The Red Planet Prize, a free scriptwriting competition looking for the best new writers in UK TV drama run by Tony Jordan’s Red Planet Pictures and Kudos is once again open for submissions.

I was a finalist last year and even though, for various reasons, I was unable to attend a lot of the workshops and mentoring sessions, I learned more from this one competition than anything else since I’ve been writing.

Here are my Top 5 Tips for becoming a Red Planeteer:

Get your concept
It doesn’t have to be a barn-stormer, it doesn’t have to be epically plot-heavy, you just have to know what your one-off or series will be about – both overall and through this particular episode.

Write it
Much like Joss Wedon’s writing advice from Red Planet Prize creator Danny Stack’s blog, the biggest hurdle is getting the whole thing written. Yes, you only have to submit the first 10 pages initially, but you need to use that deadline to give you the motivation to polish the whole script.

I submitted late last year – right on deadline day – and I only had 10 pages. Being a writer, I then swiftly forgot about it all and when the call came asking to see the rest of the script, I had 4 days to write and submit the other 50 pages. I made it, but the speed of the writing shows in the quality of the final script; I know I can do better.

Take the time to write the full hour-long drama, don’t just do the bare minimum.

Craft the perfect first 10 pages
Although it may not necessarily be the structure you usually write to, you need to have introduced most, if not all, of your main characters in the opening 10 pages and your inciting incident for the episode’s plot needs to have hit by the end of your submission.

Imagine yourself as a reader for the competition – you want to create ten pages that finish at a point where the reader things, “I need to read the rest of this, just to know what’s going to happen”.

Revisit your screenplay and rework those first 10 pages until you’ve got the perfect balance of plot, character and pace that will suck your readers in and make them shout you for more.

Don’t confuse “events” with “plot”
Just because you want to grab people’s attention, it doesn’t mean you have to stage a massive car crash or alien invasion in the first five minutes.

In my script for last year’s prize, my opening ten pages were essentially a dialogue-heavy introduction of all the characters and the world they inhabited, which was as new to them as it was to us. We took a tour of their building, following one main character who would lead the show, meeting and greeting everyone as we went.

I knew that the strength of my idea would lie in the execution of the characters, not the nuance of the plot or the story. I also knew that my biggest strength as a writer was the dialogue I write. So I crafted 10 pages that showed off both of those.

Use the initial judging period to make it awesome
My biggest mistake last year was to forget about the competition. It seems like an age getting from the January submission deadline to the May/June/July call for full scripts from the chosen few, but it’s vital to use that time to keep revisiting your script and making it as strong as you possible can.

Send it to friends for their comments, read or watch other TV shows in your genre to see what their plotting and pacing is like, put it in a draw for a couple of weeks and come back to it fresh, but never, ever forget about it. When the time comes for you to submit your full script (hopefully), you’ll be ready with the very best that you can offer.

For more info on the Red Planet Prize, check out Danny’s FAQ on his Scriptwriting in the UK blog and, if you don’t listen already, I’d also highly recommend his UK Scriptwriters podcast, too.

Some other posts you might like: