Friday, 2 July 2010

Peter Cox's Guide to Re-Writing

A few weeks ago Peter Cox came to gave us a talk. Quite frankly, and with no disrespect to any of our previous speakers, the feedback I got from that talk surpassed anything I have ever heard before. It was quite unanimously enthusiastic.

Prepare to be further excited, as Peter has sent me the notes he had for the night, which have since themselves been re-written. Makes sense, doesn't it? I won't say any more, other than that anyone interested in writing really ought to read, digest and think about the following. Really you ought bookmark this post, and go to it every time you write something. Before, during and after.

With no further ado:

Re-Writing: a non-judgemental, non-sentimental, non-subjective craft skill.

by Peter Cox


Clarify - the job of a dramatist is to act like a ‘Crazy Traffic Policeman’ – to make characters and their stories crash into each other. To reveal character and story through action.

Talk about the way humans / babies learn through ‘what happens next’? (ie suspense / story structure.)

Exercise / Ice breaker: All write down different ways of saying / expressing ‘The War is Over’ – can be images or gesture as well as words. Share them aloud. Instant rewriting – this creates an amazing range of choices taken – rewriting pure and simple

Move onto reasons for re-writing from different points of view in a creative team – this is not an exhaustive list. Some mainly apply to tv or film – most apply across all forms of drama.

Think of these things a writer’s Toolkit – not a personal attack

Producer Initiated:

Length – needs to be tighter / shorter to fit ‘the slot’
Cost (economic / location / character numbers / re-budget etc)
Story not strong enough or 'right' enough for demographic / medium
Believability / truth
Legal (defamation / good taste & decency / easily imitated behaviour eg showing how to tie a noose is not allowed)
‘Shite’ (Brookside producer’s favourite ‘note’ in first draft meetings – said regarding page after page of script.)
The F*ck Fairy (OFCOM Broadcasting Code) (the fairy who comes in the night and sprinkles a script with words that can’t be broadcast.)
Actor being sacked / ill / accident / pregnant / walking out
Changes required as a result of Casting

Director led:

Not getting under the skin of character enough
Cutting exposition
Saying too much
Needing to signpost more / or less
Learn the skill of ‘listening to the meaning’ of what they're saying – often director’s struggle to express their thoughts – because it’s not easy – listen for the deeper meaning of what they say – don’t expect an instant quick fix alternative.
Too much Research on the page
Don't yet care enough about a character
'They're not talking to each other'

Actor led:

Something missing - a scene between certain characters
Can be said with a look
Democracy / Devising processing
Poor punctuation / actors need to be able to breathe – think like a composer where the human voices are the instruments / orchestra
Punctuation affecting meaning – punctuation is your armoury of amazing weapons – deploy them well
Taking the curse off
Subtext unclear

Writer Initiated:

Pre- writing – first draft as improvisation / find a seed – germinate it – grow it

Active re-imagining – walk around script – different points of view
Structural – what happens when – story architecture – story arc
Functional – is each character doing their job for you – could two characters become one
Emotional architecture – individual arcs / contrast – complement
Create a new sub-plot to shine a light on or complement or contrast with main plot

Red pen, stopwatch and scissors – use them – don’t get carried away with your own cleverness / eloquence
Knowing when to come into a scene / get out of a scene
At dialogue level – rhythm / difference / unique voices
Balancing – humour / emotion / action / formal inventiveness
Refining the poetic unity of the whole play

Not enough........ suspense / what happens next / this is how humans learn
Not enough Dramatic Tension
Misplaced Relaxation of Tension
Opposed Forces not fully realised

Shutting yourself up
Timing / placing of entrances / exits
Moving one character's words to another – what is said, not just who says it
Research and revised / extended research
Negative checks – legal clearabce

Tying up loose ends
Turning a Closed Ending into an Open Ending / vice versa
Not yet found 'the pattern' of the play
Something needs foreshadowing
Not yet got the Cast Design right
Characters sounding to alike – work on Speech patterns / lexicon / vocabulary
Too 'on the nose'

Create a variety of ‘fellow writer’ voices in story development / the writing team in your head… let the offer points of view and opinion and alternative ways of writing something

Don't ask 'How good is my script?'
Instead ask, 'How can it be improved? / How can I make it better?'

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