Tuesday, July 27, 2010

GameCityNights 6

So I seem to have been pretty steadily doing a new post every Monday, purely by accident (although last Monday's was deliberately aimed there), and I built up a backlog of stuff so that I'd always be ahead of the game and not fall behind. Until yesterday - I was out all day and had run out of reserve posts. But hey, what's a day between internet chums, eh internet chums??

Last Friday I went to the 6th GameCityNights event in Nottingham, which was brilliant fun. I was there with Charles Cecil (gaming overlord) and Anwen Aspden (BBC Interactive Exec Producer overlord - overlady?) to talk about Doctor Who: The Adventure Games. It went very well, and was the sort of place you could safely drop in a reference to the strange descriptive text you get in the Resident Evil games when examining items that are of no use.

Once the panel was over, I was given a massive cocktail called a TARDIS, which was very blue and tasty. And then they kept giving me more, helping me work my way through the menu (cocktail ingredients, pics and more details here). They had lots of local developers there to show off their stuff, including a really lovely game called Blind Girl. You play a blind girl (hence the name) who navigates around a series of weird environments using the sound waves from her footsteps, or from a song that she sings. It was great, and I hope they do a PS3 and/or iPhone version so I can give them money. At the moment it's available on Xbox Live Indie Games marketplace, so go and check it out if you can. I don't have links to the other games, due to a terrible memory, but if anyone wants me to link them up here, say the word and I'll update the post.

Thank you to everyone involved for being so welcoming and fun, and particularly to Chloe who got me *two* cocktails, and then poured me into a minicab once my brain had shut down. Oh, and sorry we couldn't really say anything about the next games, hopefully we'll be able to come back another time when one or both of them have been released. If you're in the area, or thinking of being in the area, go along to their events, you'll have a great time - check their website for details.

Monday, July 19, 2010

My backup process

About 15 years ago, I lost 4 pages of work due to a computer crash. It still hurts. It always will. Even though I can't actually remember what the hell it was, the point is, I lost that work and it was my fault for not saving often enough.

Never again.

I get baffled when I see, even now, fellow writers *still* losing work when it could be avoided. Sure, sometimes despite your best efforts, the technology will fail and take something from you. But you can try to limit the damage. So here's what I do. Obviously you all have your own methods, technology, your mileage may vary, etc etc. But this works for me. This is my rifle backup process. There are many like it, but this one is mine.

1: Create a new file, and SAVE IT IMMEDIATELY. Don't create a new file, start working for several hours, and then go "ah, better save my work so far". The computer or the software will know that you haven't saved, and will crash or explode. But if you have already named and saved it, you can just keep hitting Apple-S or Ctrl-S every few minutes as you go. My hand is trained to do so. I don't even realise I'm doing it anymore. I get palpitations when I see someone working on a large file called "Document 7" or whatever, indicating they haven't actually saved it yet. Save the file, save the world.

2: At the end of the work day, save the file one last time. If you're using screenwriting software, save it as a rich text file (.RTF) and as a PDF too, just in case the software stops working or the original file format gets corrupted. Sometimes I'll do this halfway through the day as well, if it's something I really, really, really don't want to lose.

3: Email the files you saved to a special Gmail account you have created just for backup. You get over 7GB of storage, which you'll probably never fill with documents. In the subject line, put the title, filename, draft number, and what page you are on. This will help you know what stage you were at, in the event you need to go looking for a copy. I usually put the draft number in the filename too.

4: The next day, copy the file (so you have a "Filename_copy" backup right there in the folder), start working, and repeat steps 2 and 3. Every day, you have a copy of the day's work sent to your Gmail backup, so you will have copies of *everything*.

5: Once a month, copy your entire user folder or documents folder to a portable hard drive. Do not use this drive for anything else.

6: Once every 6 months, copy your files to a different hard drive. Try to keep both drives in another location, or even in different parts of the house.

That's it. If your 6 monthly backup drive dies, you have your monthly backup drive. If that drive dies, you have a copy of every single day's work, and every single draft, in your backup Gmail account. The constant Apple-S or Ctrl-S and emailing the file to yourself means that if there's a crash, you should only ever lose a few minutes' work. Gmail is free, hard drives are fairly cheap. There's no reason to be careless. Update: I also use Dropbox as an extra layer of safety, and for accessing files on the move - it's free, has 2GB of storage, and when you copy a file into the special folder, it automatically syncs across any devices/browsers/computers you want to access it from. Very useful. That's not my referral link by the way, because it'd make it look like I was only mentioning it to get free extra space.

Obviously this won't help you if you accidentally delete or overwrite the file at the end of the day just before emailing it to yourself. So try not to do that. But even if you're taking a break for lunch, email a copy of the file to yourself, just in case. Or even any time you get a few pages done. Only takes a minute to email a copy to your backup Gmail account. Just get a copy of it somewhere away from your main computer, as soon as possible.

Yes, it's a little bit over cautious and obsessive, I admit. But hey, I'm a writer. Paranoia and constant fear go with the territory. Now go and back up your files! Quickly! Before something goes wrong!

Monday, July 12, 2010

First 10 pages, minor character names, and the Red Planet Prize

Okay, so the announcements that "should be coming soon" haven't actually arrived yet, but that's just the way of the world. You can never predict when they'll choose to announce stuff, the marketing strategies of big companies are run according to an arcane system of rune casting and entrail reading, by a blind sorcerer who lives in a cupboard. They have to check what other announcements they or other companies have got planned, so as not to be overshadowed. If they announce too early, they risk people getting bored and forgetting about it by the time it's released. Too late, and there's not enough time to build up a buzz. All of which means I have no news today. Don't blame me, blame the entrails.

Somebody was talking on The Twitter the other day about naming minor characters in scripts. The theory is, you can bring a bit of life to a tiny, two-line character, and make it a more enticing prospect for an actor - they'd much prefer to put "Jack 'Hammer' McTavish" on their list of credits instead of "Security guard 2", "Fat bloke", or "Idiot who falls over and shits his pants". So I try to name them when I can. Unless it's the opening 10 pages.

Why not there? Well, if it's a pilot episode, you've got enough new characters to introduce without confusing the issue. If you have your 4 or 5 main characters appearing and speaking, and another 4 or 5 named minor characters popping up with a line here and there, you risk overloading the reader with names to remember in the first few pages. They don't know which ones will be sticking around for the series yet. I don't like to do it, but when trying to grab someone's attention, I don't want to lose them. So I'll use Guard 1 or Shopkeeper, just so the reader knows who to focus on. Sure, your main characters should be fascinating and brilliant enough that it's *obvious* who to focus on. But sometimes, for the sake of clarity and not overloading the page with too much information, it's better to start this way. If that minor character is in the whole episode and part of the main plot, then of course they should be named. But not people who only pop up briefly in that opening section.

Once I've set everyone up in those first 10 pages - I want my main characters right there up front, to show them off - then I can give the minor characters names after that point. Hopefully by then I've done my job properly, and the reader will know who the main characters are and what they're all about. If the thing goes into production, then after it goes out to casting I'll give it a quick pass through and name everyone, as by then everyone will have read it. Even if it's episode 4 and your main characters are already set up, you'll have guest characters and a new story to introduce, so it's still better to keep those first 10 pages clear.

And yes, of course you shouldn't have to dumb anything down, the reader should have patience and stick with it and pay attention to your amazing multi-character story, why is the world so unfair blah blah blah - but it's only a small thing that I reckon makes a big difference. Works for me, your mileage may vary, etc etc. It's hard enough keeping someone's attention in those first 10 pages, and I'll do anything I can to avoid making it more difficult.

Speaking of the first 10 pages, the Red Planet Prize is up and running again, they want to see the first 10 pages of your TV script, and you need to enter it. No entry fee, first prize of £5000, a script commission, an agent, and some priceless mentoring from Red Planet and Kudos. Some runners up get the mentoring too, so it's well worth your time entering. Details are at Sir Daniel of Stackshire's blog here, and he's even written up some helpful tips here. Deadline is 31st July, which doesn't leave much time - but they only want the first 10 pages, and a one page outline of the series or episode. But you could be asked for the full 60 minute script by the end of August, so you still have time to get a script together. Danny's got all the rules and details on his blog - go and read, then get writing, if you haven't started already. Worst case scenario: you've written a brand new script. Go and hit that keyboard.

Monday, July 05, 2010


You've probably noticed that I've done a bit of a blog redecoration and cleanup. The sidebar was getting a bit dusty, and I've had the previous template for ages, so it was time to change things around, now that there are some lovely new templates available. Had no idea that Blogger now lets you create separate standalone pages, so there's now a Contact Details page. Oh, and there's a fancy new Twitter widget, replacing the simple link I had before. I'm sure everyone found out about these new Blogger things ages ago, but I'm a bit late to the party. Fashionably late, surely. But it's all good fun.

Hey, you know what else is fun?? Saying something tiny and vague on The Twitter about various cool news items, which people then misquote, deciding you said something else entirely so they can get all annoyed about it. That's *lots* of fun! Oh wait, no it's not fun at all, my mistake, it's a boring pain in the arse. For future reference: if you have an issue with something I've said, please make sure I actually said it before you respond, it's less confusing that way. You know, if it's not too much trouble. Thanks! Love you! Well, most of you! And I look forward to finding out how this paragraph means I hate Albanian joggers, or something.

There should be some announcements soon, as things I've worked on start coming together. Keep watching the skies! Well, keep watching the blog, as the announcements will be here, and not in the skies. Otherwise it'd cost a fortune in skywriting.

Friday, July 02, 2010

TV Writers' Festival

Just heading back home from the TV Writers' Festival, which was incredibly helpful and energising. Speakers included Tony Marchant, Jack Thorne, Lizzy Mickery, Polly Hill, Ben Stephenson, and loads more, and the panels were just what I was hoping for, with people I'm in awe of. I remember when I first saw Holding On, and Common As Muck, and still wish I could do something like that. Very inspiring, though it had the effect of making me want to run off and get writing, so probably good that it was only a 2 day event. Only downside for me was missing a couple of panels I really wanted to see, several brilliant things were scheduled at the same time, resulting in some tough choices. Maybe next time it could be longer, without the double sessions. But being spoilt for choice isn't a terrible complaint, it was such a great event. Great to see what must have been a 50/50 male/female ratio in attendees, too, which can only be a good thing for the future of the industry.

Also met loads of fellow writers, some I've met before, some I haven't. All were absolutely lovely and fun to be around. Except that Arnopp chap, he's a right troublemaker- he stabbed three people just for asking him if he wanted tea. Very bad form.

I won't do loads of notes about each session, as I'm sure lots of people will post their own, proper reports online - but I'll link to any good ones I find. If you didn't go, I highly recommend getting along to the next one, it's an extremely valuable event and I'm hugely grateful to all involved for putting it on. Special mention to Mr Stephenson, for not only turning up, but staying with us the whole time, being accessible, and conducting lots of panels brilliantly. The man is clearly committed to and passionate about writers and drama, and I was really surprised and pleased to see him getting properly stuck in.

Update: David Bishop has a superb collection of links to writeups about the event here, which is well worth a read.