Sunday, September 05, 2010

It isn't real, y'know

I was doing the ironing, which is something I seem to do a lot of when I get home at weekends, and watching a film - we have a TV conveniently located in the room where the ironing is done. The film in question was the new Sherlock Holmes which is a fun film and good for passing the time when you're ironing.

The next bit is spoilery if you haven't seen it, but not seriously since I'm focussing on a very specific sequence near the beginning. And you actually know the result of the sequence before you see the process.

Holmes is in the process of disguising himself while on the move; he adds a false nose as the first step, then borrows Watson's coat. There is a circus setting up in one of the London squares he passes through and here he picks up most of his disguise. And the disguise works perfectly.

So far so good, what's my point?

It's a circus. Why is it a circus?

Look at it this way: he could have had all the pieces of his disguise in his rooms. But that's a bit boring, the fact that he has to pick things up en route makes it more interesting (also demonstrates his abilities as a thief, which is relevant, as is his skill at disguise). Then again he could have grabbed these items from any unsuspecting person he found along the way, perhaps some people playing cards.

But no, we do have lots of people he could have stolen from, but he has to go through a circus.

Because this is the biggest and most outrageous place he could come across in London. It's spectacle, it's exciting. And feasible.

When we write a story with a theme - something that's actually going to mean something to someone - it's not real. But it does have to be interesting and as the writer you are within your rights to make it as interesting as possible, more than a right, it's your duty.

The writer and blogger Alexandra Sokoloff wrote recently about the different rewrite passes you should do for your script (whether novel or screenplay) and that's what you need. It is possible that in the first draft of Sherlock Holmes the character did put together his disguise in his room. Or in a later draft, from people along the way. But a circus is better.

Stories are artificial constructs that have to appear completely real. The characters and the plot are a vehicle for the theme and, as such, they cannot be anything but artificial. But being artificial does not detract from the story, on the contrary, it's what makes the story.

But ironing is very real - perhaps I should spice it up with some extreme ironing.

What's on the turntable? "Piano improvisations" by Emerson, Lake and Palmer from "Welcome back, my friends..."

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