What I learnt from Manon Eames…
It has been suggested that, as new writers, it is highly likely that our first commission will come in the form of an adaptation. Thankfully, at the last Scriptwriting Weekend in December, we were fortunate enough to be visited by Manon Eames, an experienced freelance writer who’s adaptations of work into Welsh from English and French have gained her critical acclaim.
For those who do not know, Manon Eames, Manon Eames has worked in TV, Film and Theatre. Her CV includes work for Pobol y Cwm and a stage adaptation of ‘Rape of the Fair Country’ from a novel originally written by Alexander Cordell.
During the weekend, Manon talked us through the methods she employs when adapting.
1) Before you do anything, speed read the source material. Don’t think about adapting it but mark the points which make you turn the page and stick out.
2) Read the source material carefully the second time and make lots of notes on the characters and major points in your version. From this, create a map/bible of the book and consider the major characters and how you might reduce the number.
Manon’s bible includes, firstly, includes a timeline of the major moments which leads to the development of a table breaking down what happens in each chapter and includes notes on which characters appear, the locations used and a synopsis.
Once the full chapter break down has been developed, a table breaking down each characters timeline including their history and journey within the source material as well as notes on any alterations.
Next comes, another table, which focuses on the structure and organises the adaptation by event including times, locations, characters and notes.
Having a well developed bible will make life easier when the networks suddenly increase or decrease the number of episodes after you’ve already worked out the structure.
3) Thirdly, consider how you will make the adaptation original. It needs to be fresh, exciting and watchable.
Identifying the protagonist, genre and themes can help with this. As well as giving all of the characters a motive (which will create stronger three-dimensional characters and as a result, good conflict) and creating information to fill in any holes.
Question where it will be based and consider the cultural context.
4) Fourthly, decide which medium your story fits and the structure that fits the medium.
Most of all Manon stressed that knowing the source material back to front will make the adaptation process simpler further down the line. But in order to get there, make sure to consider the story, medium, audience, brief, budget and market before you even write a word.
Manon kindly spent an entire morning talking about her experience in the industry and lessons she has learnt. She gave us so many brilliant tips which will be of great use to us while we develop our own adaptations.
- When adapting for TV, break each hour into three. Watch for the gaps – bits that suddenly drop off. Develop those grains which are hinted at but never shown and ensure that all characters have a dramatic presence.
- Furthermore, pay attention to the individual voices of the characters; they all have their own patterns of speech. A strongly developed character can drive a story and keep audiences engaged.
- As a general rule, Manon allows six months to complete all pre-development. And in the process, she has found it useful to look at the author/creator’s other works. You might find something that crosses over and shed light on those holes.
- Don’t fix something that isn’t broken. Stick to what it is at the start but make it better.
- Good drama is inevitable, not predictable. Always think structure and twists through carefully. Question why that particular action or reveal is good. Manon suggested that Happy Valley is a prefect example of a good inevitable drama.
- Structure carries drama not story or dialogue.
- Curiosity, Mystery, Suspense. The three most important tools to engage and maintain an audience.
Manon offered some advise on selling an adaptation and developing our careers. She stressed that we, ourselves, need to be adaptable. I took this to mean that we should not limit ourselves to just one medium but consider every possible outlet for our creativity.
In selling an adaptation, Manon stated that, before contacting anyone, ensure that you know what your adaptation is about, why you’re telling that story now, what makes it contemporary and who it is for. These are the questions that a producer will want answered immediately.
In developing our careers, Manon stressed the importance of getting contracts vetted and suggested that joining the Writers Guild would be the best option for new writers without agents. However, should you wish to look for an agent, expect them to ask for a calling card script and, depending on whether your focus is comedy, drama or both, have a 30-60 minute original TV script prepared ahead of time.
To end our workshop, Manon gave us some exercises to work on at home which will help us develop our adaptations and future ideas.
The first exercise involves asking questions. Start with a sentence- “A girl goes into a shop.” Using words such as ‘if only’, ‘meanwhile’, ‘however’, ‘but’ and ‘what if’ develop the story by questioning what happens next.
The second exercise focused on developing an adaptation, for the session it was Little Red Riding Hood specifically. However, with any source material in mind, decide the medium, the protagonist, the point of view, the number of characters and the budget. Then create a pitch explaining why the story needs to be told now. I assume the aim here is to cement your own understanding of your goals and reasoning before you approach a producer with the idea.
All in all it was a highly insightful session that provided me with a lot of information which will be extremely useful as I develop my own adaptation of The Little Mermaid.