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Writing

CONTENTS

Introduction

Chapter 1 - Stage Shows and Scripts

Chapter 2 - Novels

APPENDICES

I Magenta novel links

II British Comedy Guide articles (writing in character) 

III GenreFiction article (writing about writing)

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INTRODUCTION

LS: Welcome to Lindsay's page, a place where I can dump my thoughts about writing, pretend I know what I'm talking about, and link to some of my past work. It will be crass. It will be chaotic. It might even be helpful? 

 

'Chapter 1' contains insight into how Laurence and I collaborate on stage shows and exactly what the writing part of the process entails (beyond typing two-fingered onto a keyboard). In 'chapter 2', prepare to gasp at tales of novel-writing.

 

There is no chapter 3. Perhaps I shouldn't have laid this out like a book. I thought it was a cute idea, but what book only has two chapters? Godammit!

 

Oh well. I couldn't possibly change anything now.

Chapter 1 - Stage Shows and Scripts

Laurence and I have collaborated on several shows together and I've written and performed two solo hours as a character act - see the 'shows' tab for more information. But for now I'm going to concentrate on the collaboration process as that's way more fun than the work I do on my own. 

Our latest show, Jekyll vs Hyde, has come together fairly smoothly. This might be because we get better at working together with each project, or it might just be one of those nice shows where the ideas flow and the story behaves itself. Maybe it's both.

 

Regardless, let's take a peak behind the curtain at the naked wizard with a quill up his bum...

LOLS Progress

Stage 1 - Parameters 

When we collaborate, it's invariably for shows bound for the Edinburgh Festival. Fringe shows are a unique beast. Most shows at the #EdFest are one hour long, and one hour is both very short and very long. It's very short because most theatre shows are over 90 minutes, a goodly amount of time to establish character and story. 60 minutes is a tighter sausage skin to shove that offal into. But one hour is also very long (in theatre) because you're aiming for unwavering audience attention for a length of time longer than the first half of a Normal Theatre Show. The audience aren't going to stretch/wee/imbibe in the interval, returning in a refreshed state of mind for the denouement and finale. No. They have to put up with your shit for a straight, solid hour. Intense.

There are other things about the physical space and the limitations of the Fringe (and sometimes the limitations of me as a performer) that impact the writing and development of our shows. A small stage with no wings or backstage space. Only one or two performers. One of those performers should not (because they cannot) sing. And all venues have extremely short turn-around times between shows - there's no time to put up or take down an elaborate set, and nowhere to store it either. This all affects what kind of show you can write.

Oh, and if this comes across as a list of negatives... it shouldn't. These are just the parameters that affect what and how I write. All writing has parameters. Your Middle Grade novel shouldn't include a crack-cocaine scene and clock in at 200,000 words long. Your book of poems can't have in-built speakers that emit sound effects on certain words. Although doesn't that sound great? 

 

This year we chose to create another novel adaptation, although from the first stages of development I knew I wanted to intertwine the classic story with a meta element. The meta element is, in fact, the central plot. Stevenson's Jekyll & Hyde gives the show a basic structure, but the heart (and funny bone) of the story is the battle between the two performers presenting the show to the audience. I don't want to give away spoilers (come see the show!), but in essence, I added another story to the existing story. I decided there wasn't enough story for two performers to communicate in sixty minutes, so I doubled it. With singing.

And it's fine! It's amazing what you can fit into sixty minutes. J vs H is shaping up to be one tight, spicy sausage.

Stage 2 - Outline

I have a whiteboard for sketching the outline to shows. Thoroughly recommended. For extra thrills, you can attach pictures and photos and treat it like the murder board in a police HQ.

By this point in le process, Laurence and I had talked about JvsH aplenty. Laurence knew my intentions (that the meta plot would reflect the classic J&H themes) but I sketched the overall outline on my own before bringing him back into the process. He then added his thoughts and we talked about where the songs would go and how they'd develop character and move the plot forward. (One of our pet peeves in musical theatre is 'songs that sit there like a jazzy turd, taking up space and adding nothing to the story'. Luckily, sixty minutes means there is no time for such turdy indulgences. Every song has to earn its keep. It has to move the narrative along. It has to work it, baby.)

Once I was happy with the murder board and Laurence was happy with the frequency and placement of the songs, I transferred from whiteboard to screen. In a word doc I explained each dramatic beat of the show and detailed the 'story' of each song. Each beat and song came under a different 'chapter' heading, and each chapter ended on a mini cliffhanger to ensure there was forward momentum to take us into the next section of show.

Normally the cracks appear at this point. Oh no, chapter two is a massive exposition-dump.  Argh, one of the characters is active and has buckets of motivation, the other is coming across like they're just along for the ride. Oh dear, the resolution comes too early. Eek, the message of the show is a bit weird/weak/sinister. 

I try to sort the shit bits before writing the script itself. It's easier to make fundamental changes at this stage than later on, plus Laurence needed to know the story of each song before he could start working on the music. If we made drastic changes at a later stage, Laurence might find he'd written and recorded songs that no longer had a place. 

Stage 3 - First Draft

At this point, Laurence started working on the music and lyrics and I wrote the first draft of the script. Along the way, we'd check in with each other. That's the handy thing about living and working together - it's very easy to organise meetings. I'd simply barge into Laurence's garden studio whenever I wanted a change of scenery, and whenever Laurence needed to use the toilet he had to walk through my office. There was no avoiding each other. "What bit are you doing now? Have you fed the cats? Is this set-piece too gross? Is this joke too preachy? Are you sure this song is in my register?"   

(NB. Like the songs, all set-pieces and jokes have to either develop character or move the plot forward, in addition to being sufficiently entertaining. NO TIME-WASTERS, YO.)

Stage 4 - Preview

In January 2019 we performed the show with scripts in hand at the Museum of Comedy in Holborn (check it out if you're in the area, it's a great comedy venue) and it went down very well. However! While it was very pleasing that it went well, the point of a preview is to find out what does and doesn't work so that you can improve on it. With that in mind, comedian, writer and director Matthew Crosby came along to critique the show, with a view to directing it when we had the final iteration of the script. His notes were MINT. I allowed them to percolate like a fine espresso through my brain box for a couple of weeks and then started the final(isn) draft of the script.

Stage 5 - Final(ish) Draft and Rehearsals 

It's early July as I write this, and Edinburgh is three weeks away. I'm still tweaking as a result of previews, but luckily the original songs are 90% intact so Laurence doesn't have to re-do much. We're going into the rehearsal room at Wilton's Music Hall soon (as a result of having won the Wilton's Music Hall Fringe Foundation Award) and no doubt we'll discover better ways of presenting the characters/jokes, but the structure is now locked down. In small ways the show will keep evolving right up until it opens, and even then it might evolve s'more. If it tours post-Edinburgh, we might lengthen it into a 90 minute show. Perhaps we'll turn it into a radio show, which would necessitate big script changes. It's too early to tell. Right now we're still putting the first iteration on its feet and worrying about the world ending or the fascists taking over and restricting freedom of speech. Haha, yay.

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Chapter 2 - Novels

Back when I was a solo act in 2013, I decided to write a novel from the POV of a character that I performed on the London comedy and cabaret circuit - Magenta, the cynical fortune-teller. She was a lot of fun to inhabit onstage, and as mad as this sounds, I always enjoyed spending time with her. I felt like we could happily co-habit for 60,000 words. 

really enjoyed writing the novel - expanding Magenta's world felt like a return to childhood, when you can inhabit fictional landscapes and characters with total conviction. It was liberating, especially compared to my usual gig - writing jokes for inebriated audiences. And when the novel was finished, I thought... well, to be honest, I thought... (and I apologise for the sickening vulgarity here), I thought it might be worth... money. Audiences who enjoyed the character onstage might also pay to take her home with them (in book form only, of course. It's a rare punter who'd dare solicit Magenta for sex). 

But surely this was the ultimate hubris! "You want to be paid for your writing? What do you think you are, some kind of writer? GEDDOUTTAHERE."

I still feel like that.

But enough of my tedious insecurities. I was due to perform the character at the Edinburgh Fringe that year and I decided I wanted to sell the book after the show. I found a good, cheap printing deal, took two boxes of books up to the festival and by the end of the month I'd made a goddamn profit. In the following weeks, feedback for the book started to dribble in. It was all incredibly positive. And these were strangers! They were saying nice things and I wasn't even related to them!

I still didn't feel like a writer, of course. I received a few sneery comments about self-publishing that fed my self-doubt goblin. To counter the beasty within, I wrote a sequel and defiantly put both books on Amazon. On that platform, with no marketing behind them, they earned about 7 pence. So much for defiance. 

Unsure of where to turn next and inflicted with an inability to think strategically about my career, I turned my hand to the lucrative arena of saucy books and bashed out an erotic novella in a couple of weeks. The result is still on Amazon under a pseudonym - don't ask me what it's called, I'm taking that secret to my grave. Sadly, writing about sweaty bouncy bits in a non-comedic way made me feel ludicrous, and I realised there was no point writing if I wasn't having fun. Erotic writing had been an experiment and I had a clear result - I didn't want to do it. At all. Gah.

The next step on my haphazard path took me to the competitive Curtis Brown Creative writing course for children. Yes, I know, I turned from erotica to kids writing. I don't think I questioned it at the time. Maybe I was looking for a return to adventurous hi-jinx and good clean fun. Maybe I didn't know what the shit I was doing. Whatever the case, with CBC's guidance I wrote a Young Adult novel, submitted it to agents, got some interest, re-wrote the novel, had a year-long tango with an agent I really wanted, and when that fell apart I crawled into a hole and took bloody ages to lick my wounds. Ages and ages. Months. More wound-licking than in my erotic novel. What was I thinking??

Guys, I gave in to turdy self-indulgence. Don't do that. You won't like yourself for it, and the longer you lie down the harder it is to get back up again.

Script-writing has delivered me from this nonsense. In particular, The Time Machine and Jekyll vs Hyde helped renew my faith in myself. Podcasting helps too. I'm back, writing scripts and novels that might never see the light of day. When it's good, I can snap into that childhood state of immersive imagination. When it's bad I'm a festering sack of self-doubt. But the trick is to keep going.

Just. Keep. Going.

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APPENDICES

I Magenta novel links

Link to Magenta is the Warmest Colour

Link to the sequel, Madame Magenta and the Arcati Killer

II British Comedy Guide articles (writing in character) 

For the Edinburgh Fringe 2014, Magenta was the British Comedy Guide's in-house psychic and fortune-teller. She gave advice to Jim Davidson, Footlights and Jimmy Carr. 

Link to the Jim Davidson article 

Link to the Jimmy Carr article

Link to the Footlights article

III GenreFiction article (writing about writing)

To procrastinate writing, I sometimes write about writing. But at least this one is funny.

Link to GenreFiction / UncannyKingdom article