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The Perfect 10

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Paul Ashton | 10:19 UK time, Monday, 15 December 2008

Apologies for the late arrival of instalment three, it's been an extremely busy couple of weeks...

This time, it's about Coherence:

A major problem with a great many scripts is that the piece as a whole simply doesn't hang together. There might be brilliant characters, dialogue, scenes, ideas ad infinitum, but if they don't cohere into a whole, then your script won't hit the mark. The key to this is to know your world and story. (Preferably before you start turning an idea into script form.) This clarity needs to come early on. So make it clear what your world is, and what is the story you are telling. There's an adage (perhaps more myth than truth) that when the writers of Twins sat down each day to write, they would turn to one another and say: "What are we writing?" The answer was: "It's about twins who look nothing like each other!" With that always in mind, they were able to stay focused.

The other thing you need to know is your genre and tone. New writers frequently collide various genres and tones. Sometime they claim to be reinventing genre - or are refusing to be limited by it. But you need to be able to master a form to do this - and often it's more likely because they're not sure or clear. Genre isn't a bad thing. Genre is how we decide as an audience whether it's the kind of thing we thing we'd like to see. So use genre. Be clear about what your 'show' is. Then you can challenge, play, subvert it.

Give us a focused way in. A big problem can be the desire to give the audience a snapshot of all aspects of the world at the start. But remember Shameless - a 'gang show' about a wild family squashed into a very small house. Opening credits aside, series one, episode one could have spent the first ten minutes of the story giving us glimpses of the whole family. But in fact episode one is focused through Fiona's POV, and is filtered through her meeting Steve for the first time at a nightclub away from the Chatsworth estate. Then they go back to the Gallagher house. Then they spend the night together. And then he meets the family properly. This gives us a focused way in to the world.

Following on from this, writers often try to do too much in their opening ten pages. But you don't need to set up every storyline, every strand and every character straight away. Again, find a focused way in so that you can then open back out again.

Beware beguiling distractions. It's easy to write characters, dialogue, scenes that you love. But do they need to be there and do they help cohere the opening of your script? What you leave out is as important as what you put in. And it's very hard to un-write or cut things that you like. So try to have a clear sense of what needs to be there before you start writing.


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