Wednesday, January 21, 2009

When loose threads unravel your jumper of plot

Blimey, that was hard work. I've just spent days slaving over a third draft treatment for an episode of the Lighthouse team-writing TV drama project. The house is a tip, I'm fast running out of clean clothes and I even forgot to watch the live coverage of Barack Obama's inauguration as US President. Finally nailed the sucker at ten last night, after a fifteen-hour marathon [preceded by days and days of tortuous plotting and re-plotting].

On the face of it, my third draft should have been a straight-forward task. Most of my second draft was solid stuff, full of twisty-turny machinations and eye-popping moments to excite and intrigue. But there wasn't enough emotional drama, and course leader Phil Palmer was pushing me to dig a bit deeper. The simplest of notes - shift the death of one character from the teaser to later in the story - caused utter chaos in the third draft.

It's like the old joke about pulling one loose thread on a knitted jumper and the whole garment will come apart. The more I tweaked and teased at that single element, the more I had to rework the rest of my narrative. I applied a five act structure to help me keep track of the central guest character's emotional journey, for fear of simply inserting a bunch of repeat beats or Hamlet-esque hand-wringing and vacillation by this character.

I must have rewritten the first two acts half a dozen time, trying to find the right way into the middle section of my story. Apologies for dragging another metaphor into this, but writing act three in a five-act structure can be like get a goat through the digestive tract of a boa constrictor. It's a tight fit, takes a long time and can lead to narrative indigestion. I noticed this before in my writing - it's the middle that bakes my noodle.

Once characters start dying, things get a lot easier. The cast thins out, the stakes get raised to a higher and higher degree of jeopardy and everything accelerates to an almighty, shuddering climax. [Lucy Vee, stop going 'oo-er' in your head.] And so it proved yesterday. Took forever but once I finally pushed through act three everything that followed came so much easier. Thank grud. Trees. Forest. My vision is no longer impaired. Hurrah.

Now there's just the small matter of turning my treatment into a scene by scene breakdown by lunchtime tomorrow. Of course, I'm on call for my part-time job at Napier today and back in the office there tomorrow. So I've really only got until end of play today to nail this sucker and move on. There's scenes to write for next Thursday, and the small matter of finding time for some actual paying work outside Napier. Busy, busy, busy. Onwards!


Lucy said...

Excuse me Bishop!

You'll find your script is a SCARF, not a jumper. Tsk.

Adrian Reynolds said...

I'm not sure which is worse...Lucy going 'oo-err' in her head, or you doing an impression of Lucy going 'oo-err' in yours, which is what the mention of the c-word clearly prompted you to do.

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