Third draft

Working on the third draft of Night Shift this week has not only been very productive creatively, but it has also been revealing in what I have discovered about myself as a writer and the way in which I tell my stories for screen. In particular, my use of visual metaphor within the script to encourage metaphorical insight in the viewer.

Windows, mirrors, glass is a motif I have used before in my writing. Though up until now, I have not given much thought to how and why I might be using it in my screenwriting. The motif appears throughout the script, at key moments within the story:

    • a woman looks through an office window;
    • a woman sees her reflection in a mirror;
    • a woman stands in a shop doorway, framed by a large window;
    • a woman breaks a glass bottle;

An arrangement of recurring images, inserted subconsciously as I assembled the rough draft.

What strikes me about this is not so much the fact that I have, once again, drawn upon this motif in my writing, but the effect it appears to have within this particular screenplay. Deciding to redraft the script from a purely visual perspective enabled me to engage with the story at a cinematic level, to redraft it with my mind's eye, as it were.

Cumulatively, these images of the woman and windows, mirrors, glass, build up into a composite portrait of a young woman trapped, struggling to break free. The image develops over time (Carroll 2001: 352) through repetition and variation, leaving a subliminal impression upon the viewer's imagination. The motif of 'window, mirror, glass' is being used as a way of prompting insight within the viewer, rather than stating it in language (Carroll 2001: 365).

After pondering the windows, mirrors, glass motif within Night Shift, I have discovered a meaning within the story that hadn't occurred to me as I was drafting the script: that Lanya is confined, hermetically sealed within her own glass bubble. She may feel safe within her bubble. But in the end, she must break the glass and set herself free.



CARROL, Noel. 2001. Beyond Aesthetics: Philosophical Essays. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Making a pitch video

We were set the task of recording a three minute pitch video for our screen concept, using the premise, character development and writer's statement for our project.

This was a very challenging task. Recording myself explaining the film concept was so different from what I had imagined it would be. I had incorrectly assumed that I could take passages from the premise and writer's statement, and assemble them into a concise pitch. But this resulted in a weak and incoherent presentation. I found it difficult to gather my thoughts and express them verbally. This made me question whether my approach was the right one. The failure of the first recording helped me realise that I needed to better understand my screen idea. So I went back over my screenwriting documents and revised them for greater clarity.

The breakthrough came after watching a fellow student's pitch video, in which she mentioned her influences. This was something I had overlooked in my own pitch. I thought about Kelly Reichardt's Wendy and Lucy and how the film's meditative style was influential in my own writing. Thinking about this gave me a greater insight into my own screen concept. Not only do I now have a broader context within which to articulate my screen idea, but I have also found a more personal way of communicating the dramatic potential of the film's concept.



REICHARDT, Kelly. 2009. Wendy and Lucy [film].

Second draft

Although rewriting the rough draft was has been a very challenging experience, it was a time in the screenwriting process when I saw myself as a 'screen-wright', crafting and shaping a script. I began to see the story take on a life and form of its own. It was also a time when I had to be sure to keep an open mind, and let the ideas come to me unhindered, as I read and re-read what I had written.

I started by printing off the script and looking at it as a separate object. As a text that exists outside my computer, away from the ease and temptation to delete lines and change words on the screen. I took time to sit down and read it, first as if I was the audience, then again making notes on the script, as I identified issues within the scenes that I felt needed addressing, such as scene headers, scene descriptions, characterisation, dialogue, scene structure, cinematic qualities, and so on.

I went back over the key plot points, and adjusted the end of act climaxes and turning points to create a stronger framework for the story. John Finnegan's webinar on deep structure and the 'Story Structure Masterclass' handout were particularly helpful here.

There were times during redrafting when I couldn't find satisfactory solutions to the problems I had identified within the script. The first act seemed to set up the world and tone of the story, and introduce the protagonist and the initial problem effectively, but the second and thirds acts were patchy and incomplete. I have also spent a lot of time this week worrying about fitting the plot points to a rigid structure. What seemed to work in both the treatment and the step outline has proven difficult to achieve while writing the actual screenplay.

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.