Well, Red Planet closes tomorrow, so suffice it to say most of you will have got your entries in the post by now. I sent mine last week, but am now telling myself I forgot to include the one page pitch doc and will now be disqualified (this is despite checking it three billion times, plus getting my husband to check it and my son – after all, it might have turned invisible INSIDE THE ENVELOPE and somehow got out on the way to the postbox).
Of course, I was in the privileged position of having a squizz at my competition, being a reader – I read even more Red Planet entries than last year; at my last count it was approximately sixty different versions, either through Bang2write or Po3. I thought it would be of interest to share a few of my reflections on the whole process.
Many writers came back to me several times, so I was able to see the evolution of their ideas; one chap came back no less than five times between July and last week and actually ended up submitting something COMPLETELY DIFFERENT to what he had in the first place. Fellas it seemed were either completely organised or completely last minute, with most of the laydeez plodding steadily on, though it was interesting to see many men willing to go back to page 1 without a second’s thought. Also, many of the women writers had a complete downer on themselves I noticed: they kept saying there was no way they would finish in time, that they couldn’t get a grip on the whole drama series idea, that their ideas were shit or convoluted. Oi Ladies no!
Alot of the series dealt with the supernatural – at least in part. Some dealt with disaster, genocide, teachnology, Hell, but ALL had a dystopian view of the future or the near-present. Interestingly, not one had vampires or werewolves in, though plenty dealt with witches and ghosts. If the series weren’t supernatural, then they were period, ranging from approximately from the year 1200 to WW2. Great figures from history (particularly kings and queens but also politicians and literary greats), often figured prominently within these period dramas, either as protagonist or antagonist. A couple were both supernatural AND period. I saw just one cop show and even that was period. There were no medical shows at all – mine is a medical show (set in present day!) and I had feared that Red Planet would be swamped with this genre. If they are, it won’t be from Bang2writers!
Almost without exception scribes struggled with the pitch doc. Troubles ranged from syntax and grammar obfuscating the story right through to the story being incoherent or missing altogether. It seems to me that many scribes have no problem identifying characters, but have issues making their journey (and thus the plot) obvious. As I said to several, we’re selling a STORY: characters are of course part of that, but a character without a premise and a journey is just that – a character, floating in space.
But then of course, I can talk: I had my own problems with my pitch doc; not so much with the story but the fact my protagonist at one point apparently sounded “like a whiny, do-gooding bitch” according to one Po3er, LOL. I ended up doing no less than eleven versions of my pitch doc – which ranged from “dull” to “confused” to “meh” according to feedbackers. It was the sixth attempt I actually managed to interest people and ninth before it was even half-ready. On my eleventh draft of the pitch doc, I sent that and my ten pages to a particularly harsh reading friend of mine who came back with:
“Fabulous pitch. Pity about the pages.”
I actually rewrote the first three pages of my ten pages the most – there were four different openings. Confusingly, everyone had something positive to say about each version, apart from the third that went haywire. It was only when my harsh reading friend half-liked one of the versions that I realised I might be onto something. Not because his judgement is the only one I listen to, but because he made the good point that an opener needs to reflect the tone of the show. It was then I realised that as an opener for a comedy drama, I needed some comedy. Sounds obvious, but sometimes you need someone to smack you in the face with it. The first attempt I made at comedy then raised a few laughs, but it was too long. The second (which was my terrible third attempt) wasn’t funny. The third – that was what I was going for. Unfortunately, my last (unconnected) reader said he would have done something else entirely, but then sometimes you also have to realise that you’re not another person, you’re you – and you can’t change that, so you can’t change the script.
So what have I learned? Well, first off – you have to follow your heart. Cheesy I know, but cheese and truth often go hand in hand. Secondly, make sure you put story above all else in pitch docs, ‘cos that’s what you’re selling: it doesn’t matter how great or intriguing your character is, if the reader doesn’t know what that character is doing, all it becomes is a mad mix of words and images and that’s NEVER as enticing as a good story. Thirdly, start as early as possible. I began my drafts in July and thank God for that, else I’m sure I’d still be writing now and missing that all-important deadline. Plus the drafts that have had many rewrites are always, always better – and that’s even if you write good first drafts. I had several professionals come through for this contest and of course their first drafts were very accomplished: but you can still tell a first draft, even from them.
What about you, what have you learned?