Thursday, 4 December 2008

Writing for tv

If you saw Charlie Brooker's Screenwipe t'other night, then you'll have seen a treat. If not, switch on BBC Four any time after 10, it's usually on. Or iPlayer, if you're technofancy. But sit on a proper comfy chair, zoom out to fullscreen and watch like you would a normal telly.

It was about tv writers - fairysnuff, Charlie is a one himself (confession: I didn't see his Dead Set thing as I was away and E4 ain't repeated it yet, but any show that zombifies Davina has gotta be good) but the thing that made this show stand out were the toppermost top names they had.

Russell T Davies. Them two wot writ Peep Show. Graham Linehan. Tony Jordan. Paul Abbot. All of them brilliant, brilliant writers, yet all so different. I can recommend (again) R.T.D's book on writing Doctor Who - ok, so it's geeky in the extreme about the series but it shows the labour and sheer bloody love that goes into every episode.

And it has Russell expounding on writing in a way that makes you want to sit down and write, something I've never encountered when reading about writing before. He's such a one-off, but full of funny advice.

Anyway, back to the writers with Mr Brooker. R.T.D. went on about how characters pop into his head fully-formed. Fascinating. Sam and Jesse off of Peep Show said they writ big detailed storylines for months. Tony Jordan said when he writes Spooks he loves to paint himself into a corner, with no idea why or how to get out of his plot. Then get out of it. Paul Abbott said how one ep of genius drama State of Play took three days to write, the next seven weeks.

They all said how they hated first drafts but by draft four it was easier, something I can't quite get to yet. Again, they all said it was good to learn the craft writing whatever, be it links or kids or sketches. That made me feel good, with 'many tens' of episodes of telly under my belt but none of them sitcom.

Here are some random bits of writerly advice that made me smile, laugh or nod sagely:-

Mr Linehan: "Writing is like doing a poo. You can't force it. You need to go away and read or surf the web or watch tv and think about the idea until you simply have to go"

Mr Davies: "Finish something. FUCKING finish it. Two pages is nothing. No-one is going to read it. Or love it. Or buy it. Or publish it. FINISH IT! You can't call yourself a writer until you do."

Mr Abbott: "I employ people to make me do the writing. I hate them. But I still pay them so it must work"

Mr Peep Show Duo: "We can't write unless we plan everything."

Mr Jordan: "I hate planning. I hate writing. I like it when it's done though."

Mr Brooker: "..."
(he didn't say much)

Mr Davies again: "90% of dialogue on telly is shit. Worst I heard, first line of a new drama series, a man said to a woman 'Happy Wedding Day, sis!'. I mean, what? No-one says that. No-one calls their sister 'sis'. Good dialogue are two monologues that occasionally cross. No-one actually listens"

Mr Brooker (in reply) "Yeahh. Sorry, wasn't listening. Was planning my next question..."

Anyhoo, if you want to write for the telly, watch this show. Fascinating.

(And extra smiley-thumbs-uppies to Mr Linehan for last week's IT Crowd, sublime. The robbery stuff was superb.)

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