Writer's Blog

A place where I write about the writing life and writing projects in progress

May 30, 2010

  • ...And relax…
  • It’s done. The beast has been tinkered with further and now has been to the Austin Film Festival (which, helpfully, this year has an online submission process—which saved me about $100 in courier fees!)

    My goal here is modest: I want to place. Last year I didn’t even make it past the first round of judging. This year I want at least that.

    Actually, I’m lying. I just want to win. Really really win.

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    May 28, 2010

  • The Home Stretch
  • I finished the script last night. Now, on any other project I would have the luxury of some time to mull it over and make some changes. Here I don’t have that luxury, as I have to submit it to Austin by June 1st. So I have to mull it over on the fly.

    The one thing that still frustrates me is one particular character. He’s too…nice isn’t the right word. Agreeable. Sensitive.

    So over the course of tonight I went on a rampage to make this character spikier. It was mostly just making his dialogue sharper and slightly more argumentative and slightly less reconstructed. The result is better chemistry with the lead character. That’s the great thing about scripts—it’s modular so you can polish certain things without necessarily affecting the whole.

    After that there will be a few more read-throughs that will hopefully tighten up plot logic and dialogue and maybe some more judicious cutting. Not exciting for you, perhaps, but it is for me!

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    May 25, 2010

  • Cabbages and Collaboration
  • I’ve never written a script without a lot of help, mostly from friends and colleagues and occasionally from actual professionals in the industry. And you know what? I always come away with something better in the process—even if they just point out typos.

    This script has been helped a lot by two friends. One friend of mine, Jessica, gave me a brilliant bit of business involving a cabbage. It sounds ridiculous but trust me when I say it suddenly made a scene work. And my best mate Scott has been, as ever, very perceptive, pointing out characters that should be highlighted more or, with one particularly clunky sequence, helping me figure out how to make it actually work.

    Writing is mostly a lonely process but what I love about screenwriting is that it’s, by nature, collaborative. You’re never writing in a vacuum—there are places where things can change just from others helpfully suggesting including a cabbage…

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    May 24, 2010

  • The Liberation of Death
  • And suddenly at page 61 I had a revelation: a particular character didn’t need to stay alive anymore.

    The character was great, worked brilliantly with the lead character, and it had the sort of voice you absolutely adore writing. And the idea was to keep them on to the end.

    And then I asked myself the question: What if I just get rid of the character now?

    All of a sudden other questions opened up: What happens to the lead character? How does that contribute to their frame of mind and motivations? Where do things go now?

    Suddenly I realized that killing that character was actually good for the script.

    That’s what I love about the writing process. No matter how much you plan, no matter how much you work it out, there will always be inspiration as you write that changes the game, makes it better.

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    May 18, 2010

  • My life in post-it notes
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    I used to snort derisively at people who would plot out their film scripts or novels using index cards or post-it notes. I tend to write outlines or treatments with feature length screenplays and I just thought the index card method was just dumbing it down. Then, last year, while writing a freakishly complex script, I discovered it was actually really helpful to put each scene on a post it note and put it up on the wall.

    I wrote a treatment before beginning this script but the last half of the script was still bugging me, so I decided to use the post-it notes again. Here, they’re occupying a disused poster for Batman Forever. I didn’t have so many to cover up Chris O’Donnell’s face at that point but gradually I added a couple of scenes and finally obliterated him too.

    The neat thing about post-its/index cards is, if I suddenly change direction slightly while writing the script, I just add or change the post-its and re-arrange the plot elements to suit. It’s a good little visual cue, which is why I guess people use it. And as a bonus I get to cover up an appalling Batman movie in the process.

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    May 16, 2010

  • Page 45
  • Over the past couple of weeks (barring a few days down with a nasty virus) I’ve been working on a screenplay to enter into competition at the Austin Film Festival.

    There’s not a lot I really want to say about it right now. Only that I’m enjoying discovering my central character who, with every scene, seems more vivid to me. I hope they are to others.

    Other writers, actual professionals even, probably have their own process of writing a screenplay. I’m only an amateur but here are a few observations on my process thus far:

    1) I tend to vacillate wildly between having a solid outline of the script (not quite to the detail of a treatment but close) and then totally improvising as I go along.

    2) I’m finding David Mamet’s advice on writing scenes a very daunting, though helpful, litmus test: I’ve tried to avoid any scene where two characters are talking about a third.

    3) Burk’s law of screenwriting seems to be: cut as much as possible from what you’ve just written.

    I’m now at page 45, about half way on this script. It’s gone remarkably well thus far, though the real pain will be the rewriting

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    May 11, 2010

  • It’s real. It’s mine.
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    The Doctor Who essay collection I co-edited with Robert Smith?, Time Unincorporated is now out. Today I received a box of them. It’s here. It’s real. It’s mine. Miiiiiinnnnneee…

    Not counting the introductory essays (which I wrote with Robert), there are 75 essays in the book, taken from various Doctor Who fanzines over the decades and also commissioned specially for the book. I wrote five of them. I thought it would be fun to talk about the them, not so much in terms of content but the circumstances under, and process by, which they were written:

    “Half Canadian on His Father’s Side” (2000) was an article on Doctor Who creator Sydney Newman and how his work at the CBC in the ‘50s influenced the creation of Who. I wrote this in 2000, just after I took over editing the Doctor Who fanzine Enlightenment. At the time Enlightenment had fallen into a rut of printing bland, factual articles that simply regurgitated stuff from Howe/Stammers/Walker, DWM and the Peter Haining books. I wanted to show how this could be done differently, and sought to write something better researched and with an actual thesis. It was fortunate that I’m already something of a CBC history buff. All the same, I remember writing it—as I wrote so many Enlightenment articles over the next seven years—in the local laundromat while doing my laundry.

    “The Talons of Stereotyping” (2002) is an essay on race and racism in the Doctor Who story The Talons of Weng-Chiang. The willful blindness of Doctor Who fans on the dodgy racial politics of this story has always bothered me and it was probably the one article I most wanted to write for Enlightenment. It probably went through the most number of drafts of anything I wrote for Enlightenment as I sent it to a number of friends including Lance Parkin and Richard Salter for feedback as I went along. There was a lot of healthy debate after it came out, and I hope there’s a similar resonance this time.

    “A Year in the Life” (2007) is my paean to the year 1977 in Doctor Who. Enlightenment was doing an issue devoted to 1977 and, as happened so often while editing this zine, a gap emerged, namely that it really needed an introductory essay. Here’s the thing: the issue needed to go to the printer on Wednesday morning so it could get picked up Thursday morning to a convention in Chicago. That same Wednesday I was helping to manage a major fundraiser for work. My schedule was so crazy I wasn’t able to perform layout on the issue until Tuesday night. And as of Tuesday afternoon I still had to write this introductory essay—and I really had to write it because the issue was about 3 pages short otherwise. At 4:00 pm on Tuesday afternoon I sat down at a Second Cup near Yonge and St. Clair in Toronto, got out my notepad and just started writing. And dammit… it’s probably my favourite thing I’ve ever written about Doctor Who. (I pulled an all-nighter and designed the issue in less than 8 hours too!)

    “Miss Wright” (2009) was an original commission. Originally we were going to go with an expanded version of an article I wrote about Peri Brown, but we felt the section it was in had enough tributes to 1980s companions. When I started editing Enlightenment I had three articles I wanted to write: a piece about race and racism in The Talons of Weng-Chiang, a piece about Sydney Newman, and a piece about 1960s companion Barbara Wright. I decided it was time to write the third piece. I started writing it on a day-long visit to Montreal, and while in the Ottawa train station I suddenly had a thought on how to make it work. It was a total spur-of-the-moment inspiration that suddenly made writing it effortless. I wrote most of it, in longhand, outside a Starbucks in Montreal on a nice sunny day.

    “The Rise, Fall and Decline of John Nathan-Turner” (2002) was another article borne of necessity. John Nathan-Turner, the producer of Doctor Who during the 1980s, had died and I needed an article for the cover feature which would be about him. We were running late, as usual, so I wrote it. I don’t remember much about writing this one—I had the idea of using individual episodes that were broadcast at the start, middle and end of his career as a framing device and I remember watching those episodes (The Leisure Hive 1, The Two Doctors 2 and Ghost Light 3 if you’re wondering), but that’s about it. Re-reading it for the book—it was a late addition to the line-up—I realized I said something about Colin Baker’s casting that I thought was really cool. I hope you think so too!

    You can order Time Unincorporated 2 from the Mad Norwegian website or from  and

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    May 09, 2010

  • Things I bloody hate…
  • Trudging out to Starbucks in the rain, because my pseudo-aspergery brain is hardwired to write anywhere but home, especially today for some reason, only to have the only available table and chairs taken moments before I buy my tea.

    Leaving me to trudge home, now too annoyed to write, in the rain, carrying a tea I could have gotten for free from my kitchen…

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