I have been toying with four main problems with my current scripting venture, an action-thriller with brushstrokes of politics. Think Spooks meets Exile.
I’ve written my script in two main chunks so far. On the whole, I’m happy with how the first chunk sits; it has to do the so-called ‘hard work;’ introducing characters, themes, motifs – all that.
Sherlock's Mind Palace
But the second part just doesn’t feel right. It does all it has to (maintain characters, while showing development, advance the plot, set up the ‘final act’ of episode one) and yet…
I think I know what the trouble is.
When I watch blindingly good drama, like Sherlock or Doctor Who, my script just pales in comparison. I think it’s quite a good script, just not… Steven Moffat good. I know he’s had many years in the industry – I know he had to learn too – but that’s not how an audience will see it.
I guess I’ve got to remember that I’m not writing Sherlock. I’m not writing Doctor Who. (However much I want to.) My story is wholly different to those. For one, my main character is just a normal guy. He’s not a Time Lord, and he’s no Consulting Detective, either.
I just have to remember that.
Most people live by the ‘minute-a-page’ rule. But I’m not so sure. Few scripts for an hour-long episode are about 60 pages. It just doesn’t happen like that.
Particularly for me. If a scene is fast and action-packed, I want this to bleed into the script. I like to split paragraphs up, so each main ‘story beat’ is on a separate line. Personally, I think this works better for the production team and the actor.
Sure, in quieter moments, I let this slide. But I still write how I feel is right. And ‘chunking’ is never right.
Because of this, I figure that 40-odd pages of my script is about 30-35 minutes on screen. Yet there’s that nagging feeling that I’m wrong.
And it’s worse than that. I need to work out if I have time to do all I plan to in my synopsis.
Oh, I do workshop. But this isn’t the same either. ‘Action’ has to be read out. It is, in turn, slower and quicker than it might be on screen.
So I just have to guess. I can’t let this stop me. I need to write the whole episode, then figure it out. Things can always be cut. After all, it’s only the first draft.
3. The Cliffhanger.
2x 1hour episodes. That’s what I aim for. That’s what I’ve planned for.
But I have two cliffhangers battling for the same space.
One is quieter – perhaps more affecting. The other is full of running and darkness and guns. It’s typical action-thriller.
But which is better? And which fits better into the plot?
I mean, both slot nicely into their respective places, but for the ‘running through a forest’ one to take place, I have to have enough time in the first episode without sacrificing any of the emotion or plot development.
It’s all down to timing again…
But I think I have a solution. I’m just not sure it’ll sit nicely until I actually try it out. The first episode can end on the quieter moment – laced with a bit of dramatic irony – then the second can have a shocking pre-titles sequence! Excellent!
4. Scene transitions.
When I get down to it, it all depends on timing. That’s the root of my problems.
I need the pace to be just right – because if you tune in to see a thriller, that’s exactly what you want. I need fast moments then a come-down; those quieter bits that advance so much in plot and character, and give the audience precious room to breathe.
But all this takes time. I need it to be realistic. It doesn’t feel right to have one guy saying he’s going to the police – then suddenly, he’s chatting to a DI. I need something to separate those two scenes.
Some shows – like Sherlock and Not Going Out – have a cityscape on a time lapse.
Die Hard With A Vengeance does it with style. New York; a busy city bustling with noise and character, and – a huge explosion.
That doesn’t fit in though. Sure, it works on other shows, but mine’s not like that. Tonally, it doesn’t rub shoulders with everything else that’s going on.
This is particularly a problem when all the action follows the main character – all the others are doing ‘boring’ stuff like surveillance or driving. But the main guy is running for his life. Why would the audience want to be sidetracked with a man typing on a computer?
Unless… it builds tension. It alludes to something.
Instead, I’ve got the main antagonists stewing over their next course of action.
Yes, that all takes time, but frankly, I’ve got it.
I have two hours to stretch my legs. And that’s what I’ll do, thank you very much.
When Steven Moffat spoke about getting rid of the two-parters in the next series of Doctor Who, he said that no story is too long for 45 minutes.
I’m sure two hours will do me just fine.