Monday, June 23, 2008

Story A or B?

Ganesh wrote in about a Story A and Story B situation: "The script [I'm working on] is a 'will they/won't they, should they/shouldn't they' humorous love story. In the end I want the couple to do it or go their separate ways. If it were a serial, it's suggested that Story A progresses step by step, week by week to this point, with a Story B that feeds into A. If it were a series, then each week Story A is about the thwarted attempts of the couple to get together, with a related Story B continuing in the background week by week. Is this how you view story development yourself?

If supposing the couple are 'on a break' for 3 or 4 episodes, does that fit the TV series model? Is this too rigid approach? I looked at 'Gavin and Stacey' as the model. Series 1 was more serial than series, and I'm not sure what series 2 was in that case. The writers feel that it would have run out of steam after Christmas, do you think this is a symptom of the way it's been plotted in the last season?
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Well, let's get the difference between series and serials out of the way.

A series is a show that can generate new and interesting story lines around the series’ premise and characters for however long is required. These are often referred to as ‘returning drama series’, where they can run for pretty much forever, and new characters can replace the old ones without upsetting the concept or expectation of the show.

A serial is usually a concept and story line that will have a definite resolution over a fixed amount of episodes. Shows like State of Play, The State Within and Five Days. They lure the audience in with their interesting premise, usually high concept or grabbing in some shape or form, and twist and turn the plot over a set amount of episodes before coming to a satisfying conclusion.

When you're plotting a half hour drama or sitcom or whatever it is, it is common to have a main story line for that particular episode (story A) but also a corresponding subplot (story B) so that the story has a bit of variety and interest. In soaps, you could have up to four or five story lines running through each episode. In sitcoms, it's usually two (the main story being the premise of that particular episode and the subplot being an offshoot of this premise or something that focuses on a secondary character but will usually have an impact / pay off on the main story). In some instances, the premise of the episode is enough to sustain the entire story. Father Ted kicking Bishop Brennan up the arse for example.

It varies. The key is not to be too rigid. Let the characters and stories naturally dictate what needs to happen rather than make a bullet-point plot between A and B story lines.

For Gavin & Stacey (spoilers for series 1 & 2 ahead), the first series followed how a guy from Essex fancied a girl from Wales just by regularly talking to her on the phone. They arranged to meet, and were relieved that they really did fancy each other, and they fell in love. What they didn't count on was the influence of their friends & families, and how that would impact their lives, not to mention the awkward commute between Essex and Barry Island. So the first series focused on the lead up to Gavin and Stacey's wedding, and whether it would happen, if it would work, and of course, what would happen between Smithy and Nessa (who didn't know he made her pregnant).

Series two followed up on this by seeing how Smithy would react to Nessa's pregnancy, while also showing how difficult Stacey was finding living away from home and being under the roof of Gav's larger-than-life but well-meaning parents. So, two key situations arose to drive the series. Would Gav and Stacey's marriage survive? Would Smithy & Nessa get together?

For me, the success of Gavin and Stacey has been the focus on characters rather than relying on obvious gags or typical sitcom humour. The characters are treated with love and care by the writers, and the humour comes from their human and realistic reactions. Of course, there are some great lines but only within the context of the characters and their situation. The humour might seem lowkey at first but it develops through the warmth and identification of the characters, and by the end, it's hilarious. And for those that still don't find it funny, I'd argue that it's a show that's hard to dislike and is always enjoyable to watch.

10 comments:

Whitmore said...

I don't have particular insight into the British TV landscape - so my question is:

is there returning one hour drama that doesn't focus on one character? Stuff like "Six Degrees", "Emergency Room" or even "Jericho" (although that one does have a protagonist)?

That would be all. Awesome blog, Danny, thanks for your effort - and I really hope that your screenwriting career will skyrocket!

Whit

Danny Stack said...

That's very kind of you Whitmore, cheers. In the UK, there are returning dramas like Casualty and Holby (both medical series) that don't focus on one character but an ensemble set. I'd say it's even quite common over here as there's usually a healthy turnaround on the main characters (actors getting bored with their roles etc).

wyndham said...

Hi Danny, a question: What's the best way to tackle two long scenes which are concurrent and which are meant to be contrasted thematically and sequentially? Can you treat them as one long intercut or is it important to always treat them as separate scenes entirely. I'm thinking of long scenes which are intended to be cut into short sequences and run one after the other.

I hope that question makes sense.

Danny Stack said...

Could you give an example, Wyndham, I'm not quite sure what you'e getting at?

wyndham said...

Yes, I don't blame you. I'd just read that back myself.

I'm thinking of a climax - two separate scenes in different locations which happen at the same time and both of which continue at some length. I guess I'm asking for advice on when and when not to use the action: Intercut.

Danny Stack said...

Right, got you. Will have a ponder.

Anonymous said...

Do you mean like towards the end of the Godfather with the church and the shootings?

wyndham said...

Yes, kinda, but with two long scenes played out at the same time, not a montage...

Lucy said...

Do you mean two scenes INTERCUT? Most often it's phone calls but every so often it's two completely different ones for contrast, a fave in soaps where someone is DYING whilst a baby is being born which is a mega cliche but done well can really work.

wyndham said...

Someone is dying while a baby is being born - you mean it's been done before????!!!