The Writing Journal #8

Before I start the blog proper this week, I want to take a moment to pause and reflect on yesterday’s Armistice Centenary. Across the country, and indeed around the world, the centenary was marked in a dignified, poignant and heartfelt manner that I found to be genuinely moving and thought-provoking. Closer to home, our local history society held an evening of remembrance where members of the local community, from school-children to pensioners, celebrated the lives of those from our village who died fighting in the First World War. Fifteen men in total who lived and worked in places that are still very much part of the community a hundred years on. It was a beautiful event that unified the past with the present and future in a way that I found incredibly powerful. Both World Wars highlight the tragic, heart-breaking consequences of division and the strength that can be found in unity. That message couldn’t feel more pertinent today, and sadly there seem to be many around the world who have lost sight of it. My only hope is that yesterday’s events, both on a local and global scale, served as a powerful reminder that might, just might, help to unify our increasingly divided world in the months to come.

On last week’s blog entry, I was within touching distance of one of my year goals. The main question this week then – did I make it or not?

Target Number 1 – Add 5,000 words to my novel manuscript.

Status:  ACHIEVED 😊

There is an old writing adage that I always try and apply to my work, be it for film, television, theatre or novel.

“Every character is the hero of their own story.”

Whilst it is easy to remember this when writing characters you are going to spend large amounts of time with, it is more difficult to remember this for background characters. The little guys that are there to serve the story your central characters are embroiled in. These people are no different from your main characters, though. Their worlds and their lives shape how they get to the moment they interact with your protagonist too, and if you have a sense of what these lives are before you sit down to write them, you can end up giving your whole story a depth of texture that is not only richer but also lends itself to more excitement, which is surely what any creative writer wants in their work, right?

When I wrote the story outline for this novel, I knew I wanted to introduce a particular obstacle to stand in the way of my protagonist when I reached this part of the story. The best way to do this was to introduce a character to instigate this obstacle. Because it was going to be a difficult challenge for my protagonist, I made him as physically imposing as I could. An instant visual indicator of how much trouble our hero was in now. When I wrote him like this, he was OK. He did his job of putting the protagonist in a perilous situation from which she had to escape. But it didn’t grab me. It felt perfunctory, like a story-stepping-stone to something “better”. As I went back through it, the scene felt kind of redundant, and if it feels redundant to the person writing it, it sure as hell is going to feel redundant to the person reading it!

So I decided to take another crack at it, and asked more questions of him. Why is he getting involved here? What are his motivations? What are his goals? I began treating him like the hero of his own story and soon he was taking on a life of his own. He has a history now. He has a world view. He has aspirations, strengths and flaws. In clashing these against those of my protagonist, the scenes that were once perfunctory now have an energy and excitement that makes them engaging. There is a struggle between them with actual consequences on either side. His intervention is a key part of the story now, and has opened a whole network of pathways in which his character can go from here. So much so that he may wind up becoming a (spoiler alert!) pivotal recurring character instead of being a “one and done” plot point. Perhaps not a lesson learned these past couple of weeks then, but certainly a lesson emphasised and remembered for the overall benefit of my novel.

Target Number 2 – Complete the first draft of my screenplay.

Status: ACHIEVED 😊

This is the most exciting thing to happen this week, and I could not be happier! There is no better feeling than reaching the last page of a script and typing “The End”. I had a handful of key, challenging scenes to get through but with the finishing line in sight, I was able to find that extra surge of momentum to carry me through to “The End”.

It is, of course, a misnomer in many regards as it is by no means the end! If anything, the real work comes in the editing process still to come, with the further refinement of the story and evaluating what needs to stay and what, sadly, must go. That being said, getting to the end of a first draft is a vital step as it means you have something to work with. A blank page is terrifying, and terror dulls the brain. In those moments of fear it can be very difficult to see what the best combination of words may be. You lose your inner vocabulary, and in many ways, it becomes incredibly difficult just to describe the most basic things. You can see it play out on your mind’s silver screen, but trying to convey that through a blank page becomes laborious and difficult. In the edit, though, you don’t have those inhibitions, and I find words come much easier, as does your inner voice. I’ve lost count of the number of times I have got to the editing phase, looked at a piece of work and wondered why I was so dumb in writing it the first time around! The important thing to remember though, no matter how dumb you may feel, is that everything can be changed and tinkered with, and that’s where the joy of having a completed draft comes from.

This week has marked an important milestone in the writing journey. Not only have I met both weekly targets, I have also met one of my larger writing targets for the year as well! I wanted to have a first draft of the feature script finished by the end of the year, and it is now with great joy that I can say –

Status: ACHIEVED 😊

In achieving this goal, it asks a whole load of other questions about where I go from here. As I’ve said above, the screenplay is nowhere near being the finished product, and will still need work in the weeks and months ahead. What that work will entail, and the time-frames in which to achieve it, are as yet unclear and will need a little bit of time to distil. Those conversations need to be had, both with myself and the producer I am currently working with. Whilst I put my business hat on for the screenwriting side of things then, there’s still the small matter of a novel to finish, so for the foreseeable future that will be the core writing focus moving forward until I can make actionable targets for my screenplay once again.

This week’s target:

Add 5,000 words to my novel manuscript.

Celebrate finishing the first draft of my screenplay….

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