Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Amateur Hour

I’m a big fan of Fresh Meat. It’d not been something I’d taken to initially, the characters and their initial conflicts just seemed too spiky dislikeable to hook me in. At the urging of a friend I picked it up again and before long found myself being drawn into the lives of those six students, and their increasingly ridiculous personal lives.

Having finished season three, I spent a lot of time telling everyone that not only is the story a great one, but the fundamental principal behind it is an important writing lesson. Fresh Meat works because all of the main characters are, as human being, fundamentally shit. Their bad choices caused by self-absorption, naivety, immaturity and emotional cowardice create the situations that evoke laughs and, more importantly, drive the plot forward. They are defined not by their positive traits, but by their negative ones.

This is, I think, one of the key aspects of good characterisation and engaging conflicts. Characters have to be driven and defined by their flaws – and beyond that, their flaws have to be an active part of the obstacles they face and the conflicts they are embroiled in. To be engaging, a character needs to have agency in a story, and for it to be compelling the agency has to be exercised primarily by the character’s negative traits.

So the BBC Writersroom comedy window is open, and I’m beavering away on a script that is probably too wacky to make the cut. In my continual hoovering up of advice and the such I come across this. Andrew Ellard, a noted and experienced script editor with BBC, giving very good advice for the people looking to enter a script into the Writersroom. His message is loud and clear: no passive protagonists, laughs are derived from a character’s flaws.

Thing is, this script I’m writing on? Protagonist is passive as fuck. He’s spent about twenty pages at this point just saying “what?” I’d rabbited on about characters being defined by their flaws, then created a character whose flaws, or even his good attributes, don’t play an active part in the story at all.

But I guess that is the line between a good writer and a bad one – it is all well and good recognising good practises, being able to spot it, but actually implementing it in your writing is a totally different thing.

Today, I fall on one-side of the good/bad dividing line. Hopefully tomorrow I’ll be on the other side.

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