doesn't exist, or it's not worthy of acknowledgement. Some people will acknowledge it's a valid option when asked, but the fact you have to directly question people before getting a response make me feel that self-production is looked down on as the poor cousin to writing produced through the "proper" channels.

    PLEASE prove me wrong on this. I would love to see someone high up in the script submission world champion the cause of people who do it themselves. I'm sure I'm not the only person who feels undervalued for taking the route I've chosen, and something like this could change things a lot.

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  • Comment number 56. Posted by FirstImpression

    on 18 Feb 2014 10:46

    Thank you, Abigail, sincerely - for such timely and valuable feedback on this blog. Deserves a big hand of applause from all here.

    @TraaB
    I would just like to add: Great job! Exactly the way to go. Circulating Agents and telling them of your multiple success in reaching the top x% of thousands of writers' submissions does tell them you are one to watch. You are no longer an unknown quantity. My best wishes for your success.

    Personally, I regained my self respect after reaching round 3 - having read somewhere of 75 Rejections of "Treasure Island" and 22 of "The Day of the Jackal" - Freddie Forsyth. They kept slogging - kept improving their manuscripts - got through the gauntlet. But I suggest PAY for feedback - if you're not getting past GO - and save ten wasted years.

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  • Comment number 55. Posted by Abigail Gonda - BBC

    on 18 Feb 2014 10:00

    27/28. That's a great idea to follow some journeys of writers who have come through the Scriptroom process. We will look into that.
    42. Rest assured, we are always thinking about diversity. We are acutely aware of the statistics.
    46. If you don't get through, I suggest you take a look at your script with fresh eyes. Think about whether it's the strongest example of writing you have in you. If you truly believe it is, then send it out to other folk who accept unsolicited scripts. Or, find a way to make it yourself. The best advice anyone ever gave to me when I was trying to get my career off the ground was to create my own job. It paid off!

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