Belinda Pollard, Alison Young and Donita Bundy interview pastor, scriptwriter, poet and stand-up comedian Adam Ryan on his writing process for church plays and online episodes for kids. His stories start with characters, and he shares some unique ways of coming up with characters.
Scroll down for audio, video, and a full transcript, or find the podcast on Apple Podcasts here: https://podcasts.apple.com/au/podcast/gracewriters-podcast/id1519376330
In conversation in this episode:
- Belinda Pollard, author of mainstream crime novels, accredited editor with quals in theology, and Gracewriters founder
- Alison Joy, romance author
- Donita Bundy, writing teacher, preacher and author of young adult urban fantasy
- Adam Ryan, pastor at Citipointe Church in Brisbane, scriptwriter for their Christmas presentation and kids video channel, and stand-up comedian
Topics covered in this episode:
- The process of creating a script, by starting with characters.
- Creative options for getting a story going.
- How to adapt techniques for different kinds of stories.
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Belinda Pollard: Welcome to the Gracewriters podcast – Christian writers changing popular culture. Connect with us at Gracewriters.com.
Today on the podcast, Adam Ryan, Pastor and scriptwriter. I’m Belinda Pollard. I’m an author, editor and writing coach with a theology degree and 20 years in the publishing industry. Find links to my books, blogs and courses at belindapollard.com.
Alison Joy: Hi, I’m Alison Young. I’m a romance writer and I live in Brisbane in Queensland and you can find all my information under my pen name alisonjoywriter.com.
Donita Bundy: Hi, I’m Donita Bundy. I’m a writer, preacher, blogger and a writing teacher, and you can find out all about me at donitabundy.com.
Alison Joy: Today, we’re privileged to have Adam Ryan with us. Adam, along with his wife, Joey, oversees the kid’s department as well as family and adults at Brisbane Campus Citipointe Church here in Brisbane, in Australia. Every year the church presents Christmas lights concert and for the past ten years, Adam has been writing the scripts for the storyline that runs throughout the show. And during the COVID season when the church went online, he also scripted kids episodes. So, we thought it might be fun to have a catchup with him and find out the processes behind what he does in his writing.
Adam Ryan: Hello, thanks for having me. I’m excited to be here with the Gracewriters and share what’s going on in this bald and crazy head of mine, so it’s good to be here.
Donita Bundy: So, Adam, as wordsmiths, we all understand the importance of ‘setting’. So, we were wondering if you would be happy to answer our rapid fire five.
Adam Ryan: Okay.
Donita Bundy: The who, what, when, where and how of your story. So, when you write, Adam, who is your target audience?
Adam Ryan: I try to hit a broad range of people. I incorporate elements that might capture different groups. For example, our Christmas script, I include the slapstick and the bright colours of the cast and characters to appeal to the younger kids, and my actual scripting, I kind of aim at an older generation. I try not to specifically aim towards the believers of the house or those visiting for the first time. I try to keep it broad enough that it captures them all.
Donita Bundy: Okay. Thank you. What about, is scriptwriting your main genre or do you write other things as well?
Adam Ryan: I actually like dabbling in a bit of poetry. I do do script writing. I have a heart to step into some writing a novel but I suffer from a medical condition called ‘procrastinitis’ so I’ve got ‘procrastinationitis’. So, yes, I’ve put that off for far too long but one of these days I’ll bite the bullet and step into that. But, yes, scriptwriting. I’ve done a bit of stand-up in my time, as well, so, that’s kind of where that’s developed from there as well.
Donita Bundy: That’s a pretty broad range. We look forward to hearing the first steps of that novel writing in time. Do you have an optimum time for writing? Are you a morning, noon, night, or do you just gather time when it comes along? So, when is your optimum time for writing?
Adam Ryan: I kind of sit down at 7 o’clock or I make myself a cup of tea, I sit there and then I stare at my laptop for about six hours and then it kicks in! I always try to set a time aside to do it, but it just never comes to me when I want it. But, not a recommendation, but I find between 11 – 2am it sort of kicks in. I’d prefer it to be a bit more convenient for me, but I could stare at my screen blankly for hours and nothing’s coming to me and then it would just start. Once it starts, I just try to keep going. Just try to keep the flow happening.
Donita Bundy: So, whenever it happens, it’s a good thing. Let it go. Yes.
Adam Ryan: Yes.
Donita Bundy: Do you have a preferred place to write? Like inside, outside, a particular place or do you write anywhere?
Adam Ryan: Yes. I’m pretty easy. I can sit on the couch or sit at the dinner table or I can just find a place where there’s minimal distractions and just get my head into the world that I’m writing from. A lot of the scripts I write are quite absurdist in style, so I’ve got to escape into a weird place for that writing to be fluent and what not. So, yes.
Donita Bundy: Thank you.
Adam Ryan: No distractions. I’ve got to avoid that.
Donita Bundy: All right. Thank you. The last one, how did you get into script writing?
Adam Ryan: I’ve got a childhood photo album at home and I have a Creative Bee Merit Award from my grade one teacher for my creative writing. So, before I remember I’ve just always, sitting down with a pencil and paper and writing stories. I remember at about nine years old, my mum was actually attending a creative writing writers group and I had an issue with my bones as a young boy and so I spent a bit of time out of school, and my mum would pack up my crutches and my backpack and take me to this creative writing group with her. So, I’d sit around with a bunch of great men and women that were writing creatively and dig into the Arnott’s Family Assorted and sort of write alongside them.
So, yes, as long as I remember, I’ve, sort of, had it around me in some form or another but, when I started serving in the church I found an avenue where I could channel that gift and talent. So, for as long as I’ve been attending church, I’ve had my hand in creatively writing either stand-up pieces for a congregation or scripting for particular seasonal events or activities.
Donita Bundy: Well, thank you.
Adam Ryan: Can’t remember exactly!
Belinda Pollard: That’s excellent. What a great story.
Adam Ryan: Sick.
Alison Joy: So, you said you write seasonally, obviously the big thing at Citipointe church is their Christmas production. And you’ve been doing that for a number of years now, and it’s not just the Citipointe Brisbane location it’s actually, once you’ve done the script, once Citipointe Brisbane have done it, then it goes out to the other churches and they can perform it the following year. So, just walk us through, what does the script writing process look like for you and how does it all come together?
Adam Ryan: I kind of want to discover who my characters are first. Who my players, who are going to be treading the boards on the actual night. So, believe it or not, I’ll often sit down and sketch my characters, I’ll design them. I like cartooning and sketching and I used to write little comic books when I was in high school so, I’d, sort of, sketch out my characters and that would give me an idea of what are they wearing. Why do they wear that? Where have they come from? What are they facing? What’s their personality like? What are they excited about? What puts them offside and all this sort of stuff.
So, my characters, Alison will know of characters like Battleman and Skulldar and stuff like that. They’ve got a little bit of a history about them when they’re on stage but beyond the stage, in my own head, there’s this whole other backstory to who these people are and that helps me figure out how they’d react in certain situations. How they’d respond. The way they talk. The way they behave. Their reactions to certain scenarios and situations and that helps me, sort of, construct who they are and that’s where I start from.
So, once I know who they are, I’ll get into the situation. I’ll lay out my story arc, obviously, what’s the journey I want these characters to go on and what is it I want them to discover and share with the congregation, the audience, by the end of it. So, yes, I want to have a point to start and a point to finish and there’s all sorts of wild things can happen between those two points. But as long as I get to those two points, that’s my key.
Belinda Pollard: Do you plan the whole thing or are you a pantser, do you write by the seat of your pants?
Adam Ryan: Yes, a bit of the seat of the pants action there but, yes, I know where I want to get to and I’m like, what could happen during this. I like to create, I want to have a bit of an antagonist within it, I want a situation to arise. I want my key character of that moment or characters to face an obstacle to overcome or an issue they’re facing, I want them to work their way through it and then I want them to come to their resolve at the end. So, what’s going to happen between them facing that issue and the resolve.
I had a fun time writing last year’s, where I introduced a character which, at first appearance, you’d think was the villain of the piece. But what I did, I kind of flipped it on the head and made last year’s hero unintentionally become the villain. Where he had an opportunity to forgive his estranged brother, who was the villain, but on this occasion our hero from last year couldn’t find the ability to forgive his brother and so it sort of flipped the conventions on its head and made the good guy the villain of the piece and the bad guy, he was kind of a loveable, loveable brut, wasn’t he, Alison.
Alison Joy: That was Adam, by the way, he was playing that part!
Adam Ryan: He was adorable!
Belinda Pollard: I really like the way it’s character driven. I love that it’s character driven. That you build the character first and then what they do emerges from who they are. Because that is actually, when you do want to get around to writing that novel that you’re procrastinating on, that is a really good way to start on a novel as well. Especially if you’re a pantser, which is someone who writes by the seat of the pants. Fantastic. Sorry, Alison, you had more questions.
Adam Ryan: I think you will find their conversations, there’s got to be some traction to the way they interact and the conversations they have. And if the character development’s too shallow, I think it could be like, why did he react like that, why would he have said that, or why did he react so strongly to that? But if you don’t know who the characters are you’ve sort of don’t know at what point you’re going to get them to be triggered or react or respond to something, so.
Alison Joy: The thing I like, Adam tends to have the same characters appearing for a couple of years in the production, so you get to go on a bit of a journey with them. And there’s also, for those of us who have been around, there is also in-jokes, which come back too, so. Yes. And obviously humour plays a huge part in what you write. Why is it so important for you to have those elements?
Adam Ryan: I think, to me, I’ve always looked at humour as soil preparation. I mean, our Christmas script, we do have a moral and we have a Christian message hidden amidst the absurdity, but I’ve always found that there’s no easier way to bring down a wall or to open a heart or to make someone receptive than to have them laugh. You get them to giggle, you get them to have a tear come to their eye from laughing or even something a bit more emotive, on a sadder side on Christmas.
Easter, obviously, I don’t rely so much on humour but when it comes to Christmas, yes, there’s a bit of space to have a bit of fun. If I can get them to laugh, I can get them to open up and receive that subliminal message I’ve interwoven amidst my script, or not so subliminal. Make them a bit more open to receive that, I think, so.
Alison Joy: That’s great. So, when would you start? What sort of lead time do you have for writing the script? When do you start?
Adam Ryan: At the end of 2018, we’d just performed the first year with these characters, they were action figures, there were Barbie dolls, they were toys from a toy box, essentially. From the get-go, we made a gag that we’ve got to be careful with the storyline as we might infringe on Disney copyright laws and so we were very conscious of not straight ripping off Toy Story so we try to make a very obvious distinction from that from the get-go.
But the minute I finished writing that one, my head was already, sort of, planning on what the next year was going to look like. So, I do a lot of in-head writing before I actually sit down and do my two-finger typing on the laptop to get the script written out, but so, it could start very early on. From the moment I’ve finished the first one I’m, sort of, thinking about the next year. I think the nature of what we do at Citipointe is I’ve got four, maybe five, three to five-minute scenes to develop these characters that have been over developed in my head.
There’s so much more to these characters that they’re going to expand beyond the 20 minutes I get on stage at Christmas and so I think that’s where my head naturally goes to it next year. I get to expand these stories out over a couple of years and like Alison said, I can bring back some in-jokes from the previous year. This year I actually had a go at the audience, I said if you don’t get some of these in-jokes that will teach you for not coming to last year’s show. So, I sort of set that up!
Alison Joy: Adam, earlier you said, you sometimes sit down and stare at the screen for hours before anything happens. What do you do to overcome writer’s block?
Adam Ryan: I drink a lot of tea! The kettle’s just on constant boil! I go back for another cup; I go back for another cup. Sometimes it just takes that one joke that sort of makes me chuckle to myself, and I’m like, “Alright, we’re off.” That’s a good starter point.
For the last years, I’ve had the idea of having once the assumed protagonist had arrived on the scene, everyone was going to be like, “Who is this? Who is this?” and I thought it would be a funny idea to actually, because he is a toy, have his packaging there and it actually explains who he is. And so, I sort of had that joke and that sort of triggered me off and it started.
I’ve just got to come up with that one thing and then it just, sort of, chain reaction kicks in, so last year it was the packaging just sort of kicked in. I’m like, “Okay, cool, we will run with that.” So, he came in.
Belinda Pollard: So, a kernel of an idea.
Adam Ryan: Yes, you’ve just got to get that one sometimes. So, what’s that initial reaction that triggers the flow ons.
Belinda Pollard: So, you mentioned the Kids Online program that you’ve been doing during the pandemic. Yes?
Adam Ryan: Yes.
Belinda Pollard: And how did you go about developing the script for that, which is obviously a different type of a setting, and what sort of feedback have you had about it?
Adam Ryan: I think we’re kind of existing in a society at the moment where everyone’s asking questions and we’ve got any number of avenues that they can draw their answers from, whether it’s social media, celebrities, radio/TV, peers in the playground. There’s so many, particularly with the kids, they’re sort of facing these big questions about life and I feel that if we don’t put an entertaining and engaging method to answer these questions for them, they’re going to go to any one of these other sources to get the answers and they’re not always in line with the truth, and the things that we think will lead them to a healthy and wholesome life.
So, what I started with the scripts for the kids is, I wanted a keyword. I’ve always said if the kids can just take away one key point, that’s a win for me. Like, I don’t want to bombard them with a complete breakdown of the Gospel of John or anything like that, I just want them to know that: they want help – they can call on God. So, alright, let’s call this episode Help and so from Help it would go, “Alright, let’s put myself and my offsider Paster Reuben in a situation where he requires help.”
And so I’ll think of a funny situation where he will get caught up with an issue that he’s facing and together we’re going to work out how he can find some help with the situation he’s facing and then that will lead us towards a sort of creative re-imagining of some familiar Bible stories, putting a few pop culture references in there and just make it a bit of giggle. But have that core and that truth of that story still singing out there and I got the opportunity to incorporate my cartoons in that as well.
So, I got to sketch out some of our Bible characters which, the colour and the humour in those sort of things will capture a kid’s attention, even if my monotonous drone of a voice doesn’t capture them, those pictures do. So, it’s a good opportunity to balance a couple of different giftings.
Belinda Pollard: Is it mostly animation or it’s live action and animation?
Adam Ryan: I’ve got an amazing couple of guys that operate the editing suite for me. I just sort of sit in front of the camera and they do that. What I’ve provided for them is just a digital version of my cartoon and they do some small animations to it, like they’ll make them move or blink or they’ll make an animated fire rush through the scene but for the most part they’re just static images but the editing team, the video team, which is an amazing talent all to itself, they incorporate some animated elements to those stories.
Belinda Pollard: Fantastic. And are people watching it? How’s it going? Is it reaching out beyond who you would’ve expected to reach?
Adam Ryan: Absolutely, with, obviously, coming out of COVID restrictions where we can start to gather in person, some of our resources had to be reallocated and for a season we had to put our online episodes on hold, but since then I’m getting emails from Massachusettsin USA, Nashville. We’ve got a location over in Nashville and they’re hit pretty hard by COVID-19 over there and it’s a lot of kids that are begging us to bring it back, so I’m excited, we’re actually working on a Christmas special for them. So, we’re going to put a Christmas kid’s episode on and I’m hoping to get the episodes back on air as soon as we can.
We had to realign our focus on live streaming the main church service, here at Citipointe. I think once they find their feet on the ground there and they can reassess whether we can bring our kid’s episodes back. So, I’d like to get them back soon. But there’s definitely kids that are missing it and there’s kids that don’t get to go to church in person and I’d love to still be able to get in there and plant some little seeds in their heart as well, so.
Belinda Pollard: That’s wonderful.
Alison Joy: There’s some adults that are missing it too, just so you know!
Adam Ryan: I’ve had a number of adults come up and reference the episode and I’m looking at them, and I’m like, “You don’t have kids. What are you doing watching these episodes?” But we try to keep it fun enough that even an adult could sit down and enjoy an episode, so. I like that broad incorporation of demographics when I write, so if I can make mum and dad laugh, they’re more inclined to pop it on for the kids and sit down in the lounge room with them and that’s a win.
Donita Bundy: Adam, here at Gracewriters our slogan is Christian writers changing popular culture. How does this challenge you?
Adam Ryan: Yes, like I said earlier, I think there’s so many people out there looking for answers and if we can create what we create in an accessible manner, like if we get too high on our high horse and write in a way that’s just going to disengage people that are in that place of asking questions, so if we can connect with them where they are without compromising our morality and our personal standards then I think, by all means, we should do that.
We’re called to be a light to the world, which is something that’s seen, something that’s obvious, something that’s accessible from whatever vantage point they’re looking from. So, if we can’t put something out there that can capture their focus and attention, I think we’re misusing our gift, to be honest.
Donita Bundy: Yes.
Adam Ryan: We’ve been sent out there to capture them, to find those lost sheep and bring them back. So, we’re putting something out there that just makes the sheep want to run even further then we’re missing the mark a little bit, I think.
Donita Bundy: Absolutely. Absolutely. And so, obviously, you’ve been part of Citipointe and having this great ministry, you’re allowing, your faith is allowed to come out and demonstrated through the gifts that you’ve been given. Do you see yourself staying in shell of what you’re currently doing or is there potential for you to take that further into other areas of ministries at Citipointe?
Adam Ryan: Yes, I definitely think there’s avenues to go out there. When I do my stand-up, I do a bit of comedy at Citipointe but it’s normally just incorporated in other things I do but I have had opportunity to perform at the Paddington Sit-Down Comedy Club a couple of times.
So, go up alongside some comedians, some secular comedians and I’ve got to stand out there and make them laugh without relying on dirty jokes. So, it’s quite the challenge. It’s very easy to tell a dirty joke and get the crowd to giggle but to go out there and present humour in a wholesome manner and in those situations it’s more my interactions with those around me. I don’t often interweave a ministry or an altar calling to my stand-up pieces.
Belinda Pollard: But you could incorporate gracenotes!
Adam Ryan: Yes. Yes. Absolutely, I think I’m going to have to implement those as well, but I do a lot of my stand-up around, obviously being married and being a father, so those sorts of things go in there and I guess my gracenotes amidst how to interact in a positive way with my wife and my children and just work that humour in there as well.
Belinda Pollard: You could even work humour about the fact that you go to church into your secular stand-up which even itself is a gracenote, because nobody else ever talks about that. We are pretty funny!
Adam Ryan: Yes!
Belinda Pollard: There’d be plentiful material!
Adam Ryan: One of my favourite comedians, at the moment, is John Crist. I don’t know if you’ve seen this guy, but he has a good laugh at us Christians fairly regularly. Not in a sinister way but it does point out the absurdity of some of the things, the methodology that we adhere to and stuff. It’s quite funny having a good laugh, if you can’t laugh at yourself it’s a pretty sad place. I’m always up to have a bit of a giggle at the silly things that we can do as Christians sometimes.
Belinda Pollard: That’s excellent. We’re out of time. How about I pray for Adam and for the Gracewriters out there who are thinking of writing similar things.
Heavenly Father, we thank you so much for this opportunity today, we thank you for Adam joining us and sharing his writing adventures and the way that he has grown into this writing calling that you’ve given him over time. We pray that you will continue to bless his ministry and his work and inspire him and lead him into the types of writing that you are particularly preparing for him.
And I pray for all the other Gracewriters out there who are thinking of doing similar things from script writing to kids talks, to stand-up comedy. There are so many options and opportunities and I pray that you will encourage and bless and inspire each one of them too and strengthen them in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Adam Ryan, thank you so much for joining us today.
Adam Ryan: Thanks for having me. It’s been a pleasure.
Belinda Pollard: And Donita Bundy and Alison Joy. I’m Belinda Pollard and we will see you next time on the next Gracewriters podcast.
Thank you for joining us today at the Gracewriters podcast – Christian writers changing popular culture. Subscribe to the blog to receive an invitation to our monthly catch-up on Zoom and to our free private online forum where members discuss topics that affect Christian writers. Connect with us at gracewriters.com. We’d love to see you there.