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Making your characters sing

on Jun13 2017

It’s been a good writing day today. I’ve been working through sections of my Mary Rose play asking questions of each scene. For example, what’s the point of this? Who is leading the action? Who is making a decision?

That’s quite difficult to do – the first time I did it for a piece of writing I nearly cried as I couldn’t answer myself. Now I know the questions are coming,  I am ruthless about cutting as I write, so theoretically the answers should come quicker.

But I was surprised today to find that the central story has moved to a secondary character, and not the character I thought it belonged too. So this means a whole night of pondering if I like this development, if I need to change it back, if I need to develop this further.

I think that this has happened because I’ve ignored my number one rule of having a tight plot structure before I started. Rules were meant to be broken right?

These characters though, they’re tricky.

I learnt today that two of them are distant cousins. I hadn’t seen that coming, but it explains their bickering. I also learnt my protagonist has a hobby that I hadn’t dreamt of, and my antagonist can make me cry. I think this means they’re working well.

How should you go about checking out that your characters work?

There’s no simple fix, and there’s also a million articles and blogs online that’ll offer advice.

Here are a couple of my check points which I’ve picked up from all over the internet, workshops and my own head:

  • Do they speak with their own words and pattern?
    (As in, they don’ all sound the same)
  • Do they have a life before and after the play?
    (Working out what they do at other times of the day gives you a better idea of who they are)
  • What would have happened to them today if this plot hadn’t dropped on top of them?
    (Are they the type of person who will create drama, or will drama find them?)
  • What do they value?
    (Do they hang out with people who tell the truth, or have money, or   . . . what?)
  • How do they respond to people who are not like them?
    (I forgive some people who annoy me, others I don’t. It’s to do with whether they ft into my value systems.)
  • Is their best friend more interesting than them?
    (I always felt the Harry Potter books would have been even better as a Hermione Granger or Ron Weasley series)
  • What happens if their sex is flipped, are they still believable?
    (This is a super technique to see if you’re writing stereotypical tosh. Trust me, it works. Make females male, and males female. Ouch.)
  • And finally, can their name change?
    (If it can’t, if they have to be that name, I know my job is done.)

Let me know if these are useful to you! And, once again, thank you Arts Council for making this happen!

 

 

 

Lovely lists

on Dec13 2016

I’m not talking about shopping . . .  I am talking about writerly things.

Long list – long wait.

I have been long listed for Theatre Fest West’s playwright award. I had to send in twenty pages, and then wait ages, and was then told I was long-listed. Yah! This meant I had to send in the remainder of the play for perusal. I don’t know how many plays are on the long list. When I entered I wanted to be long-listed, that was my objective. And now? I desperately want to be shortlisted. Those that do – a mere three – get to work with a director and actors for a day and prepare the piece for a rehearsed reading. How cool would that be? Then the winner gets their show staged at Salisbury Playhouse.  So now I want to be shortlisted – but am not holding out much hope. I used tonnes of swear words as it is about relational aggression and teenagers. After working at a senior school for a few years, I heard it all. It can be horrible. Really tough. And also rather wonderful. But the question is, will the audiences of Salisbury be ready for my language. Hmm. We’ll have to wait and see. But I hope so. And I really hope I find out soon (if it’s a yes!).

Select few – short wait

I applied for a writer in residency role recently. And, brilliantly, I received an email today inviting me, as one of a select few, to an interview next week. I have to prepare a proposal of what I’d do if I am successful. I’ve just written pages and pages of ideas down and realised that I’ve planned out a full-time role rather than a residency. I can’t help myself, I’m super excited.

Auditions – Ambition

Then there’s the list of the people auditioning for Ambition – that’s the musical I was commissioned to write for Hampshire Music Service. Those auditions are next week.

Christmas – Santa and more

We all know what those are!

To get back to my home page, all you need do is cross your fingers and toes that Zella Compton gets on even shorter lists!

 

 

 

AMBITION – the most exciting project EVER !!!!!!!!

on Dec1 2016

I’m not really one for exclamation marks, but I am so excited about this project.

AMBITION has long been one of my ambitions.

(To write an all singing, all dancing, all shiny as you like, musical.)

Hampshire Music Service commissioned me to write a musical. I’ve been working on the book – that’s what the script part is called – since early 2016. I then met with a composer who works for HMS, called David Cefai. When we started working together (the day of the leave the EU vote), David had tremendously long dreadlocks. Then one day he turned up with them all shorn off. That was quite surreal, luckily he didn’t lose his musical strength (that’s a reference to Samson there, in case you don’t get it!).

Working with a composer

David and I worked together, I gave him outline lyrics, he composed. Some of the songs I have an original idea sound files for – when I was writing the lyrics the tunes popped in my head (I’ll try to figure out how to upload those – they’re truly awful). David made sense of them, and created other tunes, and made a magical score. He tweaked the lyrics to fit the music and introduced me to concepts such as the middle eight. I’ve always been in awe of people who can hear a tune and then play it, and sing to it, and make it better. It’s an amazing skill, and David would switch between instruments as he worked. Sometimes we made a chorus and then he’d send me a sound file of the verse later, sometimes we edited lyrics to fit, sometimes we argued, mostly we laughed.

Writing lyrics

That’s been a strange journey as I’ve never written song lyrics before. I have written poetry though, and I could feel the similarities. I learnt from David that you need to focus strongly on the idea behind the song, which was very hard for me to do as I like to to tell stories in my poetry – as I did in my original lyrics. Lots of my lyrics got cut, and that’s fine. As you work on projects it’s really important to edit, and reshape and stand-back and work out what really works, and what is vanity.

Workshops

I’ve run a couple of workshops with the book, and one with David for the music. I think that’s really important as a creator, to share your work, and listen to honest feedback. If it’s slow, or doesn’t make sense, or difficult in another way, sharing your work helps ease out those sticky moments. And you also learn what does work, where the laughs come, where the characters have emotional resonance, where your writing has hit the spot.

The plot

Ambition is about a boy band and its management. It’s a year in the life. I think it will resonate with audiences, we’re all well versed in this type of story about manufactured pop. But, Ambition is deeper than that – it asks what you’d give up for your ambition? This is an interesting topic especially in the new political environment in which we find ourselves.

Want to be involved?

There is just a whisker of time left for young performers to apply to audition (until Sunday 11th Dec). Search facebook for Musical Theatre Project: Hampshire Music Service, to find out the details. Or, put the dates in your diary to come and see it Spring 2017. 12 May, Berry Theatre, Hedge End. 13 May, New Theatre Royal, Portsmouth.

To get back to my website, click Zella’s ambition came true!

Endorsement for feedback (amazing!)

on Oct18 2016

Look at what the editor in chief of Portsmouth’s Star & Crescent said about my feedback:

Zella worked with me on a piece of creative memoir – The Monster Beneath, subsequently published in the Arts Council funded Portsmouth Fairy Tales for Grown Ups – exploring a childhood experience of domestic violence in my family. This was the first time I had worked on such a personal piece of writing and Zella’s feedback was invaluable, both personally and professionally.

Zella has a pragmatic but creative approach and understood with great intuition and clarity what I was trying to achieve with the piece. She helped me to draw out the major themes, and to amend the style to make the story more accessible to the reader, emotionally and in terms of understanding the timeline. Most importantly, Zella acted as a clear critical voice that didn’t flinch from providing me with honest critique from a reader’s perspective, whilst maintaining a highly sensitive and practical understanding of the technical side of rewriting and editing.

Zella understands the importance for writers of honouring an original artistic vision while never losing sight of the most crucial element of writing – the ability to speak to a broad audience. She brings a vast range of her own professional writing experiences to the table – including as a playwright, a short story writer and a columnist – and I won’t hesitate to bring my next important piece of work to her.

Sarah Cheverton, Freelance writer and researcher, and Editor in Chief, Star & Crescent.

I can’t stop blushing. Terrific. If you are interested in developing your writing, drop me a line.

Feedback Services

on Oct14 2016

Find out about your writing strengths, and how you can develop.

Enjoy clear, detailed, practical written feedback on your writing, from experienced author, playwright, freelance writer and columnist: Zella Compton.

“Zella’s feedback is honest, constructive, incisive and extremely useful.” Diana Bretherwick.

Whether you’re desperate to submit, and unsure if it’s ready; getting repeatedly rejected and not sure why; or simply want a bit of general feedback, you’ll discover more about your writing.

“Zella knows the nuts and bolts of storytelling inside out and upside down, and clearly shares those nuggets of information that can make all the difference to good writing.” Esther Harris.

The feedback looks at what’s brilliant in your manuscript and how to polish the other parts. It’ll consider your characters, structure, pace, style and more, and offer practical suggestions to get it all ready for submission.

Make the most of 2016 prices by booking your draft’s slot today. Email zellabcompton@hotmail.com ASAP as spaces for new clients are limited.

2016 prices are as follows:

  • To read and comment on first three pages and one page synopsis: £30
  • To read and comment on first three pages and one page synopsis, and look at plot development in first 30 pages: £50
  • One – to – one mentoring by application.

“As a published author and playwright, I have been through the editing process many times. I equally hate and love every minute of it – and I’ve learnt so much along the way which applies to all genres. This is knowledge I use to help get your work into excellent condition. I am a multi-published, and internationally produced, playwright. This means I look for the visual in your writing, and where the heart of the scene is, and how action is progressing. I can help you find your focus, and push your story forward in a tight manner. I am a university lecturer and teach creative writing at schools via Authors Abroad Agency. I will work with you based on what you need, and structure feedback / techniques to get the best out of your writing.”

There’s no reason to wait, email me at zellabcompton@hotmail.com  to find out more.

(And if you noticed I’ve posted this twice? Well, I am great at feedback, not so hot at posting.)

Feedback Services

on Oct14 2016

Find out about your writing strengths, and what you can do to develop.

Enjoy clear, detailed, practical written feedback on your writing, from experienced author, playwright, freelance writer and columnist: Zella Compton.

“Zella’s feedback is honest, constructive, incisive and extremely useful.” Diana Bretherwick.

Whether you’re desperate to submit, and unsure if it’s ready; getting repeatedly rejected and not sure why; or simply want a bit of general feedback, you’ll discover more about your writing.

“Zella knows the nuts and bolts of storytelling inside out and upside down, and clearly shares those nuggets of information that can make all the difference to good writing.” Esther Harris.

The feedback looks at what’s brilliant in your manuscript and how to polish the other parts. It’ll consider your characters, structure, pace, style and more, and offer practical suggestions to get it all ready for submission.

Make the most of 2016 prices by booking your draft’s slot today. Email zellabcompton@hotmail.com ASAP as spaces for new clients are limited.

2016 prices are as follows:

  • To read and comment on first three pages and one page synopsis: £30
  • To read and comment on first three pages and one page synopsis, and look at plot development in first 30 pages: £50
  • One – to – one mentoring by application.

“As a published author and playwright, I have been through the editing process many times. I equally hate and love every minute of it – and I’ve learnt so much along the way which applies to all genres. This is knowledge I use to help get your work into excellent condition. I am a multi-published, and internationally produced, playwright. This means I look for the visual in your writing, and where the heart of the scene is, and how action is progressing. I can help you find your focus, and push your story forward in a tight manner. I am a university lecturer and teach creative writing at schools via Authors Abroad Agency. I will work with you based on what you need, and structure feedback / techniques to get the best out of your writing.”

There’s no reason to wait, email me at zellabcompton@hotmail.com  to find out more.

Spamalot

on Feb14 2016

I went to see Spamalot last night – by the Portsmouth Players at the Kings Theatre, Southsea. Loved the first act, thought the second was poorly written (which is NOT a reflection on the cast). I won’t say any more now as I have written my column about it for the Portsmouth News.

More about Girl in the Hood (for you Holy Trinity!)

on Mar24 2015

I wrote Girl in the Hood (GITH) because I had set-up a story-telling festival. The theme the festival was updated fairy tales, and I’d asked all the acts to write new pieces. Thus, I had to write something myself.  The play was originally a monologue which I performed, seated. My wonderful friend and dance teacher worked with me on pace, and gesture so that I could portray all the characters in a manner suitable for the audience (which, aside from 100 or so strangers, included my children, husband and parents. Nerve wracking or what?).

I’ve always been taken with the idea of Red. It’s the cloak. There’s something very gallant about Red, dashing, risqué. And who would wear their fine coat through the forest?  Only someone with rebellion on their mind. But I have never liked the multiple endings where Red is always saved by a man.

Girls kick-ass

It’s a constant given that women are rescued by men, isn’t it? That was the background to my childhood. It took me into my teens to realise that women can – and mostly do – look after themselves. (I worked in Greece in my late teens. One night a friend, a tiny, Swedish girl who looked like she belonged in Middle Earth with the Elves, walked home drunk. She was an easy target. Petit, off her head, alone. A man attacked her, he ended up in hospital. Not because she was rescued by a handsome stranger who just happened by at that moment, no, the attacker ended up in hospital because the petit Swede was also a martial arts champion. Girls: learn to defend yourselves. Boys: don’t rape.)

When I set about writing Red I wanted to keep the traditional structure – ignoring mother’s advice, being alone in a dangerous place, the consequences of choice, but dealing with the situation on her own terms.  I also really liked the challenge of representing three generations of females in a family. The grandmother, in a gated community / care home yet expecting her bottle of sherry, the mum sitting on the sofa watching telly (albeit we meet her very briefly), and Red  . . . sent out on her nightly errand.

Make them squirm

More than this, I challenged myself to build a well-known plot, in its traditional sequence, but keep people on the edge of their seats. I wanted the audience to be there, on the streets, panicking at the buzzer, in the darkened room. To know what was coming (mostly), but still to care. And then to show them that Red could do what she does, that her Grandmother wished her to do the final deed. So women – whatever their age – are forgiving, and violent, and brave, and clever, and stupid and every other word that you can think of because we are amazing individuals and should never be constrained by characters in a fairy story – into old, ugly, evil hags, or beautiful, innocent, good princesses.

Break a leg all you wonderful GCSE-ers.

To get back to my website, all you need to do is click on I’m a feminist because I believe in equal opportunities for men and women. Mind you, the front page is rather out of date, so maybe you’d be better off reading through other posts instead.

2015 – the year to write more than ten posts

on Jan18 2015

Everything that I read – albeit admittedly on the web – tells me that I should have a web presence, that I should harness social media.  I need to market myself more, be in touch, bla bla bla.

Which is why I set up this website, but I am completely lax at getting on with it and writing anything. Putting my life into my column is where I get rid of the funny bits and also my rants (there has been a distinct lean towards feminism this year), so when it comes to writing this, I run out of steam.

But I am going to make more of an effort than I did last year. So here are some bits and pieces which I should have said:

Five Beaches – my D-Day play debuted at the D-Day Museum in Portsmouth before touring the local community. It was directed by Helen Jones and the cast was drawn from boys across all year groups at Bay House School, Gosport. It was amazing. I cried during every performance, and so did the audiences. The emotional connection that people had with the show was astounding. Since then the cast have been asked to perform at three other events in 2015. I will endeavour to note the dates on here.

Writer in Residence – Havant Literary Festival. What a wicked week. I met some very interesting people – students and community – and ran some great workshops with very impressive outcomes. I truly enjoyed my time there, especially being on a panel and talking shop with other authors. A particular highlight was seeing Propeller Theatre’s performance of Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Writer in Residence – Bay House School. This was – and is – great fun. Two productions in, we’ve managed to raise a great deal of money for the performing arts department (used to help build more community projects) and had so much fun doing it. I’ve also been working with the A Level students on their devised projects . . . I can’t wait for that to develop.

Plays – having five plays published last year meant so much to me, validation of my work. Mostly used for GCSE students, it’s been interesting receiving emails and answering extremely varied questions about ideas and productions. I am now working on two commissions – another reason I so rarely come to my diary and diarise!

Lecturing – wow – what a blast. Never knew I would love it so much, especially being back at my old Uni. Such bright, engaging minds. Love it!

And now I have run out of time to write any more. My husband has appeared and suggested going out for pizza for tea. Hooray. That’s a plan. Be back soon . . .

Havant Literary Festival – writer in residence?

on Sep23 2014

Oh yes, that’s me!

I am super excited to be the writer in residence at a literary festival – even though I do struggle to spell literary (and to say it!).

As well as meeting some interesting people at my one-to-ones, I will be hosting a session on writing yourself out of a rut. Then there are school visits a plenty. But what I am really really looking forward to is meeting / attending other events.

I was involved in the festival last year and had a marvellous time learning about other writers, and watching plays in pub gardens (I particularly enjoyed that!).

If you’re in the area and fancy seeing what’s on, there’s loads of information to be had by sneaking a peak at facebook and searching for Havant Literary Festival.

If you do make it, please come and say ‘hello’.

 

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