Creative Scriptwriting and Copywriting

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So, what phone systems do they use in the Rover’s Return?

In copywriting, scriptwriting, search engine optimization (SEO), writing on November 14, 2011 at 5:28 pm

Is Coronation Street about to be ruined by heavy-handed commercialism? The evergreen ITV soap has recently signed its first agreement under new Ofcom rules allowing branded goods to be shown onscreen in exchange for payment. Until now, commercial logos could never be featured prominently in a drama, comedy or non-fiction programme without the broadcaster facing the wrath of the regulator. But in November2011, the UK’s debut product placement in a primetime show will  occur with the installation of a cash machine by the Nationwide Building Society in Dev Alahan’s corner shop (or Reg Holdsworth’s, or Alf Roberts’, depending on how far into history you go). Purists will feel it’s a slippery slope down which the series will plummet until Webster’s Autos becomes an official Hyundai dealership, and Audrey Robert’s hair salon trades exclusively in the L’Oreal range (because, you have to admit, she’s worth it.)

Deeper than that, these guidelines do speak to the issues of artistic or journalistic integrity.

Let’s say I had been hired to write a number of articles about phone systems for this blog, for instance.

It may seem an odd request to make. I could probably scribble everything I know about phone systems on the back of a stamp, and still have enough space for the dialogue from next week’s Corrie omnibus.

But this (and every) website appeals to at least two audiences. There is a tiny, but loyal, audience of humans, who come here to ponder my tortuously considered thoughts on words, wording and the writerly art. And then there are the mysterious Google search robots and their spidery pals, who arrive interested only in the density of certain key phrases, seeing my beautiful language as nothing more than a not-so-randomly arranged sequence of letters. For them, a piece sprinkled over-liberally with references to ‘phone systems’ could in fact be about Weatherfield or Albert Square or Emmerdale or anywhere.

I think it’s sometimes too easy to condemn the commercialisation of commercial media. If the cashpoint in Dev’s store remained unbranded, does that really guarantee a purer, better storytelling experience? And, from my own point of view, hackery is a dirty word, but we’re heading for a double-dip recession and my kids need shoes.

And for the jobbing writer, you could argue that the seamless integration of “phone systems” into your output is a example of writing craft in action – the professional job well done. A skilled and versatile search-engine optimised creator would be looking to bury the keywords (“phone systems”, in this case)  into the text so that the casual reader would barely bat an eyelid, anyhow.

So I guess my feeling is, if you do it in a witty and amusing way, you might just get away with it. Fay Weldon famously wrote a novel about a jewel heist sponsored by Bulgari jewellery to some critical acclaim.  But critics lambasted the turn-of-the-century live-action Thunderbirds movie because it pimped itself out to its sponsors so much that even Lady Penelope’s iconic pink Rolls-Royce was replaced in the film by a Ford. Not sure I can remember what phone systems they used on Tracey Island, though…

Full disclosure: this column was kind-of funded by Telephone Systems Direct


Start ’em young

In copywriting, scriptwriting, speechwriting on October 3, 2011 at 7:16 pm

Surprisingly little talk of speeches during this year’s party conferences, save for a flurry of (mostly petty and vindictive) press coverage about a precocious young lad doing his best.

I guess it takes one to know one: I haven’t been involved in the conference season, but in my own small way I have contributed my speechwriting experience to the next generation of political debate.

My nine year old has just run for Class Representative at his primary’s School Council. He had to make a speech and asked me to help. Here’s what we got. It’s all his own work, except for a little guidance from me

I think I should be School Council for Class 4 because I am good at talking to other people.

Obviously, he’s not going to be “School Council” as such, but he insisted that saying “your representative on the School Council” would make him sound odd. Good lesson in using the language of your audience.

In fact I love talking. So I’m confident about talking to adults and children, younger and older than me.

“I love talking” was mine. He talks too much in class. His electorate knows this. Let’s make a virtue of it.

(I love “I love”, as a phrase. If you mean it, there is nothing more powerful and direct. The copywriter’s cliché for the same sentiment is “I am passionate about…”, which is awful and never sounds honest.)

I would make good suggestions to change our school into a better place. We’re having lots of building work at the moment so we’ll have to get used to some of the changes like not having last break. If I was elected I would try and get us some play time in the afternoon.

I suggested changing “I’ll get us some play time in the afternoon” to “try and get us…” Under-promise and over-deliver.

On top of all this, I would listen to what you have to say and I will take your opinions into meetings. Just let me know if you have any suggestions.

But as well as just making Class 4 happy, I would listen to what other class reps have to say and to make the whole of [SCHOOL NAME] happy.

Those bits were all his. Very political, I thought – aspirational. “Ask not what your country can do for you” and all that.

I have been in School Council once before in Year 1 when I was a bit too young to understand what to do. But now, after being deputy for the last two years, I am confident that I will do the job well.

This was a tricky bit. He wanted to directly address what might be Achilles Heel – his previous experience. Would Class 4 respect his years of experience, or demand a fresh new broom? His initial thought was to say that his time as “School Council” in Year One didn’t really count as he never said anything. I thought that sounded unduly negative. But “a bit too young to understand” is humble and relatable. Don’t be scared to address the negative.

So, I am a good talker, I have good ideas and good experience. I was going to say ‘thumbs up for me’, but I sprained my hand playing football, but please vote for me.

The sum-up. Not just the rule of three to cover what he’s said already – good at this, good at that, good at the other – but a memorable visual to end on as he’s sporting a heavily-strapped thumb.

I must have forced that bit on him – I thought it would make him stand out (the equivalent to being the primary school war hero) – but he admitted that he skipped it when he gave the speech. That’s another good lesson – don’t write anything for your subject that they’re not happy to deliver. It’s the way towards fluffed jokes and embarrassed pauses.

Anyway, he won. By way of congratulations, I made sure I charged him a special discount day-rate.

And the winner is…

In copywriting, scriptwriting, writing on January 17, 2011 at 10:50 pm

Ricky Gervais’s performance at last night’s Golden Globes shook Hollywood to the core. His crime? To make the kind of near-the-knuckle jibes that Hollywood talk shows and gossip sites thrive on, but to make them when the A-listers he was skewering were sitting right there in front of him.

Cheeky and irreverent? Downright rude?

Or just, as I suspect, simply an attempt to inject some zip into one out of far too many award ceremonies.

Awards are something where I have more than my fair share of first-hand experience. OK, maybe not quite on the scale of the Golden Globes or the BAFTAs. (Although a show I wrote some episodes for was once nominated for a BAFTA, which must surely make me a BAFTA-nominated writer. Surely. No?) But I’ve written enough scripts, speeches and gags for corporate award presentations to really share Ricky’s pain.

The trick, for me, is to always retain a certain respect for your subject, but never forget that even the most prestigious award ceremonies shouldn’t be taken that seriously.

Some times, of course, that’s easier than others.

I once wrote the script for a corporate ceremony that took place on the same night as the Academy Awards. The BBC’s ritzy live Oscar coverage was being presented by Jonathan Ross. Our own more modest bash celebrating the achievements of the UK’s finest photocopier sales personnel was hosted by his brother, Paul. Cue lots of self-deprecating  jokes about the differences between Xerox reps and movie stars, and between the respective career paths of Jonathan and Paul. (To be fair to Ross Snr, he had plenty of his own to add to the script).

Right now. I’m working on material for the annual awards of two motor companies, and a waste management firm.  (Who will be crowned Bin Man of the Year 2011, you ask? I am afraid I am sworn to secrecy at this stage…)

With all of them, I’m trying to move as far away from the kind of bland formality some awards ceremonies can descend into, without ever quite threatening a Gervais-style car crash.  The client, of course, wants a swift, clean professional show, but the audience surely deserves something more than the dry, interminable, humourless evening that I think some clients envisage. It’s supposed to be a celebration, after all. Awards ceremonies should be boozy, breezy and entertaining.

Luckily, I don’t think it’s too difficult for a good writer to create a night that might not be as glamorous as the Oscars or the Globes, but is at least way more fun for the participants than the  stuck-ups at those events seem to find it.  The difference, for me, is in the make-up of the audience. For most of us, a free four course meal in a swanky hotel, and a chance to dress up in fancy clothes whilst your bosses say nice things about you doesn’t happen every day. For Hollywood icons, fine dining, free apparel and non-stop sycophancy come with the contract.

So really, it’s all a question of context. Brickbats of the Gervais kind might bruise the egos of sensitive flowers like Charlie Sheen, Bruce Willis or Robert Downey Jr . But for the rest of us, they’re probably no worse than the sort of banter that’s dished out daily in the office canteen.  Toughen up, celebs!

(All of which is really only a roundabout way to say that the short film I helped make last year has been nominated for a prize of its own. Off to the Odeon Leicester Square in March to see if we win a First Light Award. Will shine my shoes and keep you posted!)

London calling

In copywriting, scriptwriting, writing on September 14, 2010 at 11:10 am

The hardest naming exercise I’ve ever done wasn’t inventing a character or branding a product, it was naming my own children. You have all the same challenges, like avoiding market confusion or narrative ambiguity, but with the added pressure that your offspring will never let you forget if you screw it up. (I always liked the name Thomas for a boy, until I figured out that lumbering a child with the name Thomas Cook might be difficult in the playground).

There is the modern temptation to invent a word. This can work well in the corporate sphere, but should be resisted for your little ones. Imagine the mental state of the parents who imaginatively named their first born Cushelle on the day they discovered that Charmin toilet rolls were rebranding.

Good names aren’t easy. But you recognise them when you see them:

James Bond. Tesco. Capital Radio.

James Bond is a great character name. British – even specifically Scottish. Solid – bonded. Dependable -“My word is my…”. Believable – James Bond is a long way from Jack Steel or Steve Power.

Tesco is a great brand name. Simple. Devoid of external meaning. Lending itself to a thousand brand extensions, from clothing to insurance to mobile phones, as well as baked beans and sliced bread. Tesco is an eighty year-old name that sounds like a contemporary online brand. Which is probably why it also works as a massive contemporary online brand.

Capital Radio – later Capital FM, 95.8 Capital FM, Capital 95.8, and Capital Radio again, but always for its listeners just Capital – is a great name.

Launched in 1973, Capital Radio was the UK’s first commercial music station. The Capital name places the station firmly at the centre of things. This isn’t just local radio, it’s London radio.  The association with capital meaning money helps the smell of high finance and commercialism cling to the brand, and in an era where UK broadcasting, and especially UK radio, was dominated by the BBC, alluding to being a bit of a showbiz wheeler-dealer marked it as modern, dynamic and powerful. It’s surely no coincidence that Capital’s greatest commercial success came in the late 80s and early 90s, when the City was booming, Chris Tarrant trousered millions for the breakfast show and Doctor Fox cranked out the hits on the big drive home. Capital meant London – or at least one kind of big, brassy, shouty, Del Boy London.

At the end of the century, as new competition blossomed, the station started a long slump in the ratings. But research showed Londoners really wanted to like Capital. The name still meant something, even if the product wasn’t quite the London-focussed hit music offer that it promised. More recently, ratings have grown again after a long period of decline, as the station has focused on playing loads of truly terrible Autotuned r’n’b-lite on high rotation (Full disclosure: I am 42 years old) and packing lots and lots of London in between the hits.

Which makes yesterday’s announcement in the media press a little odd.

From January, Global Radio is rebranding its Galaxy network of dance/urban music stations, as well as four hit music stations now broadcasting under fiercely local heritage radio names,  as Capital FM.

The commercial logic in cutting costs, sharing programmes and building a national brand seems sound, even if  the anorak within me is crying inside at what’s effectively the end of local commercial radio in places like Nottingham, Leicester and Cardiff.

But the name? I hope they’ve focus-grouped it.

Capital FM, Manchester? Capital FM, Birmingham? Capital FM, East Midlands?

Capital FM from Cardiff kind of works, although it replaces the obviously Welsh Red Dragon FM. But Capital FM in central Scotland will serve both the capital, Edinburgh, and very proudly-and-defiantly-not-the-capital-at-all, Glasgow.

Surely it’s a recipe for market confusion. Capital means London, as a word and as a brand. It seems to me a bit as if, when ITV dropped its regional brands – Granada, Central, Tyne Tees and all – instead of calling their network ITV1, they had called it Thames Television.

My own focus group on the school run were disappointed. “Trent FM is cool,” says the eleven year old.  But then can you trust the opinion of someone with the same name as a toilet roll?

Revealed at last: inside Alan Partridge’s hotel drawer.

In copywriting, scriptwriting, writing on July 13, 2010 at 9:00 pm

Good writing is as much about what you leave out as what you put in.

Like the monster skulking in the shadows, or the compelling off-screen presence (Her Indoors or Mrs Mainwaring) what we don’t reveal can be more captivating than what we do.

So when Alan Partridge was holed-up in the Linton Travel Tavern, the mystery of what exactly was tucked away in his desk drawer was made more delicious by never being solved.

Horrific? Embarrassing? Stomach-churning? Hilarious? Who knew?

Well, the writers knew.

Controlling the information you reveal is a technique that holds good whatever you’re writing.

If you can get your audience to do a little work for themselves – to use their imaginations, anticipate your punch-line, fill in the gaps – they’re engaging more closely with your world.

But leaving a space for the audience to fill can’t be a short-cut for a writer. You still need to know exactly what it is you’re holding back, so that the gap that you leave is exactly the right shape. That means fully immersing yourself in every detail of your fictional world and characters, or doing more research than your client will ever expect for your corporate brief. It’s only when you understand it all that you’ll realise what needs to remain, and what you hint at or allude to.

So, what exactly was in Alan Partridge’s top drawer?

According to Alan’s co-creator Armando Iannucci, speaking at Nottingham’s ScreenLit Festival earlier this year, the writers knew specifically: copies of the fictional Dutch special-interest magazine, Dikke Vrouwen op de Toiletten.

(Readers of an inquisitive disposition are invited to Google Translate the term. Readers of a sensitive disposition are warned not to. Readers of a particularly astute nature will notice that by asking you to work to fill the gap in your understanding, I am expertly manoeuvring you to engage more closely with the blog.)

The hardest word

In copywriting, scriptwriting, writing on June 21, 2010 at 11:03 am

During my career as a creative writer, I have been asked to put the words into the mouths of, amongst others, the Fantastic Four, Michael Owen, Gaby Logan, Mobi –  the talking mobile phone from Carphone Warehouse, Kid Chameleon off of the Sega Megadrive, Cinderella, Pauline Fowler and Dot Cotton, and the Alien from the movie Alien.

Writing for existing characters – real and imaginary – demands a slightly different skill to inventing your own. All characters have to sound like themselves and no-one else. They should be individual and distinct. They should also have a consistency about how they speak, even when speaking in very different circumstances. But existing characters have an established tone of voice that you need to recreate if the audience is going to believe in the dialogue you’ve written.

For the Aliens from the movie Aliens it’s quite straightforward (It’s mostly “Hssss!”). For more sophisticated characters, writing can become close to acting. You have to inhabit a character – really think how they think – as well as use the kind of vocabulary, sentence structure, range of expression and idiom that the character employs. I’m not sure it’s something that can be taught.

It’s the same when writing for brands. Some corporate writers and advertising people  seek to mystify the creation of “tone of voice”, as if it was some exotic shamanism  only they have access to. But at heart, it just means making sure that the way a company talks to an audience has a distinct personality, and remains consistent. Writing or creating a brand’s tone of voice is exactly like writing or creating good character dialogue. If you’re used to writing good characters, I think “tone of voice“ comes easy.

But maybe it’s just that creative writers have a head-start in this kind of thing.

As an example, here is what Wayne Rooney said on camera last Friday night as he trudged off the field after a dismal performance against Algeria at the World Cup:

“Nice to see your own fans booing you. If that’s what loyal support is… for fuck’s sake.”

And here’s what he was reported to have said as an apology on Saturday:

“I am as passionate about the England team as anyone. Last night, on reflection, I said things in the heat of the moment that came out of frustration of both our performance and the result. For my part I apologise for any offence caused by my actions at the end of the game.

“The most important thing now is to regroup, be positive and work towards winning the game on Wednesday.

“To do this the players will need the support of the fans more than ever.”

Can you imagine the circumstances in which Wayne Rooney really came up with that?  Did an FA Press Officer chase after him with a tape recorder to capture these words of wisdom? Was it an impromptu outburst over breakfast or perhaps, troubled by his “foul-mouthed rant” (© Daily Mail), did Rooney hide himself away in his South African hotel room during some of the endless downtime in the Capello camp, and jot it down on the complimentary stationery?

My guess – and instinctively everyone’s guess – is: none of the above. We know Wayne Rooney. We’ve heard him speak. That’s not Wayne Rooney. My guess is, if Wayne Rooney said anything, it was more like:

“I shouldn’t of said them things, but I was pissed off with the game and that, so yeah, OK, I’m dead sorry I swore when kiddies were watching. Can’t we just fuckin’ forget it?”

But the trouble with getting tone of voice so wrong is that we automatically question everything else about the statement. We know Rooney didn’t say that. So does he think that? Is he sorry? Is he bothered? The words say he is. The performance on the pitch suggests he might not be.

So rather than helping the situation, the FA statement only confirms two things: whoever wrote that apology wasn’t Rooney, and neither were they a creative writer.

Super, smashing…

In copywriting, Uncategorized, writing on May 25, 2010 at 10:20 am

As a professional writer I am always on the look-out for the next corporate cliché: this year’s Passion or Solutions.

And there’s one word I’m keeping an eye on that’s really starting to grate.


In some ways, great is a great word. It’s upbeat and enthusiastic, yet modest and self-effacing.

You can see why a corporate world which increasingly is trying to position itself as approachable and human would latch onto great.

Companies that tell you they have superlative, class-leading, exemplary solutions sound boastful and arrogant.

Companies that tell you they make great products or – two new clichés for the price of one –  great content, sound down-to-earth and chatty.

But there’s also something vacuous and hollow about great in this context. Great is quite a big assertion, not a vague label of quality. Churchill was great. St Paul’s Cathedral is great. George Best was great.

Chances are, you don’t make great websites (Hey – so why not try making one for yourselves?), or great coffee (Nescafe? Really?). If you are La Scala or Carnegie Hall, it may be appropriate to call yourself the Home of Great Music. Are you overselling yourself just a little if you make the same claim for your radio station in Mansfield?

Trust me, your B2B interactive digital marketing solutions aren’t that great. If they are useful, successful or easy-to-use then that’s pretty good, so why not say they are useful, successful or easy-to-use?

(We have been here before, of course:  Great! Super!)

First Class stamp, please, Mrs Goggins

In copywriting, scriptwriting, Uncategorized, writing on April 8, 2010 at 5:33 pm

How to write a bad company website in three easy stages.

1) Give it a lousy title.

Like Royal Mail Fulfilment Solutions. I thought everyone had agreed some years ago now that the solutions word is the worst kind of empty corporate jargon, but perhaps Royal Mail’s memo got lost in the post. There is a danger that solutions has become so despised a term that it may become ironically trendy again, like the asymmetrical haircut or the rail strike, but I don’t think we’ve reached that moment of crisis quite yet.

Put simply, no-one wants a “fulfilment solution”. Personally, I only came in for a stamp.

And, while we’re at it, Director of Fulfilment is a pretty glorified job title for a jumped-up postman, and should only be used without irony in a Buddhist monastery or a sex clinic.

2) Don’t proof-read.

A lot of the language you’ll find at Royal Mail Fulfilment Solutions isn’t dreadful, but there are too many lines that don’t work, and should have been seen off in a final polish.

“We’ve developed a range of services to help your business[…] meet three of your biggest demands: speed, cost and security.”

Well, no. Cost isn’t one of my demands. Reducing costs might be. Monitoring costs almost certainly is. But bare, bald cost can’t be a demand.

And when I hear Royal Mail’s Director of Fulfilment say “we take speed very seriously at Royal Mail” I’m sure I won’t be the only one picturing a row of straight-faced postmen conscientiously necking their amphetamine ration before setting off on their rounds.

3) Use video. Badly.

The very worst part of the Royal Mail Fulfilment Solutions isn’t the language at all, but it is still the responsibility of a writer.

Someone somewhere decided that what would make their website all modern and zingy and accessible was some slick embedded video. Technologically and visually, they were right. It looks good. It’s clean and clear and intuitive. There is clearly some advantage in allowing a friendly human face to represent an organisation that still has a reputation for Soviet style inefficiency.

But it’s still a terrible idea.

Whoever decided to do it doesn’t understand the nature of writing video.

It’s not about controlling language. It’s about controlling time.

A script or a screenplay or a speech looks a lot like printed copy. But it works in a very different way. Your eyes flick across a printed page. You skim and scan. A video plays out its information word after word after word, and it’s hard to find what you want – you have to wait until it arrives.

Also, the spoken word eats up time.

The first time you hear someone read out words that you have written, I guarantee you will ache and yawn and die of boredom. Everything takes so long.

(The first time you hear a proper actor read out your words, it’s like the above, only doubled. A classical training means being taught to enunciate so that your lines can be heard in the back row of the theatre. )

It’s why the best scripts and screenplays read like haiku or telegrams.

A word here.

A word there.

Quick beats.

It doesn’t matter if it’s soap opera or cinema

On top of that, the internet is unforgiving. If your audience is sitting in a hushed cinema, or an expectant theatre, then maybe you can tease them and stretch them and make them wait.

Even those inane TV monitors at the side of the Post Office queue give you some leeway (and maybe that’s exactly where they got the idea for this).

But online, it’s very different.

A world of more exciting possibilities is only a click away. So the video content you put on the internet better be compelling, engaging, interesting or – at the very least – useful.

No-one on the planet can sit there passively while Mike Brown, Director of Fulfilment for Royal Mail chirps on perkily for 2’26” about Recorded Delivery.

Two minutes twenty six!

Do you know what better minds have achieved in two minutes and twenty six seconds?

You Keep Me Hanging On.

All Day and All of the Night.

The Gramophone Sketch.

Irrefutable PROOF that Neil Armstrong never landed on the moon.

Photograph by TomBK on Flickr.

Who wants to marry a millionaire?

In copywriting, scriptwriting, writing on February 17, 2010 at 7:18 pm

Ashley Cole was a merry old soul...

Interesting comments section in this article from The Guardian (“Why do women want to be WAGs?”).

Not about the article itself, mind. I can think of plenty of reasons why a glamorous woman might want to associate herself with a glamorous footballer. Over a hundred thousand reasons a week if he’s at the top of the Premier League.

No, what attracted my attention as a writer was Comment No. 6, and the subsequent replies:

Disappointed to see the Guardian favours ‘texted’. Surely it’s just ‘text’.

No, no, no!

This is one that sets my teeth on edge far more than anything that emanates from Ashley Cole’s underpants.

Personally, I’m quite happy with the verb “to text.”

I know some more pedantic copywriters don’t even like that, preferring “to send a text”. (Pedantic copywriters being, of course, the ones that don’t agree with me.)

But I really have a problem with irregular conjugation “I text him”, “He text me”. Every time I hear it, and I hear it a lot, I can’t help but add the “-ed” on the end. Mostly, but not always, under my breath.

“I texted him.” “He texted me.” It’s not that difficult, is it? Texted seems far more logical to me, even if logic and language very rarely go together.

Now, I’m a firm believer that living English is shaped by usage. There’s no consistent right and wrong over time.

And that has to be true if you’re writing characters, where you have to be true to their individual voices, even if they offend the linguistic pixie at the back of your brain.

But I think we’re still at the indeterminate stage with this word. Text or texted is still in flux. So, for now, I’m sticking solidly to texted. And if I have to use the formation “he text me” at all, I’ll make sure I only put it into the mouths of unsympathetic idiot characters.

Like cheating footballers and their WAGs.

Of Mice and Mulan

In copywriting, scriptwriting, writing on January 31, 2010 at 1:46 am

Disney crafts stories like the Egyptians crafted the pyramids – simple, solid and built to last.

Pixar, on the other hand, builds stories more like the Mesopotamians built ziggurats – fancier, quirkier, more mysterious and interesting – though that’s probably another Re:Writing post…

If you’re an instinctive writer, your modern Disney movie can sometimes feel like storytelling by rote. The beats and the twists come just where they should. The characters are feisty archetypes you feel you’ve seen before. There’s not a lot of room for surprise, unless it’s the sort of surprise you kind of knew was going to happen – which, let’s face it, is a pretty low form of surprise. Disney movies chug along like a super-efficient story-machine.

(Christopher Vogler, who worked on the story-structure for The Lion King, provides an insight into the nuts and bolts of it all here in his book The Writer’s Journey.)

But there’s an uncomfortable truth for anyone who finds the process a little textbook: they may be built to a formula, but Disney’s stories still kick arse.

I saw Disney’s Mulan for the very first time this week. The story kept me hooked from start to finish.

And here’s how I know it was the story that reeled me in: what I watched wasn’t Disney’s Mulan, the 1999 animated feature film, but Disney’s Mulan, the stage spin-off of the 1999 animated feature film as performed by a local amateur youth theatre group.

Of course, the phrase “local amateur youth theatre group” is normally a triple-strength reason to stay at home. In fact, any one of the phrases “local theatre group”, “amateur theatre group” and “youth theatre group” is usually toxic enough on its own.

But my daughter (10) was in it. And one of the unspoken ordeals of parenthood is to sit through your offspring’s school concerts, nativity plays or violin recitals with a look of benign indulgence on your face, even when your inner critic is noting every bum note, bolshie angel or bow-squeak.

So what I saw was stripped away of all the gloss and the glitz that the House of Mouse drapes over its storytelling: no slick animation, no pitch-perfect singing, no Eddie Murphy riffing over his script as a wise-cracking dragon-spirit. (Was this before or after he did exactly the same act in Shrek? I forget.)

And even through the slightly shaky accents (suburban Nottingham kids doing ancient China via Hollywood Boulevard) and the minimalist stagecraft (the climactic avalanche courtesy of a white bedsheet), I was still pretty desperate to see if Mulan would win the battle (she does!), save the nation (she does!) or marry the man she loves (she does!).

It’s easy to see how a compelling story is important if you’re writing a screenplay.

But it also relates to creative scriptwriting and copywriting in the commercial or corporate world.

A copywriter shouldn’t just be the person you go to who drapes fancy glitzy words over your idea, product or service.

A good creative scriptwriter or copywriter will see past the language to the bones of your idea. They’ll question what you want to say and why you want to say it. They’ll create a strong structure to your message and only then will they fit the right words in place on top.

Never settle for a Mickey Mouse writer. Mickey Mouse wouldn’t.