Last year I went to the BBC Drama Writers’ Festival in Leeds and had a merry old time. On my return, I wrote this post about it.
You can read the whole post again if you like, but it’s not really relevant. The relevant bit is this description of a session:
Non-Linear Storytelling with Linda Aronson was a complete and utter head-fuck.
There was days’ worth of information squashed into 50 minutes.
Most of it seemed pretty decent, but I’d need to re-watch a lot of the examples used in order to agree or disagree. A lot of it seemed quite obvious, but was stuff I hadn’t really given names to before.
There were one or two things I think are obvious which seemed to be missing … but I may be wrong because I zoned out more than once. When I get information like this, I like to mull it over and apply it to as many films as possible; but there just wasn’t really enough time.
I think maybe you’d need to read her book or attend a longer seminar to figure out if any of it was useful.
Which is not to say it wasn’t useful, just a bit compressed.
Which, frankly, I think could be interrupted as being a bit rude. It wasn’t meant to be, but I am severely socially inept and tend to say the wrong thing more often than not. The fact I wasn’t saying this, but typing it is even worse.
Linda later got in touch with me and asked, very politely, what information I felt was obvious, but missing?
And I duly replied in a hastily thrown together email which I’ve since lost. In fact, I seem to have lost all emails from 2009 until May this year.
This is annoying.
The lost emails, not the communication with Linda.
To be honest, I can’t really remember what I wrote in that email. I remember being on the secret writing island, so I would have been in a different time zone to my brain; but beyond that … I know there were random witterings about WHEN to begin a story with a flashforward and … some other stuff.
Nope, it’s all gone.
I can only assume it was long, badly worded and burbled quite a bit; but Linda replied with another polite thank you and stated her intention to think about my opinions.
Which she did.
For fourteen months.
And now she’s replied with a fantastically in-depth, well thought out essay. Luckily, Linda had a copy of the email I sent her and quoted some of it, so I’ve at least been able to glean this snippet of my witterings:
It seems to me a lot of films adopt that structure [preview flashback] primarily because they otherwise wouldn’t open with a genre scene. Comedies start with a joke, musicals start with a song, action films start with action … but sometimes the stories need to start in a different place. If it’s an action film, for example, then the easiest way to get round this is to pinch 3/4 of an action sequence from later on and stick at the beginning.
To my mind, that buys you about 20 – 30 mins of scenes which aren’t action (or whatever the genre is) because you’ve shown the audience it’s coming and hopefully whetted their appetite enough to sit through the essential, often non-genre, character scenes. Although I only think this works if the scene you flashback to is completely opposite from the initial scene and you can’t see how the protagonist goes from A to B. If it’s too similar or you can easily imagine the journey, then it doesn’t work.
Opening with a genre scene and flashing back is frequently done because otherwise the first act of the script is non genre and therefore not what the audience has paid to see.If the following scene is too similar in tone or it’s too obvious how the character will get from there to the opening scene, then it just feels like a gimmick instead of a natural story structure.
If you want to read Linda Aronson’s response and her thoughts on the matter, then you can find them here:
You need to scroll down the homepage to the subscription form, fill it in, and hit the ‘view previous campaign’ button.
You’ll be subscribing to Linda’s Newsletter about screenplay structure and parallel narratives and the like; but I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Linda’s made an incredibly in-depth study of alternative screenplay structures which makes for an interesting read.
So thank you to Linda for (hopefully) not taking offence at a badly worded review of her session and for taking the time and effort to really think about and codify the kinds of things I should pay more attention to.