Week five: How we tell stories

The step outline is my new best friend. I’ve spent a bit of time figuring out the best way to plan a story, for me. This is an entirely personal thing and the only way to solve it is through practice – my favourite kind of research. So I have looked at tech: index card apps are great but they are limited and I have not found one which satisfactorily syncs across devices. I use a MacBook, and iPad and my iPhone. I want the same information on all of these. In the end I have found using Evernote is the most useful way of doing this, but the structure of the planning had evaded me, until now.

In writing my treatment I found it necessary to write down my story beats and switch them around until they flowed and made sense. I knew what needed to happen, but the when was a little tougher to pin down. During the treatment process I bullet-pointed my story beats in order to decide enough structure to write the treatment. These two weeks have been marvellously productive for me in evolving my creative practice. I’m just beginning my first draft now (part of the week six task) and it doesn’t feel as daunting as it might have done because I know everything that’s going to happen in the story, I only have to focus on the details, the characters, the dialogue.

I also had a revelation this week, which was a bit obvious, but something I had overlooked. And that’s the complicity of the audience when you tell your story. I have a scene where my protagonist, Jess, sees her late wife’s niece, Ali, for the first time and she’s struck by how much Ali looks like her wife. I’d tried to hint at this in the treatment:

JESS seems surprised to see ALI, but she says nothing.

I struggled a bit with how to describe the recognition that Jess felt. But of course the audience has seen Fran, Jess’s wife, in flashbacks. They can see the similarity. I don’t need to explain Jess’ reaction because we can see what she sees. It’s obvious, really, but because of my background in prose, it hadn’t really occurred to me until now. In prose there is no additional dimension. It must all be told. I think this is the first time it’s really tripped me up, but I will be wary now.

I really want to rely on subtlety in my stories, in crediting my audience with the intelligence to draw their own conclusions. I love pared back scripts that rely heavily on subtext, context and semiotics.

This entry forms a part of my MA Writing for Script and Screen Reflective Journal.