There’s more to writing than prose, and I wonder if you’ve ever considered writing for screen? I found my feet as a writer with some classes in scriptwriting conducted by a lovely guy called Jon Wood, whose career has been all about creating plays for children. It turns out that I was one of them, way back when, and now he was my mentor as an adult.
Jon’s classes were an opportunity to test out concepts and scenes with an audience of other writers, and even by reading out scenes ourselves we got to learn a lot about pace, dialogue, and character. Sometimes we had the luxury of acting students performing what we’d done, script in hand, and that moved the whole process up a notch.
For some reason, I was the only writer who spotted the natural simpatico between student writers and student actors, and made the most of the connection by creating playlets that were put on in showcase performances at Nottingham’s Sandfield Centre.
My first, Probably A Robbery, was inspired by the world of dole, dope and DJs I was part of at the time, set in a 24 hour garage with a pirate radio station attached. I wrote it for the friends I had who never set foot in a theatre: I’m passionate about art being able to connect with audiences who don’t spend their lives immersed in review sections.
So, I’d written a short play, what next? Well, there was a competition in The Times for screenwriters to submit a feature film treatment. I didn’t think of myself as a screenwriter, had no idea what a treatment was, but figured Probably A Robbery would make a good film. The Times agreed, and the competition win led to me meeting Four Weddings producer Tim Bevan, who compared my work to that of Hanif Kureishi – they’d worked together on My Beautiful Laundrette – and said I seemed to be doing the right things where writing was concerned.
All of which makes this sound like a success story, and if things had progressed at that speed subsequently I’d be writing this in my Icelandic retreat, receiving a shoulder massage from one of my personal assistants and polishing my Oscar. But as we all know, progress happens incrementally: mastering screenwriting is an ongoing journey, and the form is very different from writing prose, something I could write about in the future if there’s demand.
So, what have I accomplished? Well, I’ve scripted episodes of Doctors for the BBC, the entry level show for new writers. I’ve got excellent feedback about a series of my own, The Sharp End, set in the world of drugs work. And I’m making headway in developing some feature film projects.
What I can say from all this is that I relish the lean and purposeful writing of a screenplay, and that even if you’re not set on making a living at it, you can learn a lot from studying scriptwriting.
Screenwriter and script doctor Adrian Reynolds writes about creativity, writing, and things he's seen and read over at www.youdothatvoodoo.com, where you'll also find samples of his work.