Sunday, June 15, 2008

The Sharps End, or, the End of Sharps

I didn't mention the fact that I had completed my BBC Sharps script and zoomed it off on Thursday evening. If you're planning to enter it's too late unless you can deliver by hand (or have access to a Royal Mail sorting office that does collections on Sundays).

I was quite pleased with the result, fairly light dialogue but with a solid drama base. A bit like a lemon meringue pie. I watched the "niceness as a disease" episode of House last night, the case of the week tasted everything as lemon meringue pie.

It's quite funny I suppose: The setting for the story is a community group of people giving up smoking. I smoked for two weeks in my entire life (it was a very stressful time). My parents never smoked, nor my sisters, nor my wife, very few friends I've known for years have ever smoked (except one but he has special dispensation).

So what right do I have to write about people wanting to give up smoking?

My mother's family are hardcore Londoners, and when I was younger every single one of them smoked. Whenever we went to visit we entered an atmosphere of tobacco. I've always been a people watcher, I saw the way people handled cigarettes, pipes, and roll-ups.

I always ended up with a nasty headache from breathing air heavy with cigarette smoke. And yet, the smell gives me some comfort. Scarily enough I realised a few years ago I was a closet smoker even though I never bought a pack (except for that two weeks). How does that work? I breathe deeply of other people's smoke. Laughable really. But an intense smoke-filled atmosphere still makes me sick.

So I have some experience of the matter. Plus the fact that smoking is an addiction just like any other, and that was the theme that I worked to in my script. Creating characters where the outer conflict of trying to give up smoking reflected an inner conflict of what they were really addicted to.

So, we shall see.

I didn't get any additional reading of this script partly because I ran out of time, although the actual writing only took a few hours. It only took a few hours because I did my planning, even down to the scene level.

I decided on the setting first (since that was the part that was prescribed by the "opportunity") then I populated it with people who might want to give up smoking, although one character was actually my wife's idea. Then I took the three main characters and constructed their inner conflict to mirror their outer one.

Finally I spit up the scenes very mathematically with #1 character getting most of the time in the story, #2 getting half that and #3 getting half again. So we have A, B and C plot lines, one clear leader and the others. Knowing how long the script needed to be (30-35 minutes) and knowing that scenes needed to be around 2 minutes each I could allocate actual page counts.

Of course, when I came to write it other scenes occurred to me and often scenes would be shorter than the plan. This is fine, after all we don't want 15 scenes of exactly 2 minutes each. That would be silly. Also how the supporting characters influenced the main plots became clear and a new character appeared that I hadn't thought of originally.

This was all good. And it meant my first draft was almost spot-on.

I then read through it and tidied up bits (there was one thing I wrote later that needed to be mentioned earlier, for example) . There was one scene I disliked when I wrote it and I realised that I was actually repeating stuff that had been mentioned in a previous scene. So I ripped that out and replaced it with something much better, which then played into an extra scene I had written later on.

All three plot lines intermingled and played off against each other. The characters were good, each had his/her own voice (I hear the characters talking as I write but, let's be clear, I don't write what they're saying, they say what I'm writing); the scenes feed nicely one to another, there's tension, there's action, there's humour. Yup, I like it.

(And I should add, the script will easily convert into a stage play so if the BBC don't want it I know what i can do with it.)

What's on the turntable? "Toss the Feathers" by The Corrs from "Forgiven not Forgotten"

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