Tick Tock

Time is something that we can never get back.

That seems like a poignant statement, but it’s designed more to highlight the fact that when you get the time to do something you love, you should seize the opportunity with both hands and go for it like there’s no tomorrow.

I’ve been freelancing since I got back from the UK and I’ve just finished up a job last week. I don’t really have any idea where my next lot of work will come from yet, but I’m relishing this chance because it gives me an opportunity to throw myself back into writing – something that has fallen by the wayside over the past few weeks.

So I’ve decided I’m going to be disciplined with it. I’m realistic in that I’m not going to be able to spend all day, every day writing – as much as I might want to. But I’m definitely devoting a big chunk of my time to writing each day. I’ll start each day with a target list of what I want to get done – but I won’t make myself feel guilty if I don’t get through it. It will just mean that I’ll have more to get through the day after that. And the list will be flexible – if I plan to work on my feature and then my sitcom, but when I hit sitcom hour and I want to keep going with my feature, why would I stop?

And by ‘writing’, I don’t mean just writing the script. Writing isn’t just scripting. Writing is planning. Sculpting the structure. Exploring story possibilities. Nailing characters. Writing the script is such a small part of it – never discount research or planning as ‘not writing’ because it definitely is.

I know I’m going to start out rusty. I haven’t written seriously in nearly four weeks – there’s going to be a bit of squeaking as the wheels get back into motion. But I know that I love the worlds I’ve created and I want to spend time in them getting them right on the page so that anyone reading them can love them like I do. I know that when I get going, I’ll be flying. I just need to work on my take off.

Today is deconstructing the structure of my feature to see if it is serving my story well enough. Then this afternoon is sitcom central.

I’m off to make a cup of tea, then I’ll be heading off on the first of many writing sprints.

Wish me luck!

Things I Learnt This Weekend: TV Writers’ Studio – Melbourne

Although not technically ‘this’ weekend, on the 23rd – 24th of February, I was lucky enough to attend Epiphany Artists’ TV Writers’ Studio. This took place in Melbourne and in Sydney and I headed off to the Melbourne one as Sydney is a little too far for me to commute. The wonderous gang at Epiphany Artists had pulled together some of the top consultants and writers in LA and dragged them Down Under to chat to a bunch of us Aussie writers – and it was an impressive bunch of people. Jen Grisanti, Steve Kaplan, Carole Kirschner, Ellen Sandler and Glen Mazzara all made the trek down to help inspire a bunch of writers to push themselves to find the best in their writing.

It was a crazy and intense weekend. The good kind of crazy and intense. It was split pretty evenly between a comedy strand and a drama strand, big chunks of the day dedicated to each. This was a great way to do it, I think, as then you could either be really selective about what you wanted to see and slip out during the sessions that didn’t attract you as much or go eagerly to all of them and make thousands of notes, like I did. There was also a third day which was set up to be like a mini writers’ room – again, split into drama and comedy – but I had to get back to work so unfortunately couldn’t go.

It was really fascinating to hear how the system works in LA. The structure of television – particularly in comedy – is so different from what I’m used to playing with in a more British or Australian model. But what I think I learnt the most is that there are so many different ways to approach writing something, so you have to feel really strong in the core elements of your story so that when different writers throw their own style of story at it, the core elements still shine through.

Another really interesting point that it threw up for me, was to really define for yourself as a writer the different core elements you’re working with. To take yourself through your idea and your story step by step to find out the functions of different characters and flagging to yourself something that you may have known subconsciously but bringing it to the forefront of your mind so you can work with it consciously. That was an incredibly useful tool for me to push myself to lock things in. I think that it’s easy as a writer to leave things up in the air and not define things, because sometimes when you define something it feels as though it can never be changed ever again.

But with definitions come creative limitations. And often it’s these limitations that make it a more creative place for you to work. If someone told you to write a short film script about anything you wanted, you’d find it hard to know where to start. But if someone told you to write a short script about absolutely anything, but set in the desert, that’s a creative limitation that allows your mind to work toward something.

By saying to yourself ‘My lead character is a 29 year old woman, who lives and works in a petrol station in the South Australian outback who wants to be free of her life and pursue her dream of becoming a singer, but is stuck there by her over-bearing, small town mother who can’t let go of her daughter and her best friend who is unhappily married and the only mechanic in town,’ you suddenly have a whole lot more possibilities to work with in every episode, story and arc you write than a blank page.

She’s 29 and feels like she’s achieved nothing with her life. Minefield of ideas for how she could try to seize the day. She wants to be a singer – very visual and occasionally musical. Can she actually sing? What if she’s awful? Maybe that’s a running joke – we never hear her sing so are never sure how good she is. The relationship between mother and daughter also holds endless possibilities for stories. Likewise, a potential romance in the best friend AND anyone else who comes through the servo on their way to/from the outback.

Creative limitation.

Define genre, character, protagonist, style and tone, locations and arena of the story, what your protagonist (or central character) wants – what gets them out of bed in the morning? What are they passionate about? Who is your target audience? This last one will usually define your character’s ages and personality. Not always – there are exceptions to every rule.

Mostly though, the weekend was a great way to think differently about my projects. It forced me to look at things from another perspective and I think that always really benefits you as a writer/filmmaker and your project. Even if it’s a completely different opinion to yours – you need to figure out how people made that leap to that space and work out how to guide them better to where you want them. It’s hard work to do, but incredibly beneficial.

Have a go at it. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to use it. That’s the beauty of writing – if something doesn’t work, throw it out. But it’s worth having a go to see what it might throw up.

Breaking In The New Year

It’s the last day on January 2013. I know, where did the last four weeks go, am I right? There’s been loads of new years blogs, talking about resolutions and what you should aim to achieve this year – they go around like wildfires in the first two weeks of January. And now, on January 31st, 2013, let me ask you. How are your resolutions going?

 I never make resolutions. I never really needed to. I’m not the sort of person who loves having a clean slate for a new year. I understand people who do – it’s a great kicking off point, a point in time defined by society that everyone knows about. It certainly is a fantastic time to decide what you want to do over the next twelve months. But I think that if you want to do something, start immediately. If you want to write, write. You want to learn a language? Do it now. Don’t wait. Start exercising? Eat better? Why wait until the end of the month? Start right this second. That’s how I look at things, anyway.

 I know a lot of people aren’t like that. And that’s okay. I have a lot of respect for people who do make resolutions and even more for the people who manage to stick to them. I think it’s awesome to have a goal, a deadline, a drive to achieve something. What I get a little concerned about is when people aren’t realistic about their goals. At the beginning of a year, anything is possible. That doesn’t mean that you should expect yourself to achieve everything.

 ‘I’ll finish that script, start writing those other two, plus three short films and get one of them produced and maybe toss around ideas for a TV show.’

That sounds awesome. But it’s not a realistic goal, really. Maybe if you were writing full time and had no engagements anywhere else. If you have got enough drive to achieve that much, by all means, go for it! That’s awesome. But for the rest of us, that’s a lot of pressure to put on yourself. And when you get to the end of the year and you’ve only finished that script and written two shorts, you might see that as a negative thing. That’s a brilliant thing! That is a fantastic effort and something you should absolutely be proud of.

The other thing I don’t like so much about resolutions is that you lose a bit of flexibility if you stuck to them 100%. If you want to finish your script before you do anything else, what opportunities are you closing yourself off to in the meantime? Life can throw anything at you – don’t shut them out because you think you should do something else in the meantime. If you’re substituting one project for another – excepting commissions and/or other work you’re being gloriously paid to do – ride it out. Go with it. You never know where it might take you.

This is my suggestion for an End of January Resolution. Keep it broad. Keep it simple. The only resolution that I would make this year would be ‘WRITE’. It doesn’t matter how much or how little. As long as I keep writing, that’s the key.

So what’s your End of January resolution for the rest of the year? Make it a verb. Choose something that will make you happy. Then go for it.

Rewriting.

This week, I’ve decided to continue on rewrites of a project of mine I haven’t touched in months. It’s interesting actually, because up until yesterday, I didn’t feel like I was ready to work on it. I was genuinely concerned that if I’d started working on it last week, or even two weeks ago, that I would manage destroy the good place the project was currently in.

I gave myself time (because at this moment, I’m lucky enough to HAVE time to give myself) and didn’t move on it before I was confident that I could do it justice. I waited an afternoon to give myself a little more distance on the project, rather than making a mess that I’d then have to unpick when I did the next rewrite and create a hell of a lot more work for me.

And these two days, I’ve been really happy with the way it’s coming together.

I remember when I started this rewrite, it was a real battle to get from scene to scene. I’m not sure if it’s because I’m back in a certain headspace or what, but what I’m writing at the moment seems to ebb and flow really well. And I’m discovering how tightly woven my earlier draft was. I’m trying to shave subplots out of it and realise that it links into something earlier or later. It’s frustrating but it’s great fun.

It’s also been a great chance to get back into the world and spend some time with the characters again. I’d forgotten how much fun they were – mostly because I’ve been working on other projects and hanging out with other characters instead – but it seems as though their voices are still ever present and clear in my mind, which is making each tweak easier to accomplish too.

So perhaps if you’re having trouble rewriting, perhaps give yourself a little more time away from it. Don’t be over critical of your work – get someone else to have a look over it and make sure they’re willing to tell you what works and what doesn’t. After all, in a rewrite, it’s just as crucial to identify what works as well as what’s broken.

After all, if you cut out a bunch of plot and character that works, it means the second draft will be a lot less strong and potentially more plot hole-y.

Sorry the post is short this week – but I really am eager to get back to it!

Happy writing!

P.S. Don’t forget, if you are rewriting, I run a script-reading service and am more than happy to help you to get from one stage of your script to the next!

Why Writing Is Like Bowling

I went bowling yesterday. I haven’t been bowling for absolutely ages and, as a result, I have a couple of little muscle niggles because muscles I forgot I had had been neglected for so long. But that being said, I had a pretty good run. Started off okay. Got a handful of spares in my first game, occasionally missed the whole lot on the second bowl, but was relatively happy with it. My second game was a cracker – two strikes in two frames, two spares and a strike to round it out.

And it occurred to me that writing is like bowling.

Just go with me here.

I promise there’ll be no metaphorical ‘strike’ jokes either.

It’s often said that writing is like a muscle. If you don’t write for absolutely ages, your characters might not feel right, your plot points formulaic and rusty. But even if you don’t write for awhile and sit down to have a session, you can still manage to get a decent result. Not a great one, but something that you’ll feel reasonably happy with. You’ll come up with some good ideas, some unique twists and turns for plot and character, occasionally you’ll hit something that’s completely out there or entirely wrong on so many levels for your project, but you’ll have something.

The more you keep writing, the more likely you are to stumble onto the golden moments more often. The more time you spend with your characters, the more easily you’re going to realise the honest moments, the moments that make you gasp/cry/cackle hysterically in delight. The more time you spend in your world, the more opportunities for stories you’ll find, the more hidden characters you’ll discover and the more running themes you’ll uncover. Your writing brain won’t be clinging to the first cliché it hits in your mind because it’s already miles past it, having been regularly exercised.

Even when you’re on a roll, you’ll still hit the bad ideas. The catastrophically awful ideas. The ones that make no sense to plot or character. But keep them in your back pocket. You might find a way to turn them into something awesome (like I did, when I had to get a spare on my last frame in my second game to win, missed everything then managed to score a strike on my second bowl…then missed everything on my third. Wait, I think I’m mixing metaphors).

But if I was to start bowling every day, I reckon I’d become pretty good at it. Continually exercising and strengthening the muscles in my arms and legs I need to throw a bowling ball at a bunch of pins. Yeah, I’m still probably going to throw one or two balls that go slightly awry, but the majority of the times I’ll be on the money. Give myself the best possible chance to get a perfect game when it counts. It makes sense to do the same for writing. To write every day – it doesn’t have to be scriptwriting, it can be development writing, to spend time with your characters, in their world, to give yourself the best possible chance to write the best story for them.

Why wouldn’t you?

You never know which script is going to be your opportunity for the perfect game. May as well perfect your technique for when the chance arises.

Kill Your Babies

The phrase ‘kill your babies’ is one that often gets thrown around in writing and filmmaking. It basically means that you shouldn’t get too attached to your ideas because every once in awhile, you’ll have the best idea you’ve ever had in your life – your career, even – and you’ll want to keep it. But it doesn’t work for the story. And so, you’ll need to let it go, even though you’ll never come up with an idea that’s better.

That’s the theory anyway. Some people take it in different ways – some people say that once you’ve finished the first draft of your script your should go back and cut your best scene out entirely. Or cut your best idea. Your best line of dialogue. I never really understood that way of thinking – surely you would keep developing your ideas so that they matched your very best one, not cut your best one to match the calibre of the rest? But everyone writes differently, so if that’s what works for you as a writer, then knock yourself out.

I’m working on a sitcom at the moment with my partner in crime, Anton. We’re developing the plotline of the episode that we’ll end up writing as our pilot. We spent weeks putting all the storylines into context of the first series, making sure all the characters had arcs and often throwing old ideas out because we’d discover something even better that was borne out of story and character in the context of the episode instead of spontaneous inspiration. We’d slaved over this one particular episode and had some really strong ideas for it, we knew what needed to happen but it wasn’t coming together. There was something that wasn’t flowing naturally and neither of us wanted to try to force the episode into a shape it wasn’t going to fit into.

So we took a breather to try and figure it out and I suggested throwing everything out and figuring out what the function of the episode needed to be at its very core. Not surprisingly, Anton was slightly skeptical of doing that, considering how hard we’d been working on it. I probably would’ve reacted the same way if he’d suggested it to me. But, as I explained to him, we were just going to use it as an exercise to see if we could find what wasn’t working. It didn’t mean that we were binning everything to never look at it again. It was just about getting back to the core of the episode to see what we were trying to do and if there were better ways of doing it than what we were working with.

We did that. We got it back to the core function of story and character. We straightened out the kinks in the skeleton, laid all the groundwork properly, then went back and talked about the best possible way to hit all the beats and make the characters do exactly what they needed to do for the episode. And we came up with some amazing new ideas  out of that (some of which have been overtaken already by others).

But we also realised that the main idea we were working with for the episode still worked. Really really well. We weren’t so stubborn that we’d ‘killed’ it, then refused to bring it back into the story because it was too much of a good idea. What was the point of that if the idea was still working? We brought it back in, surrounded by other, newer ideas which were stronger and better (and funnier) and the whole episode sprung into new life.

That’s why I don’t really agree with the term ‘kill your babies’. In my eyes, it’s kind of like shooting yourself in the foot. If it’s not working with the rest of the story, then yes, you should probably put it aside and save it for something else. But if it still can play a strong enough role in terms of story and character in your script, I don’t see why you shouldn’t be able to revive that baby and bring it back to life.

So maybe the phrase should be ‘Knock Your Babies Out With A Sedative Until You Can Figure Out If They’re Working Or Not’?

Too long? Yeah, I think so too. I’ll work on it.

Tell You What I Want?

I’m not ashamed – I’m going to go right out there and say it.

I watched three movies this weekend.

Three.

Sure, the sun was out. Yeah, I probably had housework to do. But I swung by my local Blockbuster and got a bunch of DVDs to watch instead.

You might say lazy. I say research.

And I don’t say that lightly. I genuinely learnt a lot from watching all three movies. They were all a range of genres – romantic comedy, drama, comedy; they all had different kinds of lead characters; they were all captivating for different reasons.

But there was one thing that failed in two of them. Right at the beginning. And it was really frustrating to watch the rest of the film because I knew what I was supposed to be feeling, wanted to be feeling it but wasn’t. At all.

It was because I didn’t like the protagonist and didn’t understand why they were doing what they were trying to do.

This isn’t to say that your protagonist always has to be nice and friendly and happy. I mean, some of the most loved characters in film (and literature) are people who have skewed moralities. Severus Snape from Harry Potter is a perfect example of this. And (I’m being deliberately vague, although I’m not sure if there’s such things as spoilers for Harry Potter any more) he’s not a nice guy. He bullies his students, he’s mean, he’s got an agenda against Harry – but people love him. Absolutely adore him. There have been polls and polls and polls on the most popular character in Harry Potter and Snape almost always comes first or second. I’m sure that there would be millions of people who would pay money to watch or read more stories about Snape.

It’s about giving your protagonist a moment in the beginning that allows the audience to get on their side. It’s a ‘save the cat’ (terminology courtesy of Blake Snyder). If your protagonist is an arrogant, womanising, highly successful man whose world starts to fall apart at the inciting incident – we need to like him. We want to sympathise with him, not enjoy watching his downfall. We’re going on this journey WITH him, we’re going to need to find something in this guy we’re spending 90-120 minutes with that we understand and like.

We always want to invest in the characters we’re watching on screen.

It’s the same with on screen relationships. If you’re putting them together to tear them apart, make sure we want them to get together. We need to invest it this. We see that they complete each other, we think it’s agony when they’re apart. We probably know they’re going to get together in the end – but it looks so difficult so how on Earth can they possibly do it? Sometimes they do. Sometimes they don’t. But make us WANT it.

We WANT the protagonist to succeed. We WANT the protagonist to achieve their goal and live happily ever after.

So make sure that’s what we want to do.

As if they’d do that!

One key thing that can often throw a reader out of a script is characters acting…well…out of character.

Imagine if you knew someone who was a bouncer at a night club. It’s a Saturday night. 4am. A bunch of drunk revellers stumble out and suddenly there’s a full scale brawl happening in front of your friend’s eyes. But he ignores it. He’s checking Facebook on his phone. Maybe he frowns disapprovingly at them but does nothing to try and stop it. That’s not like him. The function of having him there, his job, is to keep the peace. If he doesn’t, he needs to have a very good reason he’s not intervening or he’s fired.

This same logic applies to the actions that your characters take in your script. Each character has a purpose (or their ‘job’ in the story, if you like). The leader, the mentor, the joker – there are several roles that characters often fulfil in a script. But if their role is to be the comic relief but at the first sign of trouble, they start screaming at everyone, they’re not being consistent with their character. That’s not to say that comedic characters can’t be angry – but they need to be pushed to act out of character. If nothing pushes them and they don’t act as they should, then something’s not working in your script.

Think about the ways that your characters deal with conflict. Perhaps they’re a pretty cool, collected character. Maybe you throw something at them and they shrug it off and get on with it. You throw something else at them, they still get on with it. You then give them one tiny last straw and they snap. It’s tense. The stakes are raised. If you throw them the first thing and they snap, it’s not in keeping with their character. They’re cool and collected. They’ll be able to deal with little bits and pieces that get thrown at them. People do deal with things if they’re a one off. That’s why lots of things happen to characters that make it more and more difficult for them to get on with it. It’s that pressure of circumstance that makes characters really interesting to watch. So make sure you keep the pressure on them.

Remember how you set your characters up. If they’re a musical genius, they’ll know how to play a little bit of every instrument. But if they can’t play the drums, make sure the audience knows that’s their weakness and use that weakness as part of your story. Don’t just bring up the fact that they can’t play the drums randomly. Plant the seed in your story. It doesn’t need to be explicit, you don’t need to have a scene where they discuss that they can’t play the drums. Perhaps they have an intense dislike of percussion in their music. Maybe they get given a snare drum as a birthday present by someone who doesn’t know them very well. Perhaps the antagonist in their story is also a drummer.

Show the gap in their lives and then challenge it. But don’t challenge it before the audience knows there’s a gap there. Otherwise it doesn’t feel right or true to the characters and it brings the audience out of your story. And that’s the last thing you want your audience to do.

The Filmmaking Olympiad

In case you guys hadn’t already noticed, the Olympics have just started in London.

It’s sports, right? It’s not about creativity, it’s about muscle and precision. It’s a collection of events – some so obscure that people would never usually watch – but it comes around once every four years and everyone gets obsessed with it. So what can someone who is creative and not athletic learn from it?

Loads.

Seriously.

People from all over the world are swept up in patriotic pride and barrack their hearts out for athletes who they’ve probably never heard about before who represent their country. It doesn’t matter what sport you’re watching – swimming, gymnastics, canoe slalom – if you see the flag of your country, you’re supporting them in that event. Without question. In other words, they become your protagonist.

The antagonist is their biggest threat stopping them from getting the gold. This could be the athlete from a country you don’t like. This could be the athlete that’s the favourite to win it and maybe your protagonist is the underdog. This could be the athlete that’s been qualifying a millisecond before or after your athlete. They’re equals and the antagonist could definitely come and beat your protagonist if they don’t keep fighting until the end.

The anticipation of the beginning of the Olympics also gets people excited. They know when it’s going to happen – every four years. They know they’ll be in for a good show, regardless of how it ends for their country medals-wise. It gives them something to talk to other people about and makes people get up at 5.30am to watch the Opening Ceremony (myself included). Because the audience knows what is going on (i.e. marketing and advertising) plus when and who to get excited for, it’s easy to get invested in. Make sure your audience knows when to get excited for your film. Make sure you’re telling people about it so they’re aware of it. Give them something to invest in.

The biggest factor a filmmaker can take out of the Olympics is this – the Unknown factor.

The most exciting events to watch are the ones where you don’t know who is going to win.

Whether it’s waiting for the score and hoping against all hope that it’s higher than the highest ranking athlete or watching a race that’s neck and neck and urging for your team to dig a little deeper to get across the line first – they’re the moments that go down in Olympics history and are the most thrilling. When a swimmer or boat is two boat lengths in front, that’s not interesting to watch. More often, the focus then shifts to the competition for second and third places. When the stakes are so high and it’s going to take a whole lot of effort to get what they want. When you don’t know what’s going to happen.

That’s what you have to do with your film.

Give the audience a protagonist they can trust, support and get behind. Give them an antagonist who is a real threat in terms of stopping them from what they want to get. Set up the stakes so the audience understands exactly what the protagonist has got to lose. And make sure that the audience can’t see what’s coming a mile away.

Keep it tense. Keep it exciting. Keep it breathless.

Watch a few events and take note of how you react. How do you feel about events where an athlete wins by a mile? How do you feel about events where it’s close? When it’s close, it’s exciting. That’s how you want your audience to feel over the course of your film.

So make them feel it.

One Page Only

I’ve been working on a screenplay for awhile now and was recently asked to write a one page synopsis for it. I opened up Word, drummed my fingers against the side of my glass of water and pondered.

What’s the best way to write a synopsis?

This – before you ask – isn’t going to be a break down of how I wrote my synopsis. I think that there are lots of other blogs that run it down much better than I will. I’m simply going to let you guys know what I learnt during this process.

First thing I learnt is that one page synopses are hard. Seriously. I started off with a bit of a ‘No worries, I can do this easy,’ train of thought, I’ll have to admit, but when I hit the end of page one and was suddenly spilling over to page two, then hit about the half way mark of page two, I knew I’d have to do a fair bit of editing work to get it back down to where it needed to be.

The second thing I discovered was that the tone of your synopsis should reflect the tone of your story. If you’re writing a comedy, don’t be afraid to keep the tone loose and jokey. If you’re writing a thriller, the tone will need to be tense and clipped. You want the synopsis to make the reader want to read the film. If the synopsis doesn’t bring out some emotion in the reader, you might need to go back and tweak it so that it ebbs and flows like your script should.

The third thing was that you don’t need to include everything in a one pager. You really don’t. It’s actually a great exercise to do if you have a bit of an unwieldy plot – whether a main plot or a subplot – because it helps to show you the story you’re thinking about the most. And sometimes the story you’re focusing on, isn’t the main story. You might actually be working with the wrong protagonist but you might not realise it until you’ve written half a page of plot about the policeman who is chasing the criminal and his life story instead of the criminal who you started writing the story about in the first place.

I had to leave some of my subplots out of my synopsis. But that doesn’t mean that they don’t exist – it just means that the emphasis of a one pager needs to be about the main threads of the story. So forget about your quirky subplot about the love interest between the waitress in the cafe who sleeps with the criminal. Focus on everything that’s important to the main plot – the policeman catching the criminal.

The fourth? Your synopsis isn’t gospel. This was something that I used to struggle with a lot, especially when I didn’t do as many rewrites for a lot of my early shorts (and you can tell, ahem). But writing treatments and synopses aren’t setting your story in concrete. That’s one of the best things about writing is that it’s always in a constant state of flux – until it’s locked on DVD or Blu Ray. But even then, there are such things as Director’s Cuts. If something’s not working, you can cross/scribble/highlight and delete it out of there. If something is working NOW, doesn’t always mean that you won’t need to change it in the future. You might come across a better story option. You might come across a better character trait.

What you’re effectively doing by writing your synopsis or treatment is writing a representation of your story at that moment in time.

That doesn’t mean that your story has to remain like that forever.

The fifth thing I learnt was you need feedback on your synopsis just like you would a script. It’s a no-brainer, really. I would never send anything out without getting at least a second pair of eyes on it. They can also help you to identify what might not be working in your story, things that aren’t coming across clearly in your synopsis and simple things like ‘But the policeman has a gun in the final scene, surely? Why doesn’t he just shoot the guy?’ With questions like that, it highlights potential problems with your story that you can then go and fix before you send it out again.

This is one of the greatest things about writing treatments and synopses – you can figure out problems before you hit the script and then you aren’t as attached to dialogue or plotlines that you might’ve slaved over in Final Draft. It’s almost always likely that you can’t see some of your problems because you’re too close to your work, so a fresh pair of eyes is really really important.

The last thing I realised is that you shouldn’t let it sit as a task that is big and insurmountable. It’s not. It is a lot easier than you think if you’re prepared to do the work to make it strong. And it becomes a vital tool for your work. It’s a document that you can use to help shape your story and it will also become a base for your next synopsis – unless you do a total overhaul of the script because there are lots of things not working.

Every time you redraft a script, redraft your synopsis. That keeps it fresh and up to date and it means that you’ll have something ready to send when Mr Spielberg sends you an email and asks for an outline of one of your scripts.

Wait. What do you mean it doesn’t work that way?