This doesn’t happen very often, not in the writing sense anyway. The rest of my life is pretty joyful most of the time and I appear to be oversubscribed in the happy family department; but when it comes to writing … there are a lot of speed bumps in the road to happiness.
However, recently my heart did burst with joy and it’s all Rosie Claverton‘s fault.
“Why?” You ask.
“What did this heart-wrecking wench do to you?” You may or may not be thinking, depending on how interested you are.
Well, she wrote a script for Persona – that in itself is neither unusual nor a reason for joy.
What is mildly unusual is it was great from the first draft. Not that the majority aren’t; but … actually, the majority aren’t. The majority are good on the first draft, better on the second and great on the third.
The minority (hardly any) are instantly terrible and slowly improve.
Rosie’s script though (written in conjunction with director Cameron King) was great from the get go. How do I know it was great? Well, because it made me pull faces and gasp as I was reading it – that’s usually a good indication.
It wasn’t perfect though – because scripts aren’t – and it needed a bit of tweaking. There were notes and they needed actioning.
So I gave some notes and they were actioned – not unusual you might think, but some people argue EVERYTHING.
“I think the story lags a bit here.”
“No it doesn’t.”
“Oh, okay. Well I was a bit bored because–”
“No you weren’t. You’re wrong.”
“Right … um … I don’t think I want to work with you.”
But not in this case. In this case, notes were given and notes were actioned.
And yet … there was still something missing. It felt like the characters had abandoned the story for a whole appisode in the middle.
A bit like that recent Torchwood series where Captain Jack left the story to go to a nightclub and get laid. That’s not a spoiler, by the way, it had nothing to do with the story and therefore can’t possibly spoil anything. He literally walks out of the story, goes to a club and fucks someone. The next day, he comes back to find out what the plot’s being doing in his absence.
This felt a little bit like that, even if it was nowhere near as pointless.
I suggested a change which might help smooth things over …
And here’s where the heart-bursting joy came in.
Rosie COMPLETELY IGNORED THE SUGGESTION.
But not the note.
This is a crucial distinction, one which is really important to understand, yet incredibly difficult to do.
Notes and suggestions are not commandments.
Okay, sometimes they are. Ones like ‘BE LESS SHIT’ are fairly commanding; but generally when someone tells you they have a problem with something … they don’t.
Or rather, they might not.
The trick is to ask yourself ‘Why?’
Why is the note-giver bored?
Why doesn’t the note-giver care about the characters?
Why has the note-giver made this terrible suggestion?
In other words:
What is the underlying problem which has caused the note-giver to give this note?
It’s a general rule of thumb that boredom in the third act is caused by problems in the first or second acts; and that boredom in the first act means you’ve started the story in the wrong place or with the wrong people.
So when a note-giver tells you a story event doesn’t make sense, you don’t always need to change the event itself. Sometimes all you need to do is tweak something pages earlier and it all comes into focus.
In this case, the story event didn’t make sense to me because it wasn’t immediately clear why the characters were behaving the way they were. The delightful Ms. Claverton recognised that, ignored the suggestion which would have completely altered the story and merely tweaked one line of dialogue.
Suddenly the whole story clicked into place and the scene which felt completely removed from the story felt like an integral and vital part, without which the rest of the story couldn’t happen.
And to me, that’s joyful.
So the moral of the story is: Hire Rosie Claverton immediately, because she’s ace.
For those of you who, inexplicably, still don’t know; Persona is a drama series delivered in daily byte-sized portions to your smartphone.
For those of you who have iPhones, yes an iPhone is a smartphone and doesn’t have its own special category.
It’s a free app and the content is free – it literally costs you nothing to get a couple of minutes of drama a day which builds into a series of monthly stories (with something darker and more sinister lurking underneath). You have nothing to lose except those dull minutes of day when you’re browsing the net looking for something more satisfying than nostalgic videos of old kids TV shows.