Category: BBC Page 1 of 5

For A Post On The Subject, This Is Arguably Rather Unstructured…

I’m currently reading Into The Woods by John Yorke, which (as you may know) is about stories and storytelling. Unsurprisingly, it features quite a bit of discussion of structure, which is a subject I’ve been thinking about quite a lot recently, and in the spirit of self-indulgent sharing, it’s the springboard for this blogpost.

Cards on the (perfectly square and clean-baized) table: I like structure. And I like it both as a reader and as a writer. As I’ve written before, my tiny mind was happily bent out of shape many years ago when I started reading and watching things that played with form and chronology and the like, and I still delight to this day in works which don’t draw a straight line from “Once upon a time…” to “… happily ever after” (provided it’s in service of the story; if it’s just done for its own sake, I may wonder if there’s some shortcoming in the story which is being disguised by shuffling the chronology or whatever – and I’d go so far as to suggest that might well be the case with my own first published work. But I digress, and this parenthesis is getting unworkably long, so I’ll close it and then put a full stop and we can move onto a new paragraph).

Maybe I’m being optimistic, but I think there’s been a bit of a rise of narratives with unusual structure over the past few years – to give a couple of examples,the success of Gone Girl in both written and filmed form was testimony to audiences’ willingness to watch events play out of sequence, and complex structure was a key aspect of Steven Moffatt’s work on Doctor Who (though he doesn’t need time travel as a plot device to enable this kind of thing, as fans of his earlier work Coupling [and I am one of those fans] will be aware). There are often suggestions that audiences are becoming increasingly sophisticated and aware of how narrative works, and I guess that willingness to accept breaking and bending of the A to B shape of a tale may well be a part of that.

But whether it’s part of a wider phenomenon or not, I’ve long been a fan of structure; as a reader, once I recognise it, I find it reassuring (and in the case of Cloud Atlas, it took me until the midpoint of the book to realise what the author was doing, but when the penny dropped, it did so in a very satisfying way), and as a writer – you knew I’d get to this eventually – I find it very useful.

I’m a plotter, through and through, and like to have a pretty firm grasp on where the story’s going before I set down even the first line; I’m not one of those people who conjure up characters and then set them off into the environment of the story and see what happens – as novelist Sarah Perry says at about 2m38s in this podcast…

… the characters are plot devices; they’re adrift in the sea of the story, and they can no more shape the tides than you or I can.

And from a writing standpoint – and especially working, as I do, in the crime/thriller genre where plot is key – there’s something very useful about having a structure to work to; that might be a simple three or even five act structure, it might simply mean having the story starting and ending at the same place or in a similar way to hint at some idea of symmetry, or whatever, but if you have a structure sorted out ahead of time that lets you know what you should be writing about next, then that’s very useful indeed.

My most recent completed novel, Captives, was very deliberately structured from the outset of the writing process, because I knew that I wanted to have an investigation taking place in the present day, but I also wanted to detail the events which led up to the start of the story, to give a sense of what the stakes were and of the players involved. Rather than do this through infodumps disguised as dialogue or anything like that, I opted to alternate sequences set in the present with flashback chapters which grew progressively closer to the inciting incident which happens a couple of hours before the start of the first chapter; once I’d cracked that approach, it made things a lot easier – though I still regret the fact that as I counted down from ‘Twelve years before’ to ‘one day before’, I couldn’t make the time-jumps involved align with a reversed version of the Fibonacci Sequence… though given how pretentious that sentence looks when typed out, maybe that’s for the best.

So, as you can imagine, I was keen to see if I could take the same approach with the next novel (working title: Refuge). Once I’d had the characters sketched out, and the sequence of events worked out, I wondered if it would be possible to create a structure which would serve the story – as the book’s about a kidnapping, I wondered if I might be able to rotate the narrative point of view so that we’d hear from The Detective, then The Kidnappers, and then The Kidnappee, before rotating back to the Detective again. I’m particularly keen to make sure we spend as much time as possible with the Kidnappee, as it often feels that people in such stories run the risk of being little more than a MacGuffin, or ‘item’ to be retrieved, and I wanted to avoid that.

However – and you’ve probably already spotted this – the problem with this idea is that (non-spoiler alert) the kidnappers and the kidnappee unsurprisingly spend a lot of time in the same locale, so whilst I could convey a fair amount of detail on events by jumping from our detective to the villains, there’s little additional material (save for internal monologue and the like) that would be conveyed by the jumping to the kidnap victim. I’d effectively end up spending 2/3 of the narrative time on the baddies and their environment, which would make it hard to describe what was going on outside of that without the book becoming excessively long.

However, given that the story is in itself a ‘ticking clock’ tale with a set ending looming on the horizon and moving closer in stages (akin to most films featuring weddings, for example: the wedding is a fixed point in time and everything we see is drawing us closer to that), it did occur to me that having a race against time which is also viewed through the fragmented narrative of rotating POVs would perhaps be too much to put on top – and given that (again, non-spoiler, given the genre expectations) the paths of the Detective and the Kidnappers will inevitably cross, whose narrative section should I include that in? The Detective closing in, or the Villains realising that things aren’t panning out as planned? I wasn’t sure.

Ultimately, I’ve decided to keep it straightforward, shifting scene as required whilst trying to maintain the sense of a countdown, and to find other ways of including the relevant background information and internal monologue of the Kidnappee. We’ll see how it goes – and given how cathartic and therapeutic it’s been (for me, I mean – I’m sure this has been less so for you) to discuss it here, I’ll see about reporting back on how well (or otherwise) it works out.

Given how writing’s an essentially solitary process, and how every 100,000 words is probably more like 300,000 or so re-written and edited and generally switched around in the writing process, talking about it in this way is very probably just an attempt to provide an almost contemporaneous ‘director’s commentary’ during the process of writing it. Which in itself could be distracting – and is often the reason I cite (with varying degrees of truth) for my infrequent blogging.

Thanks for reading this long sprawling post, and if you have any thoughts, insights or tips on structure, or examples of great structures which amplify or serve the story, please do leave a comment below, I’d like to hear other viewpoints on this.

But enough musing and prevarication: back to the actual writing… 

Say Hello, Wave Goodbye

Well, what better way to round off things on this blog than to post a picture which I don’t have the real right to post, but which is, y’know, of me? Seems about right somehow.

Anyway, this blog is not dying, it’s moving – or, to be more accurate, I’ll be moving my attentions to my ‘new blog’ and so I doubt I’ll be posting here again (techical issues permitting) for the foreseeable future.

The reason for the move is pretty simple, really – for some time, I’ve been looking into trying to ‘streamline’ the number of places and locations I occupy online, and so I’ve revamped and reshaped my website so that it now includes automatic updates on my Twitter messages, and so it only seems logical that I shift the blog updates over there too.

I speak with utter confidence about this move, but of course if the server crashes or my technical ability reaches its limits, I may well be here again, so I won’t be deleting this blog. Many of the links which you can see in the right-hand column are on the new site, so you don’t have to feel lost and disoriented if you just use his blog as a stepping-stone to other people’s pages. I don’t mind being the guardian of the crossroads, even if Robert Johnson had his misgivings…

Anyway, I hope you’ll come and visit the new blog, and maybe you’ll even be so kind as to add John Soanes to your list of bookmarks? Thanks in advance.

Finally, if this is your last time of visiting, many thanks for your time and eyeballs over the last few years. It’s much appreciated, and as intermittent as my updates may have been in the last year or so, it’s always been reassuring to know that you fine folks were out there reading my nonsense. Seriously, you’ve been fantastic.

And you know what? So was I.

It Doesn’t Last That Long, But It Made Me Happy

I’m pleased to be able to report that I’ve had another joke included in Newsjack, the topical radio comedy on Radio 4 Extra (formerly BBC7). I’m included in the credits which you can see here, and if you’d like to hear the jape itself, the show can be listened to or downloaded as a podcast here, and it’s probably available via iTunes too (must admit I haven’t checked yet).

It’s the gag in the opening monologue, at 0’56” to be precise, about the passing of the NHS Bill. I think the show’ll be there to listen to or download for another week or so, which is probably about right as the joke itself’ll probably make less sense as time passes.

Anyway, this blog post is a shameless brag really, as I’m pretty chuffed to have a second BBC broadcast credit, even if it has been a couple of years since the first. I shall see if I can narrow down the intervening period between the second and third…

Abnormal Service Will Be Resumed Soon

Apologies for the lack of updates in the last few days, I’m hurrying to get an entry together for this – why not have a go yourself, if you’re not already doing so?

Anyway, back soon – in the meantime, nano-blogging takes place on my Twitter account, if you’re that keen on seeing what’s inside my head at random stages during the day.

A Historic Occasion, Indeed

That’s right, yesterday was the first UK General Election since I started this blog.

Anyway, despite the fact it’s still all rather up in the air, thought I’d share a few stray thoughts about it, in no particular order:

  • Nick Griffin of the BNP didn’t win the seat he stood for, despite vigorous campaigning over the last year or so, including appearing on BBC’s Question Time. In fact, the BNP share of the vote was down from the last election, which leads me to conclude that the BNP might have been better off campaigning less, as it seems the more people see them, the less support they have. Certainly suggests that they shouldn’t be censored or banned in case it leads to a huge increase in their support.
  • During the campaign, a lot of play was made both in the press and online about David Cameron’s background, calling him a toff etc. There’s certainly a point lurking under the personal attacks – that he may not be able to relate to other sections of society, etc – but I’d imagine it would be unacceptable to suggest a candidate from, say, a very poor background would be unsuitable for office? Inverted snobbery is, let’s not forget, still a form of snobbery.
  • It almost feels a bit like 1992, when the polls were fairly far off the mark; in the same way that 1992 voters seemed to say they were going to vote Labour and then get into the polling booth and vote Conservative, a lot of voters said they were going to vote Lib Dem and then didn’t do it when that X needed to be made.
  • Increased coverage of the actual mechanics of the UK voting system, which I think is an interesting angle: questions about voting reform and the flaws of the current or proposed other systems, and even, on the day, concerns about voters being unjustly turned away from their polling stations. Good to see the system not just being accepted ‘because it’s there’.
  • Distinct lack of canvassing in my constituency, really – leaflets from Labour and the Lib Dems, nothing from any of the independents, and not a single ring on the doorbell to ask about our voting intentions. It’s probably my cynicism about these things, but I like to feel wooed a bit, made to feel special.
  • Thought the BBC coverage was pretty good, and the ITV stuff I saw seemed very hesitant and uncertain (with a lot fewer people; seemed the BBC had thrown all its recognisable news staff at the evening). I was fading at around 1am, I don’t know how Paxman and Dimbleby managed it. Does the BBC News department endorse polyphasic sleep or something?
  • Finally, and let’s put any kind of partisanship to one side and face it: none of the parties should try to claim this election shows a ringing endorsement of them or their policies, or any kind of mandate. Thankfully, none of them have done so.
    • Anyway, we do live in interesting times…

      BBC Writers Academy – 2010 Applications Invited

      If you’re interested in writing for TV, chances are you’ve already heard about this, but if not…

      The BBC Writers Academy application process for this year opens today, and if you get one of the (up to) eight places, you’ll get a pretty cracking grounding in writing for TV, particularly Continuing Drama (which covers programmes such as EastEnders, Holby City and Casualty).

      You need to have a drama credit – and that means a paid commission for stage, screen or radio – and to submit a sample script as well as the application form etc, by 5 May 2010. There are, as I say, only a handful of places, but it’s a terrific opportunity to learn about writing in a professional environment, and that certainly can’t hurt.

      Full details are available here, and there’s a transcipt of the recent BBC Continuing Drama Q&A session here – wherein I spot that an online drama credit, as long as you’ve been paid by someone else for it, also makes you eligible to apply. Groovy.

      Anyway, as I’m not yet in possession of a drama credit, I can’t apply, but if you are and you do, please let me know how you get on, eh ?

      There Goes The Sun, Diddle-Da-Dah…

      Last summer, I wrote about watching the solar eclipse in India, and mentioned that there’d been thousands of other people observing the event.

      However, what I didn’t know at the time was that a camera crew was there making a BBC science-based programme, and you won’t be surprised to hear that their film of the eclipse is much more professional.

      The footage forms part (some might even argue the centrepiece) of the first episode of the BBC2 series Wonders of the Solar System, presented by physicist Brian Cox, who’s both smiley and enthusiastic about his subject matter, and it’s generally a very interesting programme.

      The eclipse stuff is around the halfway point, but I’d heartily recommend watching the whole show (not least because, if it’s phenomena in the sky you like, there’s a great sequence about the Northern Lights towards the end of the programme).

      One of the things Cox does well, I feel (in addition to explaining issues clearly) is to convey a genuine sense of wonder and amazement about things; so often people will tell you that something is important or startling, but Cox is good at telling you why he thinks this is the case. I understand they’re doing a trimmed-down version of the show for children, which sounds like a terrific idea.

      What’s that you say? Where do you find the programme? Why, m’love, tis right here. Enjoy.

      BBC Writing For Continuing Drama Q&A

      So, the good folks at BBC Writersroom are holding another one of their Q&A sessions, this time about Continuing Drama, and they’ll also be talking about the BBC Writers Academy. Attending will be John Yorke, whose name you might recognise from the end of the credits for a lot of TV shows.

      It’s at the Drill Hall in London (kind of equidistant between Warren Street and Tottenham Court Road tubes), on Thursday 4 March from 6:00pm. It’s free to get in, but you need to send an e-mail asking if they can add you to the guest list, otherwise one of their scary bouncers will throw you out.

      I’ve made a vague plan to focus this year on non-visual media (by which idiotic turn of phrase I mean the novel and writing for radio), but this sounds like a good chance to grab an insight into an area which I’d certainly be interested to write for (I’m not ruling TV or films out forever, I just want to prevent myself being the jack-of-all-manuscripts and finisher of none), so I think I might give it a go.

      Full details can be founded right here

      And in case you think that the accompanying picture is inappropriate, I’d politely disagree; it refers to events in the Queen Vic on most evenings.

      This Offer Only Good Until Midnight (I Think)

      Available for the first time on DVD since it was first shown on BBC TV in 2006, Stephen Fry’s two-part documentary series The Secret Life Of The Manic Depressive is released tomorrow…

      … but if you click here and buy it today, you can get it for 45% off the release price of £15.99.

      If you haven’t seen it – and statistically, I’d imagine that’s fairly likely – it’s a very solid documentary, with Fry and people such as Robbie Williams, Tony Slattery, Carrie Fisher and Richard Dreyfus talking about how their life’s been affected by bipolar disoder.

      Very much recommended, and a portion of the profits go to a mental health charity, so I politely suggest you click the above link. Trust me, it’s worth every penny.

      Now You Can See (Well, Hear) What I’ve Been Up To While I Haven’t Been Posting This Week

      I’m pleased to be able to point you towards the latest episode of the BBC7 comedy show Newsjack, which features a joke by little ol’ me.

      Here be the link to the show’s page, which also includes the iPlayer link and a credits list (rather charmingly alphabetised by forename). My gag is the one about SuperInjunctions in the Corrections segment about two minutes from the end.

      There’ll probably be a link for the podcast in the next couple of days, and my rampant egocentricity means I’m very likely to post that too. (EDIT: Crikey, looks like it’s already available here. That was quick.)

      Anyway, as you can probably gather, I’m more than a little bit pleased about this (which is why my usual English reserve has been overwhelmed with the desire to self-promote so shamelessly); my first paid work for the BBC, and not, I hope, the last.

      Though, as ever, that’s rather up (or indeed down) to me, innit? Back to the writing…

      Page 1 of 5

      Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén