Advice for Budding Scriptwriters
Henrietta Hardy is a contract writer for BBC One’s Doctors, a medical soap opera, and has also penned scripts for long-running medical series Casualty and drama The Bill. For the long-running series’, Henrietta gets a serial document telling her what has to happen to certain characters.
She is then free to use her imagination and come up with stories. She says: “In terms of where stories come from, I joke, but it’s often from the pub. People open up in these settings. I’m very honest and all my friends know I’m a writer. If they do say something, then I’ll say that it would make a great story. Inevitably the end result wouldn’t be that recognisable from the story they give.”
Henrietta also keeps a clippings folder of what interests her and what could make attention-grabbing stories. Keeping an ideas folder and saving articles on her computer is another way she is inspired. A lot of research goes into her stories; this includes ‘Google’ and talking to people, including press departments, charities and social workers. After extensive research and coming up with ideas, Henrietta generally pitches a two-page idea. She then can work on the actual script for about two months.
“Writing first drafts can be fun, as long as it’s working. You have to find the motivation to keep going back and improving that script.”
Shut down your distractions
Self-motivation is one of the biggest challenges of being a scriptwriter and Henrietta has admitted to having to shut down distractions, such as Facebook. Although as a mother she says working from home works for her, as it means she can work her own hours, Henrietta says you have to find a way of controlling your time, especially around deadlines.
The top skills Henrietta believes are needed for becoming a scriptwriter are being able to tell a good story. This includes how you write, as well as having a good ear for dialogue. Being nice to a lot of people helps in the freelancing world. She also stresses the importance of being open to advice and seeing yourself being on a learning curve.
Advice for Scriptwriters
In terms of advice for budding scriptwriters, Henrietta says: “It’s all about the script at the end of the day. If you write from the heart, then there are plenty of resources online to make sure you’re formatting is right. What people respond to is a good story.”
“Having a few good scripts like that will really open doors. I really recommend people sending in their scripts to the BBC Writer’s Room who will accept unsolicited scripts. I’d never recommend sending anything out that you haven’t redrafted at least three or four times and get trusted friends to read. It’s a visual medium so you have to think about what you’re writing and how that will translate visually.”
Starting from the bottom
Henrietta Hardy graduated from Oxford University with a degree in English. She did not have particular writing aspiration, but knew she enjoyed English.
She worked for a few years doing various jobs, including administrative work for theatre companies, but wanted to be writing plays instead of behind the scenes. With this in mind, Henrietta joined the Film and Video Access Centre in Edinburgh, where her short scripts were selected to be filmed. She then built up enough scripts to apply for an MA in Scriptwriting at the Northern Film School in Leeds.
Henrietta’s dream, like many scriptwriters, is to get an original show produced. She is currently working with a Norwegian producer on an eight-part thriller. She admits that even when out and about, coming up with new stories is always on her mind.
“Scriptwriting is a brilliant job and there can be ups and down. We are all freelance. And for whatever reasons, if a show doesn’t want to use you anymore they won’t tell you, you just won’t get another commission.”
Despite it being a grueling job, one piece of advice that has stuck in Henrietta’s mind is:
“A friend once said that his mantra was KBO – keep buggering on. It’s a bit cheeky but it makes me laugh.”