Saturday, October 28, 2006

Right story, wrong genre

So, yesterday in our script development workshop I presented the latest derivation of my feature idea. I'd written a four page plot synopsis that took the story to its act one climax, as suggested by the previous week's guest speaker, and softened the protagonist to make him more likable. Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong and wrong again, it seems. I spent half an hour in the workshop getting what I'd written pulled apart, with our tutor at the front of the queue waiting to tear my writing to piece. A chastening experience, to put it mildly, and one that played heavily on my mind as I drove back home at hyperspeed to get ready for last night's opera performance. [At least that went well, a great audience and good fun for all involved.]

About halfway through the tearing and rending, I voiced the obvious problem afflicting what I'd written. In my head, I initially conceived the story as a rom-com - an outrageous and unlikely rom-com, but a rom-com nevertheless. When I was writing my plot synopsis, it became apparent I had a romance at the heart of my story, but little or no comedy. Despite this, I pressed on, creating plot contrivances and forcing characters to act in unlikely ways to fulfil the conventions of the rom-com genre. I've made this kind of mistake before, most obviously on a Doctor Who novel called The Domino Effect. I had my story and it was king, so I bent everything else about the book out of shape to fit that story. End result: one shite novel.

You know how people sometimes talk wistfully about the path not taken, the opportunity they didn't pursue and now regret? Not me. I can talk with confidence about the wrong path taken. I now realise my feature idea is - if written well - a strong, dramatic love story. But I need to throw away almost everything I've done up to this point, work my way backwards to first principles and start again, recreating the entire narrative as a drama. Most of the characters will survive, but freed of the need to be lovable and cuddly rom-com types, I can push them to opposite extremes, get them as far apart as possible before they begin the long journey to loving each other. Then it's a question of whether I can make that love story work within the genre of an issue-based drama.

Call me fragile, but I find half an hour of pointed criticism hard to take when it's happening. It's a form of rejection and it hurts. But once I've given myself 24 hours of self loathing and stewing in my own juice, my storytelling head begins processing all the constructive points and seeing how they can be applied to the project in question. It's tempting to cast the whole thing aside and start on something fresh, to give up when the going gets tough. But that's rank cowardice. Besides, one of the reasons for doing the screenwriting MA is to give myself a safe environment in which to fall flat on my face [hopefully not too often]. Yesterday felt like one of those days. Time to get up off the floor and learn a lesson, however painful it may be.

4 comments:

Barry said...

That sounds like no fun. I'm glad it happened on the day I never made it in.

Pillock said...

Harsh. I would have cried. Still, it's all positive if you end up with the right script.

Laura said...

Eek. I wouldn't have liked that. Like you say, though, it's one of the reasons we're there - better that classmates tear an idea apart than a bunch of "real" industry types...

I liked James - Friday morning's class was the first I had with him. He seems like a good lecturer. I found him really motivating - although I came across as a Colin Firth stalker, no doubt.

phyllis said...

I thought it was feeling a bit negative at the end but I didn't realise it was so awful for you I hope I wasn't part of the tearing.
Phyllis