At the recent first weekend of this year’s Channel 4 screenwriting course, screenwriter & novelist RONAN BENNETT (Top Boy, Hidden, Rebel Heart, Public Enemies) talking about the vital importance and centrality of STORY, made reference to the script of TOY STORY 1 as a touchstone for screenplay story-telling.

This was something I really related to from my experience of reading and assessing scripts. I read a vast number of scripts – and particularly recently so many really outstanding scripts for the Channel 4 screenwriting course.

I’ve thought a lot about what made the 12 scripts that we chose to have on the course stand out – and I think it comes down to two things – a big, strong idea that’s at the heart of the script; and an ability to tell a story that keeps you hooked. And the two are very much linked. So many of the good stories work for me because they have a fascinating idea at their core.

So, for instance, among the successful scripts for this year’s Channel 4 course –

– a story about asexuality, based around two couples in each of which one of the partners is asexual. This was a fascinating idea – how some people have no sexual instincts at all, and how this deeply and often tragically affects their lives and relationships.

– a play about an aging male working-class Londoner, a lifelong Labour supporter who finds himself seduced by the promises of the BNP.

– a rom-com about a single career woman who decides to invite tenders from her male friends when she decides she wants to have a baby; and once she gets pregnant, falls in love with someone else altogether.

– a screenplay about two kids, aged 5 and 7, left in South East London to fend themselves for two weeks while their mother goes on holiday to Thailand.

– a radio play about a publishing company who discover a brilliant ‘misery memoir’ by an Afghan woman, decide to publish it to a fanfare of publicity – only to discover that the ‘Afghan woman’ doesn’t exist and the story is a fabrication.

I think it’s fair to say that all 12 scripts selected had at their heart strong ideas such as those above – they are all easy to pitch and instantly engaging as ideas. Of course the brilliance of the execution in each case matched the strength of the basic idea. But it seems to me that if you have a good idea, it’s a whole lot easier to write a good script.

So often, it’s less about the writing and more about WHAT you’re writing about. Sometimes, however good the writing is, if the idea isn’t also a really strong idea, a script still doesn’t fully come alive.

Which reinforces for me the usefulness and importance of being able as writers to pitch your ideas.

Oh yes, and one more thing that most of the scripts had – a sense of humour. Scripts that make me laugh are quite rare and strong comic moments are a huge plus.

Good luck with all your writing!

All the best


Phil Shelley

February 3rd 2012