Monday 29 October 2007, 11:04
I'm waiting for notes.
... so I'll chat about stories. I'm looking for stories. I've got a commissioning meeting for Holby tomorrow. I'll be in a room with my editor, producer and a fellow writer, as we are commissioned two at a time. We'll discuss the story documents, just to make sure they make sense - then we'll pitch our guest stories. I can see from other blogs and comments that this mysterious pitching business causes a lot of interest. How to pitch an idea? How to sell your story? What needs to go into a treatment? A synopsis?
Most 'departments' have guidelines for submitting ideas and work, it's probably best to find out what is required of you, before pitching anything into the proverbial ring. A fair amount of our Academy class time was spent on our feet telling each other our ideas, given a particular project. They do this a lot in secondary schools now - peer to peer dissemination, small break out groups will explain part of the lesson to the rest of the class. Pupils have to collect their thoughts, structure them and communicate ideas effectively. Bring it on I say! The earlier we learn to share our thoughts and sell our ideas with confidence, the better. Being able to 'hold your own' whilst your idea is trashed, bigged up or simply laughed at is a great skill. Have courage and have the courage of your convictions I'd advise.
Actually it's never been that scary. Nobody at CD has ever asked me to stand up to pitch an idea (apart from Academy Boss), more often than not it's a low level discussion, with ideas back and forth, scribbling on paper, lost notes, interruptions for coffee, mobile phones etc. CD writers are asked to come to commissioning meetings with more than the required number of guest story ideas, not because most ideas are laughed out of the room, but because so many times these ideas have already been filmed. There are only so many hospital stories out there...
...And I'm looking for them.
I have a bank of BBC researches at my disposal, which is great. We get monthly email bulletins about what's big in the medical news, or what gory story has made it onto page 5 of the Mirror. These stories can be followed up and are often good seeds for ideas. I read our local paper - the Newham Express. There's quite a bit of depressing scary stuff in there, not many skateboarding ducks - but also a strong sense of community ID and interesting stories. It was in this local rag that I stumbled across the now famous (in medi/writing circles) paramedic blogger who works in my neighbourhood. His daily blog of real life accidents and musings makes for fantastic reading, whether you're writing for Casualty or not, put his book 'Blood Sweat and Tea' on your Xmas list. Real life stories are good for kick starting ideas of your own - as is visiting the ED department. When I visited my local ED, doctors asked me, was I looking for stories or 'ambiance?' Truth be told - an average day at an ED would probably translate as a very boring Casualty episode, but the 'ambiance, colour and flavour' of the place was priceless.
I've got a friend who's a nurse and a relative who works in a hospital. I fleece them for anecdotal stuff whenever I can, then buy them coffee. There is something to be said for arranging a dinner party of well placed (in the medical establishment) guests and letting the wine flow... patient confidentiality being paramount of course. Ahem.
Mostly I'm not sure where my stories come from. Characters just grow over time in my head, until a tipping point - like the day before a commissioning meeting - and then they spill out. I do rate public transport for furnishing me with a lot of good character stuff, I'd take a bus or a tube over a car ride any day, purely for story value.
What the Academy has taught me is how to structure these disparate story and character
ideas into a compelling, driven arc. It's not at all clinical, it's not an imposition, it's a tool. I'm a story teller and pitching my ideas is a lot like telling a story - it needs to be compelling, interesting, engaging - think of the execs and editors as toddlers on the story mat .. they want to be entertained, ultimately they want to be Wowed! "Let's tell that story!" That's what you want to leave them with. You're the author, so pitch with authority - and passion.
... still waiting for notes.