Friday, June 06, 2008

Less is more, but often means more work

Spent the week writing my entry for the BBC Sharps scheme. It's been challenging because I've chosen to tell much of my story visually, rather than rely to heavily on dialogue. For examples, one of the main characters hasn't spoken yet, and they're in almost every scene. That's forcing me to find other ways of communicating the character's emotional journey, abandoning my usual storytelling crutches. The whole thing could fall flat on its face as a consequence, but I'd rather failure trying something new than retread old habits and tropes.

A lot of TV drama - particularly in continuing series - is akin to radio with pictures. Most soaps you don't need to watch the TV to follow the story. Just listen to the dialogue and sound effects, you'll get 99% of the information you need. Every now and then I'll watch an episode of EastEnders with the sound muted, to study the visual storytelling. Such is the strength of acting and directing, the emotional content of a scene is clearly apparent.

When I read a script professionally, I make sure I read every word of it at least twice. But when I'm reading a script out of personal interest, I've a bad habit of simply skimming the dialogue. Somebody doing that with my Sharps entry may struggle, due to the silent nature of the protagonist. Indeed, there's only five lines of dialogue in the first three pages - and three of those are in Polish.

Writing a script with so much action text runs the risk of filling the pages with black ink. Too much black on a page looks oppressive, potentially off-putting to readers. I contemplated using vertical writing on the script, where the action text is stripped down the page. That's fine for a punchy, kinetic story but my Sharps entry leans more towards magic realism and gothic fairytale than brute force and bullet ballets.

Crucially, I'm trying to strip my script down to the bare essentials. Just offer enough information to create a moving image in the reader's mind, without cluttering the pictures they see. That means writing and cutting, rewriting and cutting again. Less is more, but achieving less means a lot more work. Nobody said writing was easy [if they did, they lied]. I want this script to gleam, to shine - and that takes a lot of extra polishing. Onwards.

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