Red Planet Prize: Original Voice

The Red Planet Prize is now open for submissions (deadline Friday 22nd January 2016). The Prize is one of the best TV writing opportunities out there, and it’s free to enter. Here’s the 4th of my top 5 tips for submitting the first ten pages of your script to the competition (the 1st tip, ‘Core Concept’, is here; the 2nd tip, ‘The Opening Scenes’, is here; the 3rd tip, ‘Set Up Vs Story’ is here).

4. Original Voice

There are many elements that determine a screenwriter’s original voice, e.g. the style of scene description, the originality of characters, the way the characters speak (or if the dialogue has a certain slant), the setting, the script’s premise and/or theme. In the first ten pages of a script, the writer’s original voice will become apparent by the way they’re presenting the storytelling detail (the scene description, character introductions, and story set up).

A lot of scripts feel and read very samey, and don’t particularly stand out. But when a writer has an original voice (and a particular talent for screenwriting), the script will usually have a sense of immediacy with the action and detail, and draw the reader into the world of the story with ease rather than just dumping plain information on the page that the reader struggles to process.

In the previous tip, Set Up Vs Story, I referred to Toby Whithouse’s script for The Game (read it here). I love the immediacy of action and detail. The first line of the script, “She walks ahead of us”, is such a grabbing opening in script terms (and deftly subverts the tendency of describing scene description with ‘We see’). The action then unfolds in a visual and direct manner; Toby Whithouse is being a storyteller right from the get-go rather than boring the reader with alarm calls, dream sequences or someone on their way to work.

Tony Jordan has always said that he could watch an episode of EastEnders and know who wrote it without seeing the writer’s credit. This is because he can recognise the writer’s original voice; the dark but humorous nature of Sarah Phelps, the emotional insight of James Payne, or the distinctive style of Simon Ashdown, and so on.

Put simply, your original voice is the way you (and only YOU can) tell the story. If you can start your script with a clear sense of pace, story and setting whilst creating interest and/or humour, then your original voice will easily stand out amongst the pile.

In the last few tips, I’ve mentioned pace and interest a lot, but that’s the next and final tip, coming next week.

Previous tips:

Core Concept, The Opening Scenes, Set Up Vs Story

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