Monday, 23 March 2015

Knocking One Out

How to Write Drama for British Television Part 37b of 83 by Derek Duggan


It’s becoming ever more difficult to make money out of writing books. If there is one thing that we’ve learned from the self-publishing revolution it’s that there are a lot of people out there who feel the need to justify the expense of buying a laptop by writing a novel and slapping it onto Amazon. In fact, according to recent market research carried out by the University of Market Research most new laptops come with a fucking terrible novel pre-installed, with a one click to publish option. This leaves the serious writer with a very simple problem which is this – How are people going to notice your not-shit novel among all the other shit novels? And is there enough of a shit novel audience to go around anyway? Probably not, is the sad but realistic answer to that. And that means many of you will be kissing your hard earned £130 a year from Amazon goodbye. So, how are you going to pay the mortgage?

Fear not. There is a solution – television drama. It might seem daunting, but really it’s the exact same as writing a book except that you don’t have to do all the boring description bits about how the characters are feeling as that’s what actors get paid to make up. And that’s one of the best parts – if your drama is shit you can just blame the cast and the director. Anyway, as with every type of writing there are a few basic rules and once you follow these you’ll be laughing all the way to the BAFTAs.

1. The very first thing you have to do, even before you write a single word, is to decide what part Olivia Coleman is going to play. According to statistics obtained under the Freedom of Information Act a staggering 73% of all scripts are rejected instantly because there is no obvious role for Ms Coleman and so almost no chance of the program winning an award as she is going to win it for something.

2. Don’t spend ages worrying about coming up with an original idea – that’s what Scandinavian writers are for. All you have to do is watch stuff with subtitles on BBC 3 and then change it into English and set it in Bournemouth and you’ll be onto a winner. Of course, you’ll have to make it a bit gritty, but a lot of this is easy to achieve as many British actors are naturally quite ugly – or what they call in the business ‘Character Actors’ – so everything seems that much more grim to begin with. This can be accentuated by getting an actor like the good looking Doctor Who to be in it too and have him look sad a lot and be upset about things which he can articulate by showing his bottom teeth and squinting his eyes a bit. Remember to put that into the stage directions –

EXT. DAY.

THE GOOD LOOKING DOCTOR WHO SITS ON A BENCH IN BOURNEMOUTH LOOKING AT THE SEA. HE IS UPSET ABOUT PEOPLE HAVING AFFAIRS OR BEING MURDERED AND STUFF SO HE STICKS HIS BOTTOM TEETH OUT AND SQUINTS HIS EYES A BIT.

Then you just need to throw in a modest amount of swearing and you’re sorted.

3. Another option to consider is reworking a classic. You have two options here. The first is where you can modernise something like in that one where Alan Turing and Bilbo Baggins solve crimes with the occasional help of Aunt Sally. That show has changed from the original classic mostly by being set in the modern era instead of ancient London. These updates have been so cleverly woven into the very fabric of the show that they are never directly referenced by the lines the characters speak. Instead, the writer has used costume.

EXT. DAY. 22B BAKER STREET.

ENTER BILBO BAGGINS WEARING A MODERN BINMAN JACKET

And you can see how easily the era was set there.

The second option is where you rework an old swashbuckling classic and have actors wear flouncy shirts while standing outside a castle in former Czechoslovakia and pretend that they’re not freezing their bangers off while they lock horns with Old Man Doctor Who.

4. You could also try your hand at a period piece. The main drawback with this is that you will have to do some research. For example, all the people in olden days were quite boring which is why the average life expectancy was so much shorter in the past as many people actually died of boredom and why a one hour drama about them feels like it’s been going on for fifteen fucking years. That’s the kind of painstaking detail you’ll have to include if you don’t want history pedants writing in to complain about the inaccuracy of your show.

So what are you waiting for? Get writing.

Glad I could help.

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