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Imagine you had a germ of an idea about a world.
their lives, their triumphs, their struggles, their stories.
Imagine that your idea grew and grew and one day exploded into life,
hitting living rooms everywhere,
captivating audiences of up to 30 million viewers for 27 years.
I'm going to take you on a step-by-step guide
of how to write for Walford,
from creating characters and a world
to making your words leap off the page and onto TV screens everywhere.
Here at EastEnders we've all had our share of cracking storylines.
I'm going to let the writers, directors and actors
let you in on their secrets.
First up, what makes a gripping story?
I think the first thing about a great story is a great character.
They say that character is action, character is drama and it's true.
-This doesn't hurt?
You just put two really good characters in a room...
-Don't need to see a doctor?
..and you have drama, instantly.
-OK, what do you want?
It's emotional content at the end of the day that really counts.
It's not events.
Where you are moved are the things that you remember for ever.
You have to fall in love with your character
to care about what happens to them and what they're going to do.
Without a connection to the character,
it won't matter what they do -
hanging off a cliff edge, you won't care.
If you don't care about them, again, the story's dead.
So what are the other elements of great drama?
Characters need a desire, which they pursue,
that's what a story is - a character pursuing a goal.
MAN CHASING YELLS Get out of the way!
The essence of a story is a character in pursuit of a goal,
overcoming obstacles to try and achieve it.
-Where is it?
-I already told you, I don't have it.
Don't lie to me, I know you're lying.
All drama's got to have a good amount of conflict.
-Get out the way.
-Out the way!
-Come on. Looking for a fight?
All right, all right.
'They may be obstacles of circumstance, they may be an antagonist,'
someone who wants that person not to get that goal.
It can be all kinds of things.
Didn't I never tell ya? You don't...hit...girls.
Throughout this documentary,
we'll be joining EastEnders writer Daisy Coulam.
She's kept a video diary of her experiences.
She has 14 days in which to complete her scripts.
Hello, my name's Daisy. I'm a writer for EastEnders
and this is my video diary.
I'm presently writing two scripts.
I'm sending them in...this morning.
Three weeks ago, I got a document called the storyline document
Hopefully, you can't read it cos it's top-secret.
So I've taken these, this storyline, we've had a meeting
and then I've had three weeks to write that up into episodes.
I think this is the most nerve-racking point because...
..I basically won't hear from them for a week now.
Fingers crossed that they like it. OK, bye.
The BBC has defended the baby swap storyline
in the Christmas EastEnders
following nearly 6,000 complaints from viewers.
One of our most famous storylines definitely got the nation talking.
Love it or hate it,
it's a brilliant example of what makes a compelling story.
'The great thing about the baby swap storyline was
'it was pitched in a room'
of 30 professionals say,
and everyone fell silent for about ten seconds
and a lot of people were thinking of ways not to make it happen
and I was sitting there going,
"You've got to make this happen, cos this is talk-about TV.
"This is the TV that divides the sofa."
'The only person it could happen to
'in the history of EastEnders, I think, is Ronnie Mitchell.'
At 14 or 15 she had to give away a child,
her dad Archie made her do that.
She later found that child
only to have the poor kid run over in front of her eyes.
She then got pregnant, her dad pushed her, she had a miscarriage.
She's always been a mother figure to her sister Roxy
'so there's obviously something about her that says,
'"I just want to be a mum."'
And finally, we gave her that baby, and we thought, "Happy ever after?"
'Ronnie was a tough character to crack
'and I felt she needed a push over the edge
'and she got that push and it led her to do something'
but I empathised and I understood,
and the fact that I emphasised with her
shows that she was written perfectly.
The one person that could do a baby swap story
'is sadly, Ronnie Mitchell
'and that's three or four years of planning'
that comes about in a fantastic moment.
You will find the roots of pretty much every story in fairy tales,
if you look closely enough.
The best advice I give to anybody -
apart from read Shakespeare - is read fairy tales
because that stuff is the lifeblood of all storytelling.
And it's very, very easy to transpose Jack And The Beanstalk
into a tale of drug dealing in Hackney if you put your mind to it.
And it's an exercise I give writers I train all the time,
let's go back to, I give them each a fairy tale,
and say, "OK, your job over the next few weeks
"is to turn this into a modern-day story."
Jack And The Giant Beanstalk?
I mean, basically, he goes up, murders a giant,
steals a golden thing, comes back and he's a hero.
I mean, that... That's twisted, isn't it?
So if you put that into EastEnders I'm sure that'd be Derek.
I think I was lying before
when I said that the most nerve-racking bit
is sending your script in.
I now think the most nerve-racking bit is getting notes,
so I'm just going to open the e-mail.
If you've got seven or eight pages of notes then you start worrying
cos you think, "Oh, God, they don't like it very much!"
So I judge it on length and also...
Oh, we'll see. We'll just have a look.
Compelling storylines kept EastEnders at the forefront
of essential serial drama on TV,
but that wasn't enough.
EastEnders didn't feel like home to me,
it didn't feel like it was in the same area.
This neighbourhood has gone to pot!
I felt that it was a bit old, a bit older than us.
Even though they had a few young characters,
I still felt my mum loves this more than I do
and my mum lives here and I don't.
So the BBC decided to create something new.
E20 is an online drama series centred around four young people
seeking shelter in Walford.
E20 was a great idea to try and give access to our series
to a much younger audience
and to also try and reflect what's happening actually in London
or the East End right now.
Suddenly, that becomes a huge opportunity for fun
so we join a group of characters who don't know who Peggy Mitchell is,
or don't know who Ian Beale is.
It's an opportunity to see those characters through fresh eyes.
Any world you create must be authentic,
so how did the E20 scriptwriters ensure this?
I think there's a stereotype with youth in London
where it's got to be knives or guns or it's not good or it's not real.
But as someone who's lived in the East End for...15 years,
I've never in my life seen someone get shot or get stabbed.
We're kids who have problems with boys and girls and food.
You know, there's more to being young in London
than crime and violence.
It's all about writing what you know.
So get out there and experience that world. Go on, go!
'I think you've got to be an observer,
'to be able to watch people without looking scary or evil,
'to watch people and just understand the reasons behind someone doing something.'
'I'm not from the East End.'
'We were so sly, we went around Stratford...'
'And around the East End...'
'And listened in on people like spies, it was cool...!
'But sometimes when you're writing you forget what's real.'
'And just the stuff which you'd get was amazing.
'There was a guy handing out Bible leaflets,
'another guy with Koran leaflets'
and they were having a full-on argument.
It's not a conscious thing,
when you're out and you're talking to people you log everything
'and you find yourself sitting
'and you might not have an idea or anywhere to start with a script'
and then you remember just a little spark of a joke someone told you
or a funny conversation you overheard on the bus or something,
and then that can be it and you're off.
Knowing the world you've created
helps you develop the characters who belong there.
For me, creating a believable world it's always, like...
it's got to come from somewhere truthful
and nowhere's more truthful than like, the people I know.
A big inspiration is my family and friends, the people I grew up with.
I tend to always write about them.
I've got a massive family
that's really colourful and slightly different
and I draw on them so much for inspiration, for ideas.
And then it's about using your own creativity
to take elements of people you see or things you see
and put them together to create something new.
For experiences you don't know, like,
running into a new house in Walford,
but you know the feeling of like, loneliness, isolation,
being somewhere where you just want to find somewhere to stay
so you take those experiences and...
jiggle them up a bit and put them into your characters.
We rejoin Daisy as she receives her notes from her script editor.
I'm not going to show you cos you'll see the storylines I'm doing
and that's top-secret!
OK, so...how many pages?
Six pages, not too bad for two scripts.
The main notes I've had are about...
Sometimes we've got some new characters
and it's about getting into that character's...
Finding their voice,
sometimes I haven't captured their voice properly.
Sometimes it's quite hard... When a character's got a journey
that's very internal and very emotional
and they're not talking about it necessarily,
sometimes it's quite hard to get that across on the screen.
So some of my stories,
people weren't clear what the characters' actual stories were.
Basically, the next week or so will be me writing,
sitting on my own,
going a bit crazy, generally...
You'll be part of that, lucky you! OK, cheers.
Before you start writing you have to know your characters inside out.
I think some people do walk around the room, pretending to be the character.
Do you know who I am, bruv? I am Faith. D'ya get me?
So you pretended to be all, "Wah, gwan" and gangsta.
Tameka, he blatantly stuck an Armani sticker where it said Primark.
You don't know about me! I'm a G, you know what I mean?
I don't really kind of do that.
However you do it, just get inside your character's head.
They can't dress themselves, they can't say words for themselves
without you knowing where they are at any given time in their heads
and what their attitude to a person or situation would be.
The more you know, the better really.
When I first started out one of the things I learnt very quickly
is that I'd written a scene where Phil Mitchell -
who was quite a bit younger then -
was supposed to be ironing.
And I got this message from the set and it was just three words,
"Phil don't iron".
You try and stitch me up, you even think about it...
and I'll kill you.
And I thought, "Really? He doesn't iron?" "No, he don't do that."
But I've just written it and everyone's OKed it.
They go, "No, Phil don't iron." The actor said, "Phil don't iron."
So every time I write Phil Mitchell in the back of my mind,
I've got this, "Phil don't iron."
Knowing your character's traits helps you decide
what they would and wouldn't do.
Take Faith, what's she like?
Bear, checking me out and that.
Faith is a diva.
Faith is that girl at the back of the bus that everyone knows.
You'll never take me alive!
The kind of girl that Faith is with her big hair...
'She's brash, bright, breezy...'
'With Faith she's loud, annoying.'
I know girls who are loud and annoying but you love them for it.
Want to jump on my wave? Yeah, daddy-o.
She's the life and soul of the day.
All showered for you, babe! So when we linking?
'She has no real idea what she's saying to people'
or what she's doing to people.
Is that the Walford Gazette? I want to speak to a journalist.
She needs love.
She needs to be told, "Faith, I love you.
"You're gorgeous without make-up and without the horrible clothes!
"You're beautiful." She needs affection.
-Faith, go have a shower.
You go have a shower.
I don't need it.
In the E20 episode written by Wemmy, Faith tries it on with Donnie.
She needs to be loved, so there's only one thing for it.
There's no hot water in the squat
and Faith's not the type of girl to put up with a cold shower.
She'll do everything in her power to avoid having that,
even going to Fatboy.
You got a shower in here, yeah?
'Who is no way involved in the situation at all'
but he's got a crush on her so she plays on that.
Faith is selfish, so she plays on his love for her
and uses him for a shower,
which she does feel bad about because she has a conscience.
All of this, so you could use me for a shower?
It's a dirty exchange.
'She felt horrible after that'
but she went through a huge mistake to finally say,
"I'm better than this.
"I'm crazy but I'm a good person at the same time."
So, today I'm starting writing,
when I take my first draft and rewrite it.
OK, so... I've been working... It's now nearly two o'clock.
I'm doing all right.
I think one of the main problems I'm struggling with is,
there's a new character and I can't seem to get her voice at all.
I'll let you know how it goes.
Believable characters have distinct voices
and when it comes to the language of the East End,
there's only one king...Fatboy.
Not me, player. I'm free as the wind.
What was important to me about E20
was that the characters spoke as teenagers would speak
in the East End of London.
I didn't know much about the character of Fatboy
when I got the call,
I just knew he was a young boy
and he'd have a bit of slang in his repertoire,
so when I got to the reading for Fatboy
it was just that, a raw script.
When we created Fatboy, we really wanted someone to celebrate
the language of the street.
Only as I started to read Fatboy's lines and his lyrics and flow
that I started to get into it and find the rhythms of Fatboy,
cos Fatboy's all about rhythms you know, everything he does
is almost like a rap or a song,
"Wah gwan, baby girl, how you doin', man? You all right?
"I'll come, we do this ting, two twos, this this, that that."
You know, it's all a big flow and he's always on a hype
and he's always got a lot of energy, so I found that whilst reading it.
Yes, but how do you keep the dialogue authentic?
You'll just hear stuff on the street.
"Bait" - which means obvious.
"Lush" - which is really good-looking.
And if I'm writing him,
'I sneak a look at my kids' Facebook pages'
where they speak this strange language anyway.
"Vex" - which Fatboy says a lot, which means angry.
It's all about balance,
some writers will put too much slang in, some too little.
"Grimy" is not a good word any more for good
and "butters" still means ugly.
I've grown up listening to it, speaking it
and being in and around it.
I know many Fatboys, many, many Fatboys,
so sometimes I feel like I'm saying his words before he even says it.
Before it's even written, I know what he's going to say.
I think what happened over time, once the writers had created Fatboy,
they just started making up their own language anyway,
but there's a joy to that that makes it very exciting.
I said to them, I'll only be happy if I understand one word in five
and that's pretty much the ratio.
It doesn't almost matter that you don't understand
exactly what he's saying
and how the other actors react to him
actually shows us what he's talking about.
But your characters have got to have more than just the right language.
He's quite a wheeler-dealer, thinks he's a real romantic
but underneath, you can see that...
I think he falls in love quite easily.
-Must have your sights on someone?
-Nah, mate. No-one. Nah, man.
You all right, Merce?
Fatboy wants to be the coolest kid on the block.
And what he needs to do is accept that he's not, he's Arthur...
That always gives you a story.
All yours for 350 green!
Biggest thing that Fatboy wants is success and respect.
What he needs? What he needs is different.
What he needs is somebody to look after him a little bit.
What he needs is somebody that wants to squeeze him
at the end of the day.
A character only works if the audience loves them too.
In simple terms, the audience have to love your characters.
If they don't, they just won't watch
and that's what we call empathy,
which is the ability for an audience to get inside a character's head
and share their thoughts and go on a journey with them.
But when Fatboy made the transition from E20 to EastEnders,
the audience didn't like him.
When any character's introduced into EastEnders,
there's normally a period of three or four months
where the audience are distrustful or nervous of them.
We thought there was a great actor there,
we thought there was something going on that was exciting to watch,
and all of a sudden we put him with Dot Cotton,
one of our most-loved, if not the most-loved character of all time.
Hey, Mrs B!
One of your friends, Arthur?
Friend, friend? No, no, she is...she's a Mormon.
Well, your acquaintances usually aren't dressed like that.
He interacts in our world and in a really good way
because you're just thinking,
"That's Dot Cotton and she likes him, so I guess we could like him too."
So, I think...
from his point of view,
his character is formed
by the way he became invaluable to someone's life.
Now, I need your help, Arthur to peel the potatoes,
cos I'm making me dumplings for one of me beef stews.
Oh, right, Mrs B.
He is, you know, ghetto, but he's friends with old ladies,
so you know he's got the most genuine side ever.
No, don't get me wrong, I'm happy, it's just that...
You want to spread your wings?
He is a man who wears his heart on his sleeve.
Thank you, Mrs B.
And you see it on his face, the vulnerability,
even though he tries to disguise it and tries to be a man about it.
So I think that's why the audience love him.
Let us see who your character really is.
When I look at the page, yes, the words of course are important
but what is important to me is what is that scene there for?
I do want to go to Paris with you.
No, you don't.
Why have I been put in there, what is my objective?
What must I affect to make the next thing happen in the next scene?
The scripts themselves have to be read on two levels.
You have to see the superficial dialogue,
the dialogue that the characters say to each other
is written in a way
that implies the subtext beneath.
I've tried so hard but every time I kiss you
..kissing my best mate, my closest friend.
Subtext is really important to Fatboy.
In fact, I think it's...
one of the words that defines Fatboy.
His clothes - they're all bright and all very loud
and they all say something
and that's part of the mask -
you see that before you see Fatboy's real heart and stuff like that,
he doesn't let you in, really.
Can't hold the Fats down for long.
Like funky house, ain't it? Bounce, bb-dd-bb-bounce, with it!
That is one of the things that makes you so great.
Sometimes he's just like, "Fatboy, get off the TV," you know.
"Come on, be yourself,"
but that's what it is with boys, sometimes there's a facade
and Fatboy is the prime example of that.
Oh, yeah, interesting.
I got to go you know, cos main line are calling me.
OK, listen, I will be back at some point but you know me, man...
OK, I'm going to get fined, now I have to go.
Daisy's script deadline is fast approaching. The pressure is on.
So how is she coping?
Sometimes it's quite nice to come out and just do a bit of gardening.
Try and keep my mind working.
So it's a couple of days before deadline day
and I've done what I tend to do at this time,
which is...have a day off.
I really should have worked today but instead I've done a crossword,
I've watched a load of telly and chatted to some friends.
Sometimes your brain...
It just doesn't...
It can't keep going, it can't keep being creative at a certain rate.
So tomorrow I'm going to have to work extra, extra hard.
Think I'm going to have to get up really early, so...
That's about it, really.
So now your head is bursting with a great story,
an authentic world and believable characters.
How do you turn all those ideas into a great script?
Now, don't get offended
but dialogue is often the least important part of your script.
Pictures speak loud
and sometimes more pictures, less words are a very good idea.
When I write my first drafts of my scripts
I always do it only in what the character does
rather than what the text is
and it just removes everything else which you don't need
and then you end up with three or four lines of dialogue in a scene
but it's all that they need to say.
I think when you're writing a script you're always thinking in images.
I always think of a script as like a series of photos on a wall.
So you can strip all the dialogue away
and you could say, right, you're going to have 30 seconds,
we're not allowed any dialogue, it's a 30 second episode,
how would you tell it?
You'd just put ten images on a wall and that would be the story.
In the scripts that I've responded to the most,
it has been with the sparsest dialogue
and the clearest stage directions.
But really there's only one way to judge a script.
Basically, the best thing to look for in a script
is that at the end of every page you want to turn the next one.
It's as simple as that.
One example of a gripping script was the Who Killed Archie live episode,
written by Simon Ashdown.
This was Event TV.
Tonight, for the very first time we'll be able to watch events
as they actually unfold,
as they broadcast a 25th anniversary special.
Bradley, where are you? There's police everywhere, they just saw me.
For me, it's always really about that final image,
it's that image and the image I just had, that came into my head
was Stacey in that street with Max, saying that she did it
'and what made it powerful
'was that there was Bradley, lying on the tarmac, dead.'
-Bradley didn't do it.
-He didn't do it.
-I know he didn't do it.
It was me.
(I did it).
I killed Archie.
It was me.
Doof, doof, doof, doof-doof-dd-da-da...
The "doof-doof" is the big cliffhanger
at the end of each episode, ensuring the audience returns for more.
The big "doof-doof" moment in Who Killed Archie
is basically Stacey revealing to us that she's the killer of Archie.
This is like answering a question
that we've been asking for the last two or three months.
But the thing about that "doof-doof,"
although you think it's an ending, it's not
because she's just admitted to murdering someone
and it's not very often that people do that,
so now you're thinking, "You've just admitted to murdering someone,
"the man you love more than life itself has died at your feet,
"what the hell is going to happen next?"
So even though we brought that to a conclusion,
it opened up a whole massive sea of questions.
The "doof-doof" moment for Daisy is fast approaching.
OK, it's 7.30 in the morning, it's deadline day again.
I've done the first script, I'm partway through the second one.
I've got a lot to do today so I really need to crack on.
So, it's a few hours till deadline...
I'm getting a little bit panicky that I've got too much to do,
but I think I'm getting there.
I think if you want to get into scriptwriting,
it's such an accessible thing
because all you need is a pen and paper.
It's really good to try and write something you really want to write.
It's really tempting to try and second-guess what everybody wants.
Find out your voice, what you want to say, what makes you different
and stick with it and eventually -
it might be hard, it might take a while -
but eventually you'll find someone who wants that and agrees with that
and then it will be beautiful.
Write as many scripts as you can, look over them, work on them
and when you feel they are at a good level,
show them to people who you know will give you honest feedback
then maybe send a couple off to theatres,
which accept unsolicited scripts.
If there is a show you genuinely love...
..try and get your work to that show,
and then don't take no for an answer, just keep going at it.
The BBC Writersroom reads every script it receives.
'If you've got drive, a little spark, and something different...
'Not everyone's going to make it, you still need to be really talented'
but if you're good enough, someone will open a door and let you in.
Once you're in there, you have to kick and scream and fight.
One major tip I would give to scriptwriters,
playwrights, anything, but being an actor, yes,
is to write everything down.
These are my sort of, books - essentially, like, my mind on paper.
I love notebooks. I think everyone should write in notebooks
when they see an idea they want to use in a script.
I think sometimes, writing it down imprints...
For me, when I study, I have to write or it won't go in.
I think there's a misconception that to work in television -
especially as a writer or in films -
you have to have a film degree or a media degree
or have had lots of experience
and I left school at 15, went straight into work.
I happened to see an advert for storyliner at Emmerdale,
so I sent a ridiculous ransom note into the producers of Emmerdale,
saying that I wanted Cain Dingle to come and rescue me
from a kidnapping
and for some reason they liked it
and that was the start of me working in television.
And the payoff of sticking at it until someone likes your script?
When I saw my episode on the web AND on the big screen on my TV,
I was like, "Oh...my...days!" Three words, that's all I said.
I didn't speak for the whole day, just, "Oh...my...days!"
This little chap came from an episode of Stay Lucky
that was broadcast in 1992, I believe.
He's the only memento I've ever kept from filming.
He sits on my desk every day, looking at me and I think,
"You know what? There's the beauty of television."
I wrote this frog, I created this frog and there he sits.
That's... That's my only memento cos I think he's fantastic. I love him.
He brings me luck.
End of episode, that's my second draft done.
I'll go through the same process as exactly as I've just done,
two or three more times, hopefully less and less notes each time,
but in the meantime, thank you for joining me.
So that's it, that's the end.
So, everything you've seen or heard came from a germ of an idea
and now it's your turn.
So, yeah, be adaptable and be true and good luck to you.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
A step-by-step guide to writing good scripts for television dramas such as EastEnders and E20.
Join Tameka Empson (Kim Fox) as she takes you behind the scenes in Walford. She talks to writers, actors and directors from the nation's favourite soap, asking them to reveal their top tips on creating gripping storylines, believable characters, relevant worlds, great TV scripts and, ultimately, how to break into the industry.