Events Manager Required

Writer

I'm working on my first Doctors two-parter. It's the first time for a while that I've had to redo a scene-by-scene (the document before the script, which says what happens, erm, scene by scene). There are a couple of reasons why the first draft failed to pass muster. Partly because I felt I knew the characters so well that I didn't put them across clearly enough for other people to read, but mainly because there just wasn't enough story.

I've written a few half-hour Doctors now and find that with practice something rather cool happens where the ideas that you have for the show seem to want to fit that slot snugly. Characters' goals are achievable in that time with roughly the right amount of aggro to keep them interesting. But this idea was different, which is why I pitched it as a two-parter. The pitch seemed to go down well. I was excited about writing it. And then I got to the end of my scene-by-scene and...

... well, it wasn't the end. Length-wise, it was only about two-thirds of the way through episode two. Sure, I could keep it going to the required 30 scenes, but the actual story, the stuff of drama, was only around 23 scenes long. My wily producer and script editor were not distracted by my smokescreen scenes: "Do it again, please. With more story!"

Fair cop. Looking back at my first draft, it was clear that despite my best efforts, there was too much writing and not enough story. A scene-by-scene is all about events management. You have to have sufficient story beats for a packed episode, and the right ones in the right places, or else it's all just words on a page and no one needs to read more of them.

Luckily, the script editor gave me some pointers that sent me back to the story with a pickaxe to mine it for more of the good stuff. In no particular order, here's some of what I found...

Supporting characters - in the first draft, these fellas were there to serve the protagonist. Why not? It is his story. But looking again that bit closer and giving them much more of a life of their own conversely turned out to enrich the protagonist's story more. By deepening their motivation, they started to cause more problems for him, forcing him to work harder - and longer - to reach his goal.

Lies - I always foolishly forget this and it's one of the best, and the truest, things a character can do in terms of causing complications that push the story forward. In my first draft, information just came too easy. No wonder it was all resolved so swiftly if, when push came to shove, everyone told the truth. In fact, why was there a problem in the first place, if they were all so nice and honest? As soon as I got real and they got lying, the story came alive again.

Conflict not consensus - following on from the above, it's perhaps another obvious one, but can often get forgotten when you're caught up in the moment. It's so tempting to start tying things up, having people agree, especially people we like, like our doctors. But really any consensus should immediately tell us that things are about to get even worse than we dreaded.

Small change - if we're having people lie, cause problems for each other, and struggle to find consensus, then, when the conclusion finally arrives, it needn't be massive. My first draft wrapped everything up so we could switch off and not worry, all was well. But who buys that really? Lots of life-changing things do happen in the day or two that make up a Doctors story, but to me it's always stronger when there's a sense those changes will go on for the rest of the character's life, only just beginning today. Better, I reckon, to put less emphasis on the destination and more on the journey.

Speaking of change, the other thing that helped was changing locations, situations, or the mix of characters in any scene that seemed to be nodding off. If things got too cosy and friendly, I switched them up, kept them on the move, made someone do something. I might sit on my bum all day writing, but most people do stuff, all the time. It causes all manner of problems and is much more exciting story-wise.

Is all this blindingly obvious? I hope so. That means you're writing blindingly good scripts packed with well-managed events and you're happily not getting asked to redraft. But if not, and if you have any further insights into how to do it again, but better, do let me know. My second scene-by-scene has now thankfully passed muster, but who knows how the first draft scripts will go down?

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