Each week I will be posting an exercise to get everyone writing.

So the first exercise for January is Pitching.

Pitching is a term used in TV and film though increasingly it is referred to in radio and theatre in fact any medium. In the real world  it is a highly pressurised few minutes when a writer is given the opportunity to “sell” a project. As a writer you need to be able to sell your ideas to get commissions or get people involved in your project but also you need to be able to sell your idea to yourself too.

Putting yourself in the position of pitching your idea is a useful exercise to put yourself through. Telling people about your ideas or practising telling people about your ideas forces a half-built idea, shadowy characters, loose images to form into something more concrete. As you talk through the idea you will find the flaws, you will sense when you lose a persons interest as their eyes glaze over. Something that seemed genius swirling around in your head becomes banal, pointless, obvious when you have to explain it to someone and you realise that your idea needs more work.

Practise pitching – talk out loud about the idea as though you are talking to someone. Pitch to anyone at the slightlest opportunity – friends, colleagues. Next time someone asks you what you do – tell them you’re a writer then pitch your idea.

For this exercise I want you to imagine a theatre director or company has asked you about your latest play. How would you sell the idea to them? Explain to them why they should commission your play.  Practise your pitch verbally and then write it down.

A few things to think about when you think about your pitch are the following;

Who are the main characters?
What is the basic outline of story and plot?
What is the structure?
What are the themes of the play?
What is the style of the play?
What does your main character want?
What is stopping them getting what they want?
How will the world of the play be changed by them getting or not getting what they want?
What is the play about?
What is the central question of the play?
Why do you want to write it?
Why is it important to write this play now?
What do you want your audience to take from it?

And this exercise is as useful at the start of writing a play as it is during and at the end.


To Kill a Machine Fund-a-Performance-Night

In November the very first Scriptography Productions Fund-a-Performance-Night will be taking place to raise funds for the presentation of To Kill A Machine by Catrin Fflur Huws.

As part of that night we will be presenting a few short plays, Catrin has set the theme of these plays as a play that must include the Alan Turing quote “we can see only a short distance ahead but we can see that there is plenty to be done”.

The play should have no more than two actors either two men, two women or a man and a woman and should be no longer than 10 minutes. If you want to take part then get writing.

Spread the Word from Tony Jones

Tony Jones from the Writing for Performance shares with us some thoughts on the Spread the Word programme.
Spread The Word is Sherman Theatre’s outreach programme to encourage new writers.

Catrin Fflur Huws, Debbie Moon and Tony Jones at the Spread the Word readings

I had expected a quite prescriptive course, but it was a healthy mix of info of theory (plotting, character, conflict) and utilising our own experiences & perspectives.

Ideas that I found useful were, in no particular order:
– Subtext. The idea of actually writing things about the character, that are perhaps not revealed, was new to me. This process of “subtext becoming text to drive your action” was very helpful (anyone who saw the last episode of “Inside Men” will know what happens when you don’t bother with this.)
– Metaphor. I’ve never knowingly spotted an actual metaphor (I though Animal Farm really was about pigs being bastards and thus OK to eat) and I am frustrated that “they” say we’re not aloud to make them explicit (metaphors, not pigs) eg “Isn’t it interesting, Emyr, that we are facing professional redundancy at just the time we are facing it in our personal lives too?” “Yes, Nathan, I thought that too”. But I am willing to accept that metaphor allows you to gently nudge an issue without necessarily coming over all Al Gore (who wouldn’t deserve such treatment).
– Complete Metaphor. Like above, but a closed system, a world.
– Stuck? Why not try a short brainstorming session about your characters. What’s in their pocket? What’s their greatest fear? etc
– Character is plot, plot is character. I don’t fully agree with either (no theory ever fully true) but have learned to look more at how your characters drive the narrative forward, not people with guns or boyhood sledges.
– Recording actual dialogue shows you how nonsensical much real dialogue is. Completely verbatim theatre would be awful but listening to what is actually said (and then writing it down) will give you an edge. Make sure anything they say is driven by their life so far (see subtext) 
– Don’t mistake people talking for dramatic action 
– Reptition – saying something three times gives power, but five is mad. Setup, pay-off, echo.
– Axis. Find two opposing principles and move between them to create tension (Loss-Redemption, Pleasure-Pain etc)
– Beginnings – create status quo, then disrupt it with your Inciting Incident. Make your ending another beginning.
– Show, don’t tell. I edited out by sub-plot of Steve/Karen affair, but the actors ressurrected it with knowing nods & pauses; audience got it.
– Story = What happened. Plot = Why. 

Although our tutor taught us all of this simply & clearly, it was only actually writing the play that explained it to me. There is no substitute for DOING. I can see how courses & theory can be seductive but we need to write, fail, write, fail and then maybe start again a little wiser.