Sunday, November 15, 2009


Must be my week for epiphanies.

There are two types of epiphany (in my humble opinion) first there's the "OMG! Of course!" epiphany, then there's the "Oh." epiphany. The latter is when you realise you have been rather stupid.

I had an "Oh." epiphany on Friday.

It goes like this: I have written two quite good scripts (Monsters and Air) I have also, in the last year, written three not-so-good scripts (Unit X, Running and Tec). In the not-so-good ones the dialogue and action are still good (so I'm told by those that know), the premise was fine in each case but the structure just didn't quite work.

So one has to ask: why? Or more accurately: what changed between the first two and the last three? What did I do differently?

So I had a think and epiphanied.

There is a writer who goes by the name of Jeff Kitchen and I used to refer to his book "Writing a Great Movie" ad nauseum on this blog - because it is an excellent book. And don't be fooled by the title, it's not just for movies, it applies to TV, stageplays - pretty much any storytelling.

Even the book's introduction contains amazingly useful storytelling techniques.

The point about this book is it contains stuff that you can actually use, genuinely helpful ways to analyse your story and turn it into something even better. He starts off with Aristotle's analysis of drama, and goes on from there.

If you're the sort of person who objects when you think someone is dictating a screenwriting structure - well, so do I but I can see what works and what doesn't. Jeff Kitchen isn't a guru and doesn't dictate. He does describe what has been shown to be successful and effective story structure (Aristotle), but you don't have to use it if you don't want to.

But the proof of the pudding is always in the eating.

When I wrote Monsters and Air I used this book extensively (it's the only screenwriting book that I've ever kept with me, and kept re-reading). And those are good scripts. When I didn't use the book I ended up with not-so-good scripts.

It was arrogance, of course, I'd done two good scripts so I thought I knew what I was doing. Ha.

So yesterday I sat down with the planned web series, Winter, and started applying the various techniques from the book to it. One and a half hours later I had something that was essentially the same, but now had a much better structure and various ideas had been expanded.

Winter will be a 6 x 5min web series and requires that each episode ends on some sort of cliffhanger - just like the old cinema serials. And this needs to be integrated into the overall structure of the story - which still has to have (in Aristotlean terms) Dilemma, Crisis, Decision & Action and finally Resolution.

And using the techniques in the book I should be able to manage that without it looking contrived or "constructed".

And that's important.

What's on the turntable? "Phaedra" by Tangerine Dream from "Phaedra"

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