Yvonne Grace writes as George, the fated writer who shows you how not to prepare for the biggest writing gig of your life; the Story Conference.
Yvonne Grace is an award-winning Television Drama Producer with 20+years experience in Script Development, Script Editing and Drama Production for the BBC, CITV and ITV. Her Script Consultancy Script Advice delivers workshops, provides online TV writing training and develops writer talent. Follow Yvonne on Twitter @YVONNEGRACE1.
Here's George; she has so far spread her creative bent out of fringe theatre (see article The Birth Canal) and miraculously managed to get a gig attending her first Story Conference on her favourite Soap Westenders – here she shows you how not to prepare for the biggest break of your writing life – The Story Conference on a popular Series Drama.
10.00pm – my bed SE London
Well, sleep is out of the question. Tomorrow is my first Story Conference at Westenders Production Office. I had loads of good intentions. Only allowed myself to watch telly till 9.30pm so as to factor in a wind down half hour before I got in to bed, even pressed the mute button when the adverts were on to avoid over stimulation. Hot milk (which really is horrible) and ear plugs in case the tramps living in the bin shed decide to rearrange their furniture again in the middle of the night.
10.05pm - still in bed still awake
No, I really can’t sleep so just to be really, really prepared – I’ll go over again the list of my story suggestions. I am so glad I invested in black, sleek notebooks for the occasion – makes just the right impression and glad I decided to ditch my gonk pen in favour of a no-nonsense Pental. The joy is in the detail someone once said and I couldn’t agree more. It’s important to bring a balance of story ideas to the table and I want to be as punchy and topical as possible – Westenders is an issue based soap and I really think impotency is a grade-A issue and just right for the show’s heart-throb to get his teeth into. And I think the producers and script team will like my ironic twist – a torrid love affair between the oldest characters on the show – neatly portraying rampant geriatric sex in stark contrast to the lack of rampant in the trousers of the show’s biggest sex symbol. Check I have the Story Conference Document they sent me with all the characters, family groupings and storylines up to the present. Very important. Decide to put it in the bathroom so I will see it when I am cleaning my teeth first thing. Right. Lights out. Night Night.
8.30am – Bedroom. SE London
Can not believe it. Alarm went off an hour and a half ago – I know I turned it off because I wake up upside down on my futon with the alarm buried in my armpit. Fly out of the flat and managed not only to catch the train to Elstree but also bag a seat. The inside of my mouth feels like a woolly jumper. Should’ve cleaned my teeth at least – it is then I realise I have left the Story Document in the bathroom.
9.30am – Elstree – Production Offices of Westenders.
Am bowel-churningly late. I fall in the door of a room with a massive table around which sit what appear to be 100s of serious looking people. A young man with a lot of lip jewelery is in full flow, there’s a fair bit of note taking going on and an air of a Pitch In Progress. I know I have ruined his timing by his white-hot look of undisguised venom. I am no longer in control of my facial muscles – I think my expression says sorry but am sure it looks more like Cystitis.
The woman in designer specs at the end of the table represents my whole future in telly right now. She is the Paula Tether - the Scary Producer who had liked my spec script ‘A Wedding and Four Funerals’. I smile at her in what I hope is a mature, woman-to-woman way. She doesn’t respond to my stammered apology. It’s almost as if we had never shared an eye-bleedingly expensive mocha at Bar Italia. I am hardly speaking English anyway, I seem to have a lot of saliva in my mouth and I keep swallowing like a bullfrog.
I take the remaining seat and die another death when the leather makes a farting noise as I almost fall into it. My bag, I discover, contains my purse, half a browning apple and my pink gonk pen. Everyone around the table is armed with an iPad or a Mac tablet.
I ask for a pen and some paper and by the reaction from the Self Assured Script Editor I may as well have demanded a quill and vellum.
11.00am - Coffee Break - Getting to know the team
I say getting to know the team, but in reality it was more a case of standing next to various groupings of over verbose writers, all of whom seemed to know each other excessively well whilst trying to swallow scalding hot coffee that tasted like depressed socks.
The writer anecdotes are coming so fast it's like being forcibly entrapped in a name-drop orgy. Lip-Jewelery Guy is regaling the enthusiastic company with tales of his 'brain storming sesh' with Tony Jordan and how hilarious it was when he mistook Stephen Moffat for his child's Geography Teacher.
I tried to contribute with an anecdote about how I got my wire basket entwined in Stephen Moffat's in a Hampstead Co-op but my timing was ruined when Lip-Jewellery Guy undercuts me with the hard fact that his little Zooey and the Moffat clan, go to the same school – 'we often have a laugh about my faux pas at pick up'.
I hate Lip Jewellery Guy. I am determined to do a corking story pitch after I've chucked this coffee in this handy potted plant.
2.30pm – Story Conference – Mid Pitch
I am aware of an insistent voice; high-pitched, breathy, going on and on. My internal sensible voice is saying ‘some-one ought to tell that woman to shut up’. Horrified, I realise the irritating, scratchy monotone belongs to me. I finish pitching my impotency story line damply, in a whimpering rush.
Scary Paula, flagged on either side by the Series Script Editor and the Story Editor form a rocky Easter Island profile. Then Paula tells me something that seemingly everyone else around the table knew. Rod Kant, the show’s buff star, has recently had corrective surgery and any storyline focusing on penile dysfunction would be seen as insensitive and grossly inappropriate. As an added body blow, the Story Editor (who looks about 12) informs me that the show’s demographic would not consider 70-year olds having sex a good thing. I attempt to salvage my dignity by telling the assemblage a far too personal story about my grandma and her robust sexual drive thus achieving instead, full frontal, unequivocal Death By Story Conference.
6pm - Story Conference Ends
Scary Producer tells us that her script team will be in touch with the story documents for each episode of the block we have been creating story for. Those that are commissioned will receive their commissioning notes and please contact Leslie to get your commissioning meeting in the diary. This all excludes me. I have time, in the general melee, to witness Lip-Jewellery Guy proudly showing off what I thought was an office plant but is in fact, his 'homegrown verbena' Scary Paula is suitably impressed. Hope it likes coffee.
10.00pm – My Flat night after first Story Conference on Westenders
All in all things could have gone better. I am not totally down-hearted. I came up with at least 5 great story ideas on the train coming back and the Nice Script Editor that got me my meet with Scary Paula told me to keep in touch.
Tomorrow is another day and I shall fire off my best story idea to the office asap – a clever twisting tale that ties in two normally opposing themes – murder and true love in a soapy package just right for Buff Star and no mention of his genital problems. Happy Days!
Let me teach you how to story line, pitch series stories and break down an episode of a popular series drama. Script Edit your own work and that of professional writers at the top of their game; details here.