Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Starting Writing an Episode

And so I begin to write Series 3 of Hut 33. Yes, it really is written - not made up on the spot, which is, I'm sure, how it sounds to some.

For those interested in the process of writing, I plan to put things on this site every now and then - and in particular how I go about writing a six-part radio sitcom. Of course, I've already slipped up by calling it a 'six-part' series, which implies some kind of story arc. There isn't one, even though this series finds us in 1942, rather than 1941. So, for the characters in Hut 33, the war is going ever so slightly better. The Russians and Americans are in the war, but the Germans are still doing very well.

Starting to Write the Episode
So, today, I'm going to write the first page of the first episode of the Series 3. Although, because it has no real 'serial' component, it may turn out to be the second or fifth episode. Who knows? This episode is notionally set in January 1942, partly because one has to imagine it is cold, both in the hut, and in the Arctic Circle - which will be referred to a number of times throughout the show.

How do I know that? How do I know what's going to happen until I've written it?

Because I'm writing the script based on an scene-by-scene outline that is, in itself, 2000 words in length. A script normally ends up being about 5500 words (which reads at about 31/31 minutes, and is then edited. That's another story). The scene-by-scene outline I'm using is a fifth draft. I've been through it a number of times and the story is, I think, fairly solid. Each scene has a paragraph or two about what happens, and sometimes a few lines of dialogue and jokes, so that every scene is like writing a little sketch.

Writing Schedules
I hope that this script will take me about a week to write. But I've probably already spent a week on the story, the scenes and the general ideas. Once I have that first draft (which may not be finished by Friday as I have a busy week, plus my daughter's first birthday party this afternoon), I will save it, ignore it, go onto another episode, and a few weeks later, come back, go through it and cut bits, add jokes and then finally send it to the producer - as Draft 1.

I expect that Draft 1 will be lumpy and far from perfect. The producer will spot bits and flaws and possible cuts. And I'll spend a few more days on it and write draft 2, that may be anywhere between 10-50% different from Draft 1. Hopefully, Draft 2 will be readable by the cast. Hearing it read makes a bit difference and we like to read through every script with as many of the cast as we can get at least a week before the recording - since there just isn't time to fix things on the day. Especially now we record two episodes at one recording.

The readthrough, then, will probably generate another day's work - possibly two. (this is per script, obviously) And then one more pass-through for a day with the producer, adding more jokes and deleting bits and we have a script that should be ready for recording. That's the theory, anyway - and how I've written Series 1 and 2 of Hut 33, Think the Unthinkable and The Pits....

But every writer is different. Some writers seem to thrive on leaving it too late, last minute scrambles and staying up all night. That sometimes happens for me. But not usually. I'm boring, like that. 2am is a brilliant time for sleeping, I find. Not writing...