Words by Monita Mohan
Having walked away with a renewed sense of purpose, we regrouped at UAS on Saturday morning raring to go and armed with a greater knowledge of our stories and characters.
Ready to help us develop further with our writing, Anjum Malik returned as part of the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature’s prologue, in association with the Manchester Children’s Book Festival.
We had hardly sunk into our seats before Anjum delivered a googly – we were to pair up with one of the other classes and read out our written work at the end of the day. It was a shock! Okay, it was a shock for me, because when it comes to public speaking I usually closely resemble a rabbit caught in the headlights.
But, considering the enthusiasm of the rest of the group, I felt I could hardly reject the offer. And seriously, where else are you going to get a captive audience to sit down and listen to your work? I was up for it.
With this daunting, yet inviting prospect looming ahead of us, Anjum gave us the freedom to finish off as much writing as we could. Leaving us to our own devices proved a surprisingly useful exercise, as we all set down to the work with great gusto.
We were assigned three tasks to complete before show time:
1. Write the premise of the script.
2. Complete the step outline (also called scene-by-scene).
3. Write out 2-3 scenes.
The premise was a slightly tougher task than expected, as it required answering a few questions – who was the protagonist, what’s happening, what’s the problem. It required a hook.
Setting the scenes out was a fascinating process and a very rewarding one as well. Anjum had mentioned to us that scripts often follow a pattern of up scenes and down scenes, which tied in with an important point she had made the previous day about figuring out the main scenes, and then writing up the fillers.
Since most of us were working on short pieces, dividing scenes up and charting the character arcs was a priority. It felt oddly satisfying to map out a beginning, middle and end. It required a lot of thought, and strange little details slipped in while writing. It almost felt like the job had been done.
The scenes themselves were hard. I struggled with mine, even though I knew most of what would happen from my writings the previous day. One thing Anjum emphasised was that getting the story down was much more important than laying out the format. That was a relief, as struggling with the story was hard enough without having to worry about getting the terminology right.
A deadline often gets the best and the most out of people, and it wasn’t long before we were ready with our work and rehearsing. Despite being very familiar with the audience members, I still ended up panicking when it was my turn, but considering the raucous applause that greeted every reading, we couldn’t help but feel like we had achieved a great deal.
Anjum’s parting words were to keep going at it. She herself writes for 4-6 hours a day, especially when working to a deadline. For a course that had seemed quite daunting to us novices at the start, it ended up being one of the most rewarding. Anjum’s an unrelenting and hard task master, but she was able to whip us all into shape in an extraordinarily short space of time.
Anjum Malik is a poet and scriptwriter who also exhibits and performs her work. She is a fellow of Manchester Metropolitan University and lectures to the new writers at the Manchester Writing School. Find out more about Anjum at www.anjummalik.com.