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> > > Writing tips from Mandy Redvers-Rowe

5 February 2010

By Mandy Redvers-Rowe

photo of comedy cabaret performers Bren O'Callaghan

Mandy Colleran, Mandy Redvers-Rowe and Ali Briggs of So Many Excuses. Photo © Bren O'Callaghan (http://www.brenocallaghan.co.uk)

Image: Bren O'Callaghan

Mandy Redvers-Rowe is currently with the newly-reformed ‘So Many Excuses.’ Mandy is a reviewer for DAO, and writer for stage and television. She is currently working with BBC Radio 4 Drama in Manchester.

She has previously written plays for Paines Plough, Graeae, and DaDa – and was a regular sketch writer for the BBC Disability Programmes Unit in both television and radio.

1. Writers must write
Yes it’s great having lots of ideas buzzing around in your head, all sorts of plots, characters, stories, but unless you take the time to write them down you cannot really call yourself a writer. Writers need to write. Write everyday, if possible, because it’s a skill, a craft which you need to hone. If you’re a beginner and you haven’t got a big ongoing project, you could try to keep a diary, or an ideas book.

2. Writers must read
You need to know what else is out there, decide what you like and what you don’t like and why. Join your local library, if you’re not already a member, and begin a programme of intense reading. If you want to be a playwright, then you need to read, listen and watch plays. Radio 4 has an afternoon play on every weekday, plus several evening and weekend dramas. .

3 Developing ideas
This is something I really panic about. It’s not that I don’t have ideas, I have lots of them, the problem is finding one that’s interesting enough to work on. I used to just expect an idea to happen, wait for it to serve itself up to me in a dream, or in a flash of inspiration. And sometimes it would, but if you want to write you can’t just sit around waiting for such unregulated moments.

No, you have to go out there and make them yourself. Some things that have worked for me include, reading newspapers and magazines, catching random conversations when out and mentally noting them; and writing, just writing anything, rubbish, stream of consciousness stuff. Then something will spark you off, make you laugh out loud, or annoy you, make you cry, and then you’re ready to write.

4. Writing is about re-writing
When you first get an idea down, or a story, that thing that has been buzzing around in your head, it feels fantastic. However, the next day when you return to it, you are often disappointed, as it appears to have lost its energy, humor, its life.

It is so easy at this stage to simply decide that the idea itself is to blame, that it is rubbish, not worth working on etc. And indeed this may be so, but until you’ve had a good go at re-writing the piece you’ll never know.

So, don’t dismiss a piece of work immediately, work on it for several days, then put it away for at least a week before re-reading it. It is at this point that you should decide whether the work is worthy enough for you to continue developing it, or not.

5. Devising new work
If you want to create a play and you find writing from scratch difficult, you can try devising a piece with a group of friends/actors. There are many good books out there on how to devise work, and working with others often sparks off, creates new ideas.

As a writer you must always take the time to write down or record the work, then return home and develop it. This is the way we like to work in ‘So Many Excuses’, although it is not always possible.

6. Know your medium
Writing for stage is different from writing for radio, which is different from writing for television. Each medium has its own technical limitations which you must be aware of.

Also, you need to be conscious of the professional world of performance and consider how many actors will have to be employed to actually produce your play. You can find guidelines on all these things either by looking on the internet or by contacting various professional bodies.

7. Developing a character
Personally I love creating new characters. It’s something I find quite easy. I start by imagining them, describing a few basic details. Like a painter, sketching an outline shape. The more difficult part is filling in the colour, working out their motivations, their desires, their foibles, their weaknesses.

Try creating your own sketch book of characters. Draw each new character on a separate page using only words. Whenever you revisit your sketch pad of characters, you may be inspired to add further detail and thereby slowly build up a range of characters that you can call upon when creating future dramas.

8. Developing dialogue
This, of course, is difficult. Perhaps it is not hard to imagine conversations in your head, but communicating them using only the written word is not easy. Make sure that each character sounds different, that they use their own specific vocabulary, have their own way of speaking, rhythm, which you communicate through your sentence construction. Finally, try getting someone else to read your dialogue back to you and listen to how it sounds

9. Editing
This is the process of getting rid of all those superfluous moments of dialogue. Make sure that you are not waffling and that every scene is relevant to the overall storyline. If you are not sure, try cutting the scene and see if it makes any difference to the sense of the piece.

10. How to avoid writers block
Well of course, you can’t. You will get stuck, again and again. Indeed, one of the reasons I recently undertook a two year MA in writing at John Moores University was to find strategies to avoid this problem, as I have experienced writers block myself.

Mine came crashing down upon me and lasted many years. When I was in the midst of it I’d occasionally find myself confronted by my own work and felt so separated from it, so distant, that I would not have been surprised if I had been told that someone else entirely had been the author.

One of the best pieces of advice given to me, is to write your way out of being stuck. Just keep writing. Anything, and eventually you’ll find your way back. And although it sounds incredibly vague, it really does work.

Recommendations
Writing a play by Steve Gooch
BBC Writers Room www.bbc.co.uk/writersroom