Friday, August 17, 2007

Always crashing gears [in the same car]

Swapping from one genre to another and one storytelling medium to another guarantees variety in the working life of a freelancer, but making the change can be problematic. You've been going great guns writing a calling card TV pilot script, when suddenly you have to switch directions and tackle a comics script. It's a bit like changing from top gear into reverse in six seconds: the engine screams in protest, the vehicle struggles to stay on the road and the whiplash can be severe. Try not to bang your heard on the dashboard as you come to a sudden, screeching halt.

So it was yesterday. Spent the morning trying to disengage the TV script portion of my brain with limited success, choosing instead to read and offer feedback on somebody else's script project. Printed out the synopsis for a Phantom comic script I'm due to deliver this week. Transcribed some notes from my editor Ulf, that had been scrawled temporarily on the back of an envelope. Re-read the synopsis to remind myself of the story, the tone and to determine its pacing. And then I agonised, long and hard, trying to find the right cold opening for my script, the perfect start.

Finally got into my stride about five and was picking up some steam by six - when I had to stop for other concerns. So it's back in the saddle, once I've tweaked a thought piece for another publication. I've printed out what I wrote on the Phantom yesterday to read, revise and improve. Suspect I've run a bit long on some of the scenes, getting everything established. My synopsis has 14 paragraphs, so that equates to about 15 panels per paragraph.

When I stopped I was on paragraph four of the synopsis, but had already reached panel 76. So I need to tighten up what I've already written to leave room for big beats to come. Think I might have a repeat beat in those 76 panels, so that can come out. Everybody knows what a repeat beat is, right? A script editor friend explained the concept to me. It's when something happens once in a script, but the same sequence plays out again later on. Feels great the first time, too familiar the second.

There's an episode of new Doctor Who where a character stays behind to nobly sacrifice themselves fighting a big, bad monster [not unlike the "You always were an asshole, Gorman" sequence in Aliens]. But five minutes later in the same Who episode [it might even be in the same chase sequence], another character stays behind to nobly sacrifice themselves fighting the big, bad monster. Worse still, it devalues the sacrifices of both characters. Hence, repeat beat.

Sigh. I start these blog entries talking about one thing and invariably end up wittering on about something else. But that's preferrable to interview features in newspapers and magazines where the writer feels obliged to open with some comment and bring their article full circle by referring back to that comment at the end. Please leave those juvenile bookend tendences at journalism school. Please?

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