Finding the story

Sitting down to write the script this week was very daunting. So, rather than launching straight into writing the rough draft, I have decided to mull over and clarify a few things before putting pen to paper. Alongside the premise, treatment and step outline, I also have pages of notes, character profiles and ideas about how all of this could be assembled into the makings of a screenplay.

I started with emotion: isolation, loneliness, disconnection. Feelings that lie at the heart of the story. I looked for ways to make these emotions playable on screen through action, behaviour, events and images (Batty & Waldeback 2019: 123), prepared a list of situations in which we see the main character isolated, and made a list of reasons why she is alone and disconnected. This helped me expand upon the step outline and build it into a more fully realised visual story.

I have also been looking at the protagonist's character arc and how it connects to the three-act structure. I labelled each act with a quality representing the stages she goes through, from 'victim' (setup) to 'saviour' (complication) to 'friend' (resolution). This enabled me to identify and focus in on the key stages in her emotional journey as she moves from isolation to connection within the story.

In theory, the structure within the treatment and step outline seems to work. Though I will only know if it works once I have completed writing the rough draft next week.



BATTY, Craig and Zara WALDEBACK. 2019. Writing for the Screen: Creative and critical approaches. London: Red Globe Press.

On writing the step outline

This week's task was to write the step outline for Night Shift. This required looking for the main information within the story and focusing on what the each of the scenes are trying to achieve. Creating the bare bones of the story and summarising each scene in one or two sentences.

Through a process of drafting and re-drafting, I assembled each step until I arrived at a satisfactory shape for the overall story. The first draft was assembled from scenes within the treatment. But the result was loose and lacked coherence and structure. Before re-drafting the outline again, I prepared a bare bones outline of the story corresponding to the stages within the 19 point story map. Re-aligning the story in this way helped create a more coherently structured story, which was easily shapable into a step outline. I also redrafted the phrasing of each step description to improve its clarity and sense, ensuring each step was between 3 and 4 lines.

Writing the step outline also helped me to define the purpose of each scene within the story. While creating the step outline, I also made changes to the story. I haven't been happy with the fight scene towards the end. So I relocated the scene to an inner city squat, changed the characters from a street gang to a group of squatters, and changed Roisin's motivation from responding to an emergency text message to her making her last delivery of the night. This opened up the story in several new ways. Roisin agrees to help Lanya on the condition that Lanya agrees to come with her to make the delivery. As a result, Lanya is being forced to move further into the environment from which she wants to escape, and being taken inside a building within the neighbourhood, which leads on to the struggle in which Lanya rescues Roisin from assault.

Writing the step outline has helped to give me an overview of the whole film. Using it as a planning document enabled me to map out the physical and emotional journeys within the story, to play around with the structure and arrange the various elements within the story into as effective a screenplay as possible.

The evolution of screenwriting practice

The screenplay has undergone a fascinating evolution since its introduction in the early cinema. After the arrival of sound in the 1920s, screenplays took on a form similar to theatrical plays, containing the main elements of dialogue, narrative sections between dialogue, text divided into scenes, scenes subdivided into shots and visual sequences, and a concise use of language throughout. This form has remained fairly constant throughout the 20th century and is still found in screenplays today.

The function of the screenplay as a written text designed to inform its own performance and guide a film through the production process, has also remained fairly constant. As early cinema evolved in the 1910s and 1920s, complex storylines, multiple-shot scenes and budget constraints forced filmmakers to plan the shape and structure of their films in advance of filming. Giving us a model that has been used in film production for over a century. However, with regard to the evolution of the screenplay within the film production process, I think Kevin Boon makes an interesting point when he suggests that 'the film has undergone more changes to its form since the introduction of sound than the screenplays, new technologies and cinematic innovations being responsible for the majority of the changes' (2008:20). This suggests that while film production process has evolved through the introduction of digital technologies and innovations, the screenplay followed its own path, moving away from its early form influenced by the layout of the theatrical play, into an autonomous literary artefact with a more refined storytelling style.

As the craft of screenwriting evolves into the 21st century, I wonder if our role as screenwriters will become more specialised, with some of us working on games, others on films, and others on more niche or experimental approaches yet to be discovered. Maybe we will also become more multi-skilled as screenwriters, like the early cinema practitioners were, and draw upon a range of mixed media to tell our stories, and maybe even drawing upon the skills of artists, designers, musicians, editors and directors when putting these screen stories together. It looks like the screenplay has always been in a state of flux and rather than its role in production becoming diminished or obsolete, it is becoming more broadly defined as an artefact.

While the form of storytelling for the screen will evolve and change, the fundamentals of narrative won't and we will still need writers to provide shape and structure to these stories.



BOON, Kevin Alexander. 2008. Script Culture and the American Screenplay. Detroit: Wayne State University Press.

PRICE, Steven. 2013. A History of the Screenplay. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

On gathering ideas

Gathering raw material into a notebook, the events, fragments of conversation, impressions of places, random jottings and observations, the 'Stuff' that Robin Mukherjee talks about, has always been part of my writing process. This week my focus was on generating ideas around the protagonist, Lanya. It involved creating a backstory for her, making notes on the turning points in her life, the trauma that affects her behaviour, her wants and needs, her fears and dreams. All of which helped generate a picture of who she is and why she does what she does.

Mukherjee's statement that 'story isn't just things happening to someone, but very much about how those things bring about change' (2014:84) was particularly helpful. It changed the way I think about ideas and how I work with them. By refocusing my attention away from simply looking for a series of events that could happen to Lanya, to thinking about how those events could bring about a change within her, I found myself looking at these ideas within the context of her emotional journey.

'Night Shift' is a story about someone who is an outsider within their community. It's about the indifference that people living and working on the margins of society are faced with, as part of their daily routines. As an arena, the environment in which Lanya finds herself throws up a series of obstacles that she must overcome in order to reach home safely. I think going into the field and undertaking research into this environment will benefit the writing process. It will give me a sense of the geography of the story and its settings, and help me to enrich the atmosphere of the places in which Lanya finds herself.

Finding the idea for 'Night Shift'

The story for Night Shift came from a very simple idea: someone falls asleep on the metro and wakes up at the end of the line. It is the kind of thing that could happen to anyone at the end of a long day in any European city with an underground or metro system - Berlin, Brussels, Paris, Vienna. I wondered what would happen if someone missed their stop and found themselves in an unfamiliar neighbourhood at night. What it would feel like to wake up in a city that was sleeping and at its darkest and most uneasy.

I was reminded of Christopher Thomas's photo book New York Sleeps, a collection of haunting images of Manhattan before dawn, devoid of people, and pictured someone walking alone through the empty streets. Someone who was in the city at night for a reason, such as a night shift worker. I came up with the character of Lanya, a Kurdish immigrant working on a corporate cleaning crew, who is asked to do one last task before finishing her shift. She falls asleep on the last metro and misses her stop. She is then faced with a series of obstacles preventing her from getting home.

I originally thought of introducing a convenience store cashier, who's closing the shop for the night, who Lanya meets while walking through the empty streets. But it didn't feel quite right, as I need someone else in the margins, who appears out of the shadows and changes the course of Lanya's journey. Recently, there have been news reports of Deliveroo cyclists being attached by gangs around Dublin, often having their bikes stolen. So I have created the character of Roisin, a food delivery cyclist, who's also a night shift worker.

Two 'outsiders', Lanya and Roisin, strike up an unlikely friendship in a sleeping city. I think this is the type of story in which I could explore themes such as solitude and separation.



THOMAS, Christopher. 2009. New York Sleeps. New York: Prestel.

Idea generation

Where do I get my ideas from? I haven't really thought about this aspect of writing until today. I have always left the generation of ideas to chance and expected something would come along when I've needed it.

I see myself as a gatherer, a gleaner, foraging for anything that attracts my attention, that pulls me out of the ordinary and takes me elsewhere - an observation, a picture, a feeling. I like ideas that pop up out of nowhere, while I might be doing or thinking one thing and suddenly there it is, demanding my attention.

I usually find ideas come to me when I have no agenda, no pressure to do anything other than 'be' - walking the dog, sitting in a cafe, staring at the sea, visiting a new city on holiday. Sometimes I just take a walk through the National Gallery and visit my favourite paintings and an idea will pop into my head.

I can't schedule looking for ideas. Searching for ideas at my desk, completely cold, never works for me. I've come to realise that being confined to my desk when doing this is a recipe for failure. I find it a very difficult approach to take and it usually ends up with me wasting a lot of time and getting frustrated with myself. Being at my desk is where I develop an idea once I have something to work with. So I gather ideas before I go to the desk.

I have a box of 'inspiration' with bits of paper, photos, newspaper clippings, postcards, jottings, all sorts of stuff I have collected. It's a box of apparently insignificant things that may germinate into something sometime down the line. My whole approach to getting ideas at the moment is quite random and disorganised. I'm not sure if it's the best way to go about it, but I do have a box of 'stories' waiting to be told.

What exactly constitutes a script?

As an artefact, the screenplay extends beyond film and television into other screen media, such as web series and video games. It's a vital component in the screen-making process, the culmination of a series of additional documentation starting with premise and outline, through treatment and step-outline, to screenplay. All screen media needs a story. The screenplay fulfills that need. But what exactly is the script? Is it a technical document, or an autonomous literary work?

What my reading has shown me this week is that there is considerable debate around what constitutes a screenplay. Osip Brik says 'the script is a system of cinematic images and devices' that is 'purely and simply a memorandum to the director indicating the sequence of scenes and episodes' (Brik 1974, cited in Nannicelli 2013). Paul Schrader (Taxi Driver, Raging Bull) argues that screenwriting 'is not an art form, because screenplays are an invitation to others to collaborate on a work of art.' Dudley Nicholls says it's 'the composition of original material specifically created for screen' (Nichols 1943, cited in Maras 2009). It's also often referred to as a 'blueprint' for a film. Blueprint, invitation, memorandum, original composition: I think each of these definitions are, in some ways, equally valid and show some of the ways in which screenwriters and filmmakers view the script.

In order to write a screenplay that truly works for the screen, I think you also need to have a good understanding of film grammar.  So I would agree with Schrader again, that as screenwriters we are also ‘half a filmmaker’. For me it’s this wonderfully cinematic fusion of words and imagery within a screenplay and the visceral effect it can have upon an audience that I find so fascinating and enjoyable to work with. A screenplay is also a text that requires a considerable amount of creative collaboration in order to bring it to the screen. So I really like the notion that the script is an ‘invitation to others’ to collaborate on a project, because that is probably where the magic really happens in the filmmaking process, where one idea sparks another and then another, and so on, until what was initially the spark of a screen idea becomes a unique, standalone work of art.



NANNICELLI, Ted. 2013. A Philosophy of the Screenplay. New York: Routledge.

MARAS, Steven. 2009. Screenwriting: History, Theory and Practice. London: Wallflower.

Premise for a screen idea

At the heart of this week’s study was the conception of a 40-50 word premise for a short screen idea. I started by looking for ideas that would challenge me creatively, yet be practical enough to make into a 15 minute short film. In particular, I was looking for ideas that were grounded in real-life situatlons, preferably involving some kind of life struggle that would translate into an authentically told story on screen.
Of the ideas I came up with, the one I chose felt the most filmic and also had the potential for being a moving character study. Focusing on the protagonist and her goal of crossing the city on foot at night, I used the four questions within the task brief to help frame the premise. This was a particularly fruitful approach to my writing. Reading the chapter ‘Why?’ in John Yorke’s Into the Woods had a profound effect on my understanding of storytelling as I worked on this task. It opened my eyes to why we tells stories. That they act as maps, helping us create order out of the chaos of human existence. In particular, his statement that ‘every tale is an attempt to lasso a terrifying reality, tame it and bring it to heel’ (2014: 230).
As I worked on the screen idea, I realised that the story encapsulated in my premise was a metaphor for something much deeper than I had originally imagined. Something primal, mythic – a woman wakes up in the woods, surrounded by wolves and ogres. What is the ‘terrifying reality’ in the premise? How is it to be ‘tamed’ and ‘brought to heel’ by the story? Two questions I shall explore next week as I start work on the story outline.



YORKE, John. 2014. Into the Woods: How Stories Work and Why We Tell Them. London: Penguin Books.

What storytelling means to me and why I'm interested in being a storyteller for the screen

Storytelling for me is about taking something fundamentally true about the human condition and exploring it through the imagination.

We process experience through storytelling. Through stories we are able to share passions, fears, joys, sadness, and we are able to find common ground with other people. I like the way in which stories transport us into different worlds and open our minds to new experiences and perceptions of other people and the way they think and feel. Stories provide a link with mythic archetypes, they connect us to universal truths about ourselves and the world. They allow us to transcend time and place, shape our perspective of what it means to be human.

When you enter a story, something magical happens, and for me entering a story on screen is where the greatest magic happens. Watching a film can have a profound effect upon me. Film at its highest level is close to the condition of dreaming, it connects at a subconscious level through the movement of images and sounds. All of that, and the fact that writing screenplays is simply just great fun and immensely satisfying.