Genre Masterclass: Drama 2014

The most brutal tip given by Gwyneth Hughes at the drama session of the RTS Student Programme Masterclasses was that a screenwriter's writing "should be personal, not autobiographical" – because "you're not interesting".

Hughes, an award-winning screenwriter whose credits include The Girl, Five Days and Miss Austen Regrets, was quizzed on the craft of screenwriting by executive producer Ruth Pitts.

Hughes began writing drama while still working in factual. She reflected: "You can say that you want to be a writer until you are blue in the face, but you've got to actually do it."


Building suspense

Hughes played a clip from Five Days, a thriller broadcast on BBC One in 2007, in order to teach the audience of students two valuable lessons.

"I wanted to show just how few words we write", explained Hughes, after the clip of the abduction in Five Days was shown. "We don't have many words, [that part of the story] was all done visually."

Hughes then hammered home what she sees as a vital lesson to drama screenwriters: "The most important thing we do is write suspense. It doesn't matter if it is a romantic comedy, it doesn't matter if it is a thriller such as [Five Days], the most important question is, 'Does the audience care about what happens next?'"

Writer's block

A question from the audience brought up the issue of dealing with writer's block. Although Hughes doesn't believe that she gets traditional writer's block, she admitted to sometimes struggling with the finer logistics of the plot, such as needing to get a character from one place to another while maintaining the believability of the script.

"It is horrible and it is hellish, but there are people ringing you up asking where all their money has gone – so paradoxically it's easier, if you are being paid. If you are doing [writing] for yourself, you have to be so self-disciplined."

A master tip

Hughes's final tip for the audience was a piece of advice once given by Chekov, encouraging a young writer to "start on page two". She explained: "What he meant was, don't do preambles, don't set the scene, don't babble on. Jump in there. Jump into the action and start there."

The RTS Student Programme Masterclass on drama was produced by Helen Scott and was held at the BFI on 27 October.