Stand Out Scripts
As the director of the BBC's writer development unit BBC Wales, Gilly Adams gets hundreds of scripts on her desk every year.
In part one she gives some advice on making your work stand out from the rest and explains what commissioners are looking for in a good script. In part two there's advice for aspiring writers.
Q1. What makes a script stand out to you?
The most important thing is having somebody who has something to say and is saying it in a fresh way, in a confident voice. I think it's not necessarily about complete originality; there is that saying that there are only six or seven stories in the world and they keep going around, but a freshness of observation is important. It's about being detailed and rigorous in one's imaginative approach and not generalising.
Q2. How important is layout and presentation?
It is important but only up to a certain point. It is important to know that if a script arrives hand written, it will not get read at all. The script doesn't have to be formatted exactly how it would be if it were being put forward for television or radio production but it certainly has to be presented clearly.
People should realise that 'clearly' means not in very small type with all the lines jammed together! So, double spacing is good and we only really want scripts that have text on one side of the page.
The more accessible a script is to read the better. Make it easy for us to read, because if it is presented in the kind of way that is going to be a real effort to understand then of course you are far less likely to be taken seriously.
Q3. What is the first step when writing a script for television?
Very often in television we ask the writer to provide one side of A4 with the outline on. If they cannot succinctly express the idea and basic outline plot on one side of A4 then they have not got it sorted out enough. Then the writer starts plotting the scenes all the way through, finally writing the scenes with the dialogue at the end. It's a very good discipline as if you haven't got the story outline worked out before you start then you sure as hell are not going to sort it by writing it. I would also say you have to work a lot on your character - work on who they really are.
Q4. What is the difference between writing for television and writing for radio?
Radio gives you one very strong tool, which is that people don't have to see things literally; you can imagine a world for them. You can go off into all sorts of places like outer space or the bottom of the ocean and you don't have to physically construct it. The discipline is that you have to give the audience the information they need to understand what is going on, without doing it in a clunky way. You can do this by indicating when very particular sound effects are required but also by using the dialogue. In radio, words are paramount.
In television the form is far less literary and I would suggest the dialogue is only one aspect of a canvas which is more about what we are seeing. Viewers are very sophisticated now, they receive a lot of visual information so you can pick up a story with very few words. The writer for television has to be aware that their dialogue can be much more economic but they need to be thinking about what people are seeing and using that.