Prolific Screenwriter Shares Secrets at Young Writers Festival

by Gan Qian Rou, Republic Polytechnic

WRITE SOMETHING YOU CARE ABOUT: The writer, Ms Ng Swee San, share principles and tips involved in adapting true stories for the screen, which included some examples from her own career during the workshop. (PHOTO BY: GAN QIAN ROU)


She may not be a familiar face to most television audiences. Wearing a pair of white spectacles and carrying a white-grey backpack, Ms Ng Swee San doesn’t strike you as someone from the glamourous entertainment scene.

But Ms Ng is a prominent name, having written television shows for the past 14 years which included acclaimed prime-time shows The Pupil, Code of Law, In Cold Blood and Tanglin.

Ms Ng stumbled into screenwriting by chance. After she graduated from university, her first job involved writing corporate broaches, annual reports and newsletters. It was a by a stroke of luck that she became a screenwriter.

“(My) boyfriend was the head writer of the TV sitcom, so I got to know him and he asked me, ‘Are you interested to write for a children show that I am producing?’ and I said ‘yes’,” Ms Ng said.

At the All In! Young Writers Festival 2018, Ms Ng gave a masterclass on adapting true stories for screen and a screenwriting workshop for beginners.

“It’s fun to interact with young audiences, especially last year quite a number of audience members who were not Singaporeans,” said Ms Ng, who teaches scriptwriting at Puttnam School of Film and Animation, Lasalle College of the Arts. “Just to see the different point of views of the participants, because they will also be telling their own story and their stories will reflect their culture as well.”

During the workshop, Ms Ng shared some useful tips that young audiences can use in screenwriting. “You should do research when you write, especially it is not your own life,” she said. Ms Ng shared an example of how she visited The Supreme Court and sat in for court hearings when she did research for the script of The Pupil. “Watching other show is not research. You have to do the real research,” she said.

Ms Ng also recommended aspiring writers could keep a journal or diary and pen entries every day because she believes that a lot of people write great stories. “Sometimes it’s not the story itself get matters so much, sometimes is the way that the story is told,” she said.

Ms Ng added: “Both of us have a unique point of view, so you have to find what your unique point of view is.”

Gilda Ong, a student from Cedar Girls’ Secondary School, enjoyed the Masterclass Ms Ng gave on March 16, the first day of the All In! Young Writers Festival. The 15-year-old said: “It was a good experience as in I am interested in creative art and things. This workshop gives us the creative abilities to come out with stories.”

Ms Ng hopes to inspire young writers to avoid common mistakes. For one, she thinks that most young writers tend to imitate Hollywood too much when writing a script. “They try to write stories about the mafia, about people being killed, very big stories which may not come across as being very realistic. And even the characters may sound more like an Americans than like Singaporeans,” she said.

Instead, young writers should write about what they really want to say about the world, about themselves and the world. “Don’t try to write something that will change the world. You can do that after a while, after you have some experiences, but that should not be your goal. If you end up changing the world fine, but you have to write something that you really care about,” she said.

This feature story is written by Gan Qian Rou, a Republic Polytechnic Diploma in Mass Communication student.