Painting with Words

On Friday May 29 a group of Chelsea Young Writers attended a 3-hour workshop of script-writing with writer/director Paul Bryers.

Here is Paul’s account on his workshop.

All too often the process of writing fiction creates a block. You imagine describing something. You see a picture in your mind, but when you want to write it down the words just won’t come. The blank page or screen becomes a barrier.
Quite often I find writing directions for a scene in a film or play overcomes this problem. Perhaps it’s the use of the present tense; perhaps it’s the sense that you are talking to someone else – someone like the camera operator or the actor. Talking directly on the page.

So what was exciting for me was that the students started writing almost immediately – there was no staring into space, no fidgeting, no pained expressions – they just went for it – words on paper. Great!
Because this was a first time for most of them, we went for a story they all knew – Little Red Riding Hood. I showed them a powerpoint with all the visuals and they wrote the stage/camera directions. Interestingly, most of them went for camera as opposed to stage.

They were brilliant descriptions – and what really impressed me was that they often went for mood and atmosphere – and lighting. The lighting cameraman I work with most calls this Painting with Light. You could call writing the camera directions, Painting with Words.
Dialogue – different matter entirely. Dialogue can be very, very difficult. How to give a character words that sound real – that you can really believe come from the mouth of the character you are writing about – and at the same time move the plot along.

We didn’t have a great deal of time for this but most of the students showed great promise. Some of them chose to write as a team when they can bounce words off each other. Again, while the quality varied, the words seemed to flow onto the page.
Finally, the students took turns filming the scene where Red, as most of them called her, enters her Grandmother’s Cottage. One student would play Red, another would track her into the cottage by walking backwards with the camera, another student would guide the camera operator (so they didn’t knock over the furniture – it was a very crowded room!). The results I think were excellent – both in the acting and the camera work. I just wish we’d had more time to shoot outside, when we might have tackled the forest.

I think of all the things that impressed me, what impressed most was their grasp of how to use camera directions to express mood – the close up of a wolf’s ‘golden’ eye through foliage, the cut from a cottage interior to the wild forest, the point of view of an unknown figure lurking among the trees as the young girl approaches down a path.

Great kids, great session, I hope we do more.

Paul Bryers is a CYW author-in-residence. He is a director and writer whose dramas and documentaries for the BBC, Channel Four, PBS and the Discovery Channel have won major awards in the US and UK. He began writing for younger readers five years ago, and his first novel, Kobal, was long-listed for the Waterstone’s Children’s Book of the Year award. He has since written three more novels for readers aged 9-12, the most recent of which – Spooked: The Haunting of Kit Connelly – published by Hodder in August, 2013 and has been recently shortlisted by the wonderful librarians of Lambeth for the prestigious Lambeth Phoenix Book Award. Paul also writes adult fiction under the name Seth Hunter and has won a Best First Novel award from the Arts council. A graduate of Southampton University, he also teaches creative writing to MA students at Bath Spa and Winchester universities. His books are available on Amazon and you can follow him on Twitter.


Paul Bryers
Paul Bryers