9/17/2005

The weird thing is, I started this blog so I could, you know, talk about writing. What's weird about that is, the farther you get into the whole professional side of things - the business of writing, as it were - the less you feel free to talk about it: the important stuff, the stuff that's occupying many of your thoughts, is between you and your editor and your agent. So I find myself in a curious position I suspect a lot of writers do, where you gradually sort of self-censor yourself because to do otherwise would be to divulge what are, really, confidentialities. Which is a shame, because there's a lot to tell.

Another reason for a lack of writing here is I've been busy working on outlines. Lots of outlines. Several outlines. Outlines coming out of my freaking ears. That's my life just now: I go to the part time job, I come home, and I type. A lot.

So, Gary: what're you up to?
Writing outlines.
Cool: want to talk about it?
Nope.
Why not?
Because I'm, you know, hanging in a limbo-like void here, man. The future is indeterminate. I can't really talk about my writing until I know whether I'm going to get a second contract.
Wow. Can't you tell us some things?

Well, I've got enough book ideas to last me about ten years, for a start. Curiously enough, very few of these are in the 'space opera' mode. I did space opera with Angel Stations. Lots of running about, shooting, and blowing up things. I did slightly less running about, shooting and blowing up things with Against Gravity, which wasn't really a space opera at all, and was meant to be more 'serious' (stop laughing at the back, there).

Some of the other stuff I've been working on includes 'Wonderland' (also known as 'Things Unseen'). This covers a period roughly between the end of WW2 and the mid-Seventies. It was inspired by a book about CIA and KGB covert involvement in the development of the arts, including modern art - Jackson Pollock, and so forth. That's all up to maybe sixty thousand words. Once I've got all the other writing work out of the way in the next couple of weeks, I'm going to try and go back to it and get as close as I can to finishing it. I'm expecting it to top out at maybe 150k, so the chances of actually finishing it anytime soone# are slim, but I'll see how far I get.

Another project I've got in the pipeline is having a go at writing an episode of an existing TV show. Every now and then I go to the scriptwriting workshop I've been hanging out at in recent weeks, and have a conversation with Claire (the person who runs the workshop) that goes something like this:

Gary: So how much do you get paid for writing an hour long TV episode?
Claire: About eight thousand pounds.
Gary (giggling): Say it again, Claire. But the other stuff too.
Claire: Eight thou, when they buy it. And another eight thousand, when they start filming it.
Gary (weeping hysterically, clawing at the table, both legs twitching violently): No. Say it properly. Say it the way I like it. With all the good bits in.
Claire (shaking head sorrowfully): Eight thousand to buy it, eight thousand again when they start filming it, another eight thousand on the first day of transmission ...
Gary (bursting into erratic, hysterical laughter): Say it! Say the good bit!
Claire: ... and the same again, if they repeat it.
Gary slides under the table, pawing at the carpet, making ecstatic snickering and grunting noises to generally appalled expressions.
Gary (briefly popping his head back up, a glazed look in his eyes): and how long is the average hour TV script? In words?
Claire: About fifteen thousand words (or sixty pages, in TVland parlance).
Gary: passes out from sheer joy.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

you are sheer joy to read! :)!!!!!!
Lexie

Anders said...

LOL!

I can't say I envy you and your profusion of outlines -- I much prefer noveling to outlining.

Paul F Cockburn said...

I hate to be the bringer of any kind of reality into this situation, but if script-writing was really that easy and wonderful, don't you think everyone would be doing it?

The vast majority of drama scripting on television is in soaps. That's how it is. Armchair Theatre and Play of the Month are long gone. The chances of getting a one-off hour long drama commissioned, made and broadcast these days is frankly almost zilch; even top writers such as Paul Abbott and Russell T Davies had to endure years of writing for the likes of Coronation Street and Kids hospital shows before being able to do what they wanted.

That said, there are still possibilities. Children's drama is still a way in, although even that tends to be serials and adaptations. And, of course, there's BBC Radio. It doesn't pay nearly as much, but there are far more available slots - let's face it, there's at least one drama on Radio 4 every single day of the year!

gary gibson said...

Yes, Paul, you're quite right about the realities of scriptwriting, in exactly the same way people are right about the realities of being or becoming a novelist. The mark of being a novelist is completely ignoring those stark realities, in much the same way, if I do give writing a script a go, I will also ignore the attendant stark realities.
The point is, not to come up with excuses not to do it anyway. The even bigger point is, to write something better than anyone else. Also, remember what I pointed out: a one hour drama is only fifteen thousand words, which is peanuts next to a hundred thousand word novel. Yes there can be constant rewrites - sometimes dozens - but if writing is a battlefield, I think I'm in sight of knowing what a veteran feels like.
If I was being realistic about the chances of getting anywhere as a writer, I'd have never bothered in the first place. But thank you for pointing out the stuff I was frankly too lazy to list - the hard slog many people who are a lot more serious about screenwriting, certainly than I, have to go through.

gary gibson said...

Also, I have one or two advantages - people who work in the BBC drama department run the scriptwriting group, in the BBC itself. That means you get the inside word on what people are looking for, which puts you hopefully a little ahead of the majority who are submitting stuff blind. It's also worth remembering radio plays are a worthwhile option to consider too: Radio Four commissions a lot of drama.

Paul F Cockburn said...

Oh, the modesty! I can't believe that you got to where you are today by simply ignoring the realities of becoming a novelist; your current success is surely because you recognised the realities, and then took a professional attitude to the whole concept, and worked out how you could overcome them. Plus, of course, all that stuff about doing the necessary hard slog, having sufficient bloody-mindedness not to give in, plus making the right contacts at the right time.

Of course, you need to have the dream. I was just worried that - in this blog and our previous conversations down the pub - you seemed to be ignoring that whole career progresion for some fantasy that you could rush off a 60 page script in a couple of days, drop it off at the BBC Reception Desk at Queen Margaret Drive and wait for the cheques to appear from a grateful BBC. The professionalism and single-minded determination you've displayed in your fiction career seemed to be entirely absent in a belief that script writing could just be something you could practice whenever you needed a little bit of extra cash.

I'm no expert - obviously! - but I'd suggest that you are indeed in a much better position than many people when it comes to getting into script-writing - and I'm not just referring to your BBC contacts (although I'd guess that forming some relationships with drama directors wouldn't hurt either). Even though they are very different worlds, I'm quite sure the fact that you are a twice-published novelist will count for a lot in at least getting you and your scripting noticed. After that, though, it'll be down to the quality of your writing - and I'm quite sure that you'll have no problems on that score!

gary gibson said...

Let me define what I mean by 'ignoring the realities'.

My success consists primarily of getting a couple of books out in a market which for the past two decades has been increasingly oriented towards the commercial, reflecting the reality that modern business methods treat any money-generating institution - whether supermarket of publisher - as a machine for generating greater revenue by any means necessary, primarily for the benefit of shareholders whose sole interest in a company is usually profits.

There are several novelists whom I am aware of who have enjoyed critically acclaimed careers yet subsequently been unable to get published because 'they're not commercial enough'. They make money for their publishers, but not scads of it. Not enough, that is, to satisfy the shareholders (anybody who wants to know more about this should type something like 'death of the midlist' into google and see what comes up).

So they get dropped.

These are established writers: what about those less established, like myself?

Becoming a novelist, on my part, had everything to do with ignoring the realities. That most writers don't ever really get noticed, that most of them find themselves published into a crowded marketplace where their voice is lost amongst tens of thousands of others, that the chances of them making anything like a living from it are vanishingly small, that any of them will ever be anything other than poor, poor, poor.

You know me well enough,Paul, from nights in the pub and round at Jim's, to know that every statement I make concerning future career prospects is always and absolutely preceded by the modifier 'if'. If I get another deal. If I get somewhere with a script. If, if, if. But the point I'm making is that writing a script, while hard work, is still far better paying than writing a novel. Not only that, unlike a novel, I don't have to make every single word sing and dance. When it comes down to it, you're describing a scene for a director and including the dialogue.

Right now, I'm checking out the whole scriptwriting thing. If I spend too much time worrying about just how good the chances are anything I come up with will be ignored and tossed in the bin, I wouldn't even try. That's what I mean by ignoring the realities.

I've got a couple of books out, but my name is hardly tripping off everybody's lips just yet. I scan my bookshelves and look at many of the names there and think, whatever happened to all those people? Where have they gone? They had their shot, now they're gone. Maybe it's because they went somewhere else in their life.

Maybe it's because they just couldn't sell enough.

Maybe that could happen to me.

In fact, I'm not in the best position for getting a script produced. Keep in mind (as mentioned in an earlier entry) I've submitted a short script to a BBC Scotland annual script competition called Tartan Shorts. There are three hundred entries on average. Not only that - many of those already come with producers and directors and cameramen attached.

Wow. That's big competition. So what are my chances, even with a couple of novels out?

Slim.

Why it's still worth doing anyway: it's standard practice to write a tv script and use it as an example of your skills to take to producers and the like. If I appear to concentrate on the positive rather than the negative, this has rather more to do with it getting kind of boring if I keep announcing the negatives every single time I voice certain ideas.

Anonymous said...

Hah! If any of us took notice of the realities in this game we'd turn off our computers and go get a 'proper job'. What Gary does (and many other writers besides) is in spite of the realities.
Neal Asher