Skip to Content

Joz Norris

  • Tape 37: Some Thoughts On Writing

Some Thoughts On Writing

I usually like this newsletter to be a sort of free-form back-and-forth chat about the stuff I’ve been thinking about recently, but I’ve not really done much actual thinking this week, as I’ve been very busy and stressed splitting my time between writing, looking for flats, and crying (related to the flat-hunting). So, because I don’t think anybody signed up to this for property-market-related musings, this week’s will be about writing. It’ll just be a bit of an update on some of my own writing over the last couple of weeks, because a few of you said before that you enjoyed hearing about it and would like to hear more, so here’s my sort of “from the coalface” update on where things are at (oh no, I’ve become someone who refers to the process of sitting at a desk and staring out of a window and occasionally typing six or seven words as being like a “coalface,” how obnoxious, sorry guys).

I recently completed the very rough first draft of the scripts for my sitcom The Dream Factory, which is coming out on BBC Radio 4 next year, and sent them to Steve Doherty, my excellent radio producer, for feedback, and having had that feedback am now in a good position to work out where they’re at. Encouragingly, Steve really liked the stuff I was feeling proud of, and wasn’t convinced by the same stuff I wasn’t convinced by. I think some degree of consensus on what’s working and what isn’t is one of the most important things to establish in any creative partnership, and the worst kind of feedback you can receive is when they like the bits you don’t like, and don’t like the bits you like. The only thing worse is when somebody reads a first draft and writes back claiming they liked everything, which is a sure sign that this isn’t gonna go well.

So, I now find myself trying to get my head around a basic structural issue with the scripts themselves, which is that they’re trying to centre their focus in two different places at once, and not in a traditional “A plot/B plot” kind of way, but in a way where they’re sort of demanding the audience cares equally about two different situations and hoping that they complement one another, without that really coming off on the page yet. The show, as I think I’ve mentioned here before, is about the Regional Head Office of the Dream Factory, where all of humanity’s dreams and hopes and wishes come from. I get a job there as a Dream Delivery Boy, am not very good at it, all hell breaks loose, etc. The scenes set inside the Dream Factory, where I clash with more competent colleagues, make mistakes, blunder into the dreams themselves, and so on, are really working. The scenes that explore how this new job affects my life outside the Dream Factory – my own personal friendships and relationships, my own daily struggles and personal hopes and ambitions – aren’t quite clicking, and it’s up to me now to work out what to do about that.

Some nice picture of a cloud some scientists managed to create inside a room, because I like it and it looks kind of dreamlike, so I guess that’s relevant in a way? Thanks to Alex Hardy for sending it to me.

In theory, there’s no reason why this show couldn’t just be a surreal workplace sitcom set inside the Dream Factory that explores my character’s hopeless attempts to succeed in a working environment he’s totally unsuited for, with all sorts of nonsense about dreaming and imagining along the way for good measure. That would sort of ensconce it as a Mighty Boosh-esque fantasy set entirely in an imaginary world that plays by its own nonsense rules, and would probably be really fun and silly and enjoyable to both write and listen to. It’s also not what really excites me about this idea. The reason I first got excited by it was because it felt like it had quite a Pixar-esque “What if?” at the centre of it – “What if our dreams and hopes and fears came from a physical place, and some idiot got to go there and made a total hash of it?” What sort of impact would that have on our lives, if the dreams that are supposed to stay harmlessly inside our heads started running riot? In what way would our relationships and daily lives be jeopardised by the subsequent chaos?

I like the idea of making something that the listeners can actually really project themselves into, because I think all the best art is partly a reflection of the audience’s world, not solely a projection of the artist’s. A self-contained absurdist fantasy show about dreams is great fun, but an absurdist show that gets the audience to reflect on their own relationship with their dreams and worries and ideas, and to think about how they influence their own choices, feels more powerful somehow. But, because the scenes in the Dream Factory are the engine of the story, it’s the characters and scenarios within it that I’ve really worked on nailing at this stage, so they’re immediately impactful and entertaining in a way that the other scenes aren’t.

I think a big part of the issue is structural – the structure of the scripts at the moment is quite “This happens, then this happens, then this happens,” rather than consisting of plot threads that are neatly set up, developed, and resolved. As a result, the real-life scenes, which are already a bit flatter and less well-characterised because I’ve not cracked them properly yet, also feel like they haven’t developed organically from what came before, the scripts are just asking the audience to put their focus elsewhere now without much of a clear reason why or where things are going. So I think nailing the structure, and making sure I populate those other scenes with characters that are as clear and entertaining and funny as the ones in the workplace is the key next step I need to work on.

Anyway, that’s where I’m at! I don’t usually use this newsletter as a place for simple “Here’s where my work’s at at the moment”-type updates, it feels a bit too much like a blog for my liking. If you’ve enjoyed it, do let me know and maybe I’ll do more like this every now and then, I’ve no idea if it’s the kind of thing you guys like to read! Any writers in this mailing list who’d care to share their own thoughts on where they’re at, and what they’re learning about the process? Or people who’ve encountered a similar problem in their writing and figured out how to crack it? Let’s make it a conversation, why the hell not?

A Cool New Thing In Comedy – The Leicester Comedy Festival just launched online! There’s loads of cool shows on sale! Mine is here! Come along if you’re near Leicester!

What’s Made Me Laugh The Most – Been working through series 3 of Stath Lets Flats, and Jamie Demetriou’s delivery of his “I got in the water for them” monologue in episode 4 is one of the funniest performances I’ve ever seen. As is the sight of him jumping in the canal in the first place. The best show on TV at the moment, by a long way.

Book Of The Week – I’m reading East Of Eden by John Steinbeck, because I loved The Grapes Of Wrath and thought I’d have a crack at his other massive doorstop. It’s pretty good so far, not as good but I’m enjoying it. I imagine I’ll be reading it for a while, it’s very big and the writing is very small, which is a particularly mean trick.

Film Of The Week – Wes Anderson’s new film The French Dispatch is my film of the week by virtue of being the only film I saw this week, but frankly, I didn’t think it was very good. I often love Wes Anderson’s films, but this one feels like he’s been given carte blanche to make exactly what he wants without needing to consider what the audience wants, and there’s really very little to cling onto story-wise, it’s a bit style-over-substance. The first short story about Benicio Del Toro’s imprisoned artist is good, the rest really frustrated me.

Album Of The Week – Porcupine Tree are back, so I’ve been going back and filling in the gaps in my knowledge of their discography, starting with Metanoiaan album of instrumental outtakes from the much better Signify album. It’s alright. Bit long.

That’s all for this week! As ever, if you ever wanted to share this newsletter with a friend, or encourage people to subscribe, it’s always hugely appreciated. Anyway, take care of yourselves and all the best until next time,

Joz xx

PS Here’s one of a few nice animal carvings they’ve installed in the woods by the River Wye near where my mum lives, they’re really nice.

Click here to go back

A weekly creative newsletter. The Tapes function as an interactive notebook/sketchpad exploring comedy, art, creativity, making stuff, etc.. More Info.