Tips on Submitting a Short Trip for Big Finish’s Paul Spragg Writing Opportunity

Since 2016, Big Finish have been hosting their annual Short Trip Writing Opportunity, in memory of one of their most dedicated staff Paul Spragg who sadly passed away on May 8th 2014. And so far, two individual winning entries were released on December 29th (Paul’s birthday), each of the first two years: Forever Fallen by Joshua Wanisko (2016) and Landbound by Selim Ulug (2017) – both available to download for free.

With the competition now running for its third year, have you got a really good story idea, or perhaps two, in mind? Now’s your chance to check out the Submission Rules; and even better – Big Finish are now accepting submissions from the Classic and New Series eras (up to Twice Upon a Time)! Isn’t that fantastic! Anything involving Doctors Nine, Ten, Eleven, and Twelve etc. but sadly not the War Doctor, as a result of “licensing agreements”. (Please note that Big Finish have also specified that they are accepting no more than two submissions per writer. So if you have plans to submit a couple, I would highly recommend doing one of each Classic and New Series incarnation, just to get a balance of samples.)

But, by the way, might I suggest that you practice some exercises which I’m about to recommend, before you flesh out your 500-word synopsis/outline and opening excerpt.

It’s not the end of the world if you’ve not had any, or perhaps a little bit of, experience with writing fiction. There are many resources for aspiring writers to absorb and comprehend whilst jotting down the beats of each plot point, from (re)watching episodes to reading and/or listening to various Short Trips and full-cast audio dramas. I suggest that you watch only a few episodes to get a flavour of each incarnation and/or companion(s), as a way of familiarising yourself with the characterisations and continuity; why not also try reading the shooting scripts as you go along – all text to visual.

Short Trips are standalone, heavily compact and character-driven, usually with an average running time of 30-45 minutes. That is certainly the case for both Forever Fallen and Landbound. Speaking of which, you can download their original submission entries and scripts (in PDF) to read along with the audios, and get a grasp of the writing and narrative styles. It’s worth also checking out how Tony Jones wrote Rulebook in gradual stages, along with an interview centering what inspired Joshua Wanisko to enter, and a series of tips that Selim Ulug posted on the unofficial Not The Big Finish Forum:

“Before we know it, it will be time for this year’s Paul Spragg competition. I thought I’d put some thoughts down that might help those of you who will be entering. 

If it’s run as before, you’ll submit two pages: a one page synopsis and the first page of the story proper. The synopsis should cover the major characters, the overall theme of the story, and the major plot beats. Try not favour one part of the story over the others in the synopsis. I received this feedback from a friend who beta-read my submission. Cover the entire story in equal detail. You may not have the space to fully flesh out motivations here, but try to make clear why things are happening. 

In my submission, the Doctor’s second visit clearly had to happen after The Three Doctors. The other two visits were much more loosey-goosey as far as the Doctor’s motivation was concerned. After selecting my story, Ian Atkins suggested that we set the first visit after the Silurians, and the third after Jo’s departure. That helped the story a lot, and I learned something about the importance of clear motivation. 

As for the one page excerpt, I suggest ending the page with something that leaves the reader wanting more. My excerpt ended with the Doctor smiling as the thugs decide to have a go at him. 

I’m not going to speculate as to what kind of story Big Finish is looking for, so I’m sorry I can’t provide any guidance there. I know no more than anyone else. 

If you’re selected, then here are some further tips. The story has to be not much longer than 5K words. My first draft was on the order of 5.7K, but Ian gamefully made suggestions where we could cut. One scene in particular that had to be cut broke my heart. But, although it provided further character development, but it wasn’t essential for advancing the plot, so out it went. 

In addition to George Carlin’s seven words, there are words that cannot be used in Doctor Who. “Bloody” is one, as in “bloody mad”. “Sod” is another, as in “poor sod”. Interesting to speculate what some of the others might be. Those words appeared in my original draft. Out they went. You may discover some others 🙂

Symbology is a fun thing to play with. In Landbound, the pub has a blue door, which of course, brings to mind the notion that the pub is analogous to the Doctor’s “landbound” TARDIS. To strengthen this, Ian suggested we have a wall of decorative plates inside that would be analogous to the “round things” in the TARDIS. Loved that. 

And that’s it. If anything else comes to mind, I’ll post it. Best of luck.

Oh yes. I made the mistake of including a bit of dialog in the synopsis. Don’t do that. There should be no dialog in the synopsis at all.”

If you want to try more of the reading-listening experience, I would highly recommend these Short Trip Rarities in particular (my personal favourites, by the way): Lepidoptery for Beginners, Twilight’s End, and Museum Peace; originally published in the Big Finish Short Trip anthology collections, now out-of-print, and later recorded exclusively for the Main Range subscribers’ content.

Let’s not also forget some highlights of the Monthly Short Trips, such as DamascusThe World Beyond the Trees, A Full Life, the Christmas themed O Tannenbaum, and also The Jago & Litefoot Revival Acts 1 and 2. But if you’re not up to listening to them individually, why not try a small collection of eight from Short Trips: Volume 1 – a taster treat!

Furthermore on the anthology prints, as well as the original BBC Books collections, you don’t have to read them all to become expertly engrossed in the Short Trips range. I suggest you try to get hold of these three particular anthologies to kickstart your inspiration bubble: Defining Patterns, featuring Lepidoptery for Beginners and Twilight’s EndHow the Doctor Changed My Life, consisting of 25 stories all written by competition winners; and Re:Collections, 28 best stories individually chosen from each anthology. eBay’s always the best place to start off with searching.

On other exciting news, not only was Landbound chosen as the overall winner for 2017, five other shortlisted entries have now been recorded – but this time as Subscriber Short Trips (narrated by Stephen Critchlow) to fill in the gaps of the Main Range bonus content for certain releases. For more information, go behind the scenes in this podcast (also available to purchase for FREE) to hear Ian Atkins taking us listeners on a journey through recording sessions and interviews with the winning writers.

So to sum up, it’s always good to plan your Short Trip(s) before submitting to Big Finish. Whether it’s reading-listening to the previous winners, and/or rewatching episodes, they are your foundation point.

And if you’re also interested in reading an example of feedback from Ian Atkins, check this one out.

The 2018 Paul Spragg Memorial Writing Opportunity is now open until June 30th at 23:59.