Storylining - giving birth to story babies and sending them out into the world!
Story Editor for River City
In the last of our 5 blogs focussing on Scottish productions to mark the launch of BBC Writersroom in Scotland we hear from Kevin McComiskie, the Story Editor for BBC Scotland's continuing drama River City. He explains his role and how it fits into the production process of the show, plus the vital importance of caffeine!
“Ever since I was young I wanted to be a (story) gangster…..”
Upon leaving high school, a teacher gave me some sound advice for going forward with my life – “McComiskie, you will amount to nothing! Your head is full of nonsense!”
Fast forward a few years and now I get paid for emptying my head full of nonsense and putting it on the page. (In your face, Mr C!)
Humblebragging aside, finding myself in the role of Story Editor on BBC continuing drama River City, I have learned over the years that the so-called nonsense in my head was in fact something more significant and relevant. All those ideas that bobbled around in my noggin, seemingly disconnected from anything, were in fact the foundations for stories to grow. Stories don’t just automatically exist. They need to be formed, developed, explored and structured. And that’s where I (along with a bunch of other fellow story nerds) come in as a Storyliner.
It’s all about process.
I tell stories. You tell stories. But it’s not the stories themselves that are of importance – it’s how you tell them. That is our main objective as Storyliners – How do we tell the best stories? We all know that not all stories in life are interesting – word to the wise, never let anyone tell you the intricate details of how an industrial photocopier works. Part of the challenge of being a Storyliner on a continuing drama series is keeping things interesting.
For one hour on a (most likely rainy) Tuesday evening in Scotland, River City aims to hold the attention of people through their preferred viewing device. In today’s world where choice is king, it’s also the villain. People’s attention spans can wander at a flick of a remote – “Ooh look, there is a penguin sliding on its backside on channel 656!” My job is to hold your attention. To do that, I need to tell interesting stories. But what makes an interesting story?
An interesting story needs to inform and engage in equal measure – it’s a fine line and one we need to tread carefully on a show like River City. Every story we create from the story office – or what I like to affectionately call the “overshare zone”– starts with a seed of a truth. Something real and tangible that people can relate to, which often comes from personal experience. Once we have that we can add the bells, whistles, twists and turns. Notice that I said stories, plural. An episode of River City doesn’t tell just one story every week.
To generate stories on a continuing drama you need two things – 1. Stamina. 2. A shed load of caffeine. Mostly point 2, if I’m being honest…
A continuing drama like River City runs 52 weeks of the year on screen. Each hour long episode consists of no less than four different stories playing out at any one time across the episode. Each of these stories has to engage you whilst progressing the series as a whole, and also holding your attention, so needs to be constantly surprising, never repeating what has come before. Easy, eh? They also have to offer variety, wit, warmth, drama, humour, tension - and many other words that the word count on this piece won’t allow for. In essence, myself and the story team need to generate no less than 208 different stories each year on River City. This insane process has been going on for almost 15 years.
Now do you see why caffeine is so important?
Who Shot Lenny? A current storyline in River City
Once we create the stories, it’s not the end. It’s just the beginning. The story department conceive the story babies of River City then we send them off into the world to grow and develop. The writers will give them arms and legs, then the script editors will give them a haircut, style and mould them into young interesting story teens, making them fit for purpose. The shooting crew will mature the story teens and bring them to life and take them into adulthood. Only then will the post-production team get them ready to present them to the audience as fully matured story adults… Come on, this wouldn’t have been a story blog without a forced allegory.
The stories I tell are mostly good, sometimes bad and occasionally ugly. But I am always proud. At the end of a working week I feel a sense of achievement in how much story River City creates to engage the audiences whether they shed a tear or crack a smile.
That moment, however, is short lived when the harsh reality creeps in that I need to do it all over again Monday morning.
Only 204 stories to go.
I’m going to need more coffee.