Arcs and Threads and New Beginnings

September 3, 2006

The way soap operas and dramas are written and planned is usually based around story arcs, because they just go on and on. The idea is, as it sounds, that a story builds up, peaks and then subsides over a considerable period of time. The use of arcs in drama differs to the comedy scripts I used to write because the idea in sitcom is that, by the end of the show, the characters end up more or less back where they started.

In drama, characters tend to be put through the wringer only to emerge bitter and broken or bigger and better. Sometimes you get arcs in sitcoms, because characters come and go, but it’s not the norm, certainly not early in a show’s existence.

Story arcs are more representative of real life and having studied scriptwriting quite obsessively for a few years, I sometimes wonder whether I am more aware of real-life arcs than most – how they begin, how different threads of a story collide and how they end. While life, like a soap, goes on and on, there are distinct phases.

It’s especially important that soaps have a number of these running at different stages to keep up momentum and manage the availability of actors, sets, crew, budgets, etc. There is much more to writing a script than what is said, seen and felt. Films, like novels, are another matter entirely – they tend to be more of a journey with a very definite conclusion. About the only commonality between all these things is there are three parts – a beginning, middle and end.

This may sound obvious, but if you look at most films (as an example) you can pretty much divide them equally into three (and in the case of most Hollywood films, this can be almost down to the minute): Something happens, it all blows up, it gets sorted out. You can break the rules, but you have to be careful and very clever to do so and this is why some films find the acclaim of critics while bemused punters mutter “it was a good film, but, er, yes”.

Anyway, I obviously like the sound of my own keyboard rattling (like you didn’t know?!) because the start of my point is that a number of arcs seem to have culminated for and around me recently and it ain’t anywhere near the Christmas special. Someone’s messed up the planning, broken the rules and generally fucked with my head in the process.

I can’t really go into everything here, but suffice to say that Jack’s story was one of those cruel, twisted plots that ended with the worst case scenario; my friend, Hans, who’s undoubtedly had a gruelling summer, came good but that has slightly negative consequences for me, although it really is for the best; while my dearest friends Ade and Claire have generally been tossed about on the waves for the last year or more, quite apart from everything that has happened with Jack.

Also there are the things I can see going on with newer or more distant (but still important) friends where I am only a bit player, but still somehow involved.

My own plotline this year has been one of mediocrity while so much has happened around me. I think I had all my dramas peak last year because I’ve spent most of this year recovering from all that, dusting myself down and picking myself up. It’s been sometimes gruelling, sometimes frustrating, kinda boring to read about, but I shouldn’t complain because in the grand scheme of things I’m grateful for the “break”. I should do panto, or something, since I’m not really needed on set a lot of the time.

And so that brings me to the next part of my point which is that after you’ve been beaten and battered or elated and ecstatic, you enter a more stable phase – a quiet period of new beginnings. New Years’ stuff always frustrate me because it doesn’t mean shit and gives people false expectations, so even though it’s September (and I can hardly believe it is) I think new beginnings are what my friends and I will be witnessing before too long.

Sometimes things have to shift to an incredible degree in order for us to get where we need to be in life. It can be painful, difficult and traumatic, but a few years down the line we can look back and make more sense of it. It takes time, for sure, but it’s certainly been a pattern in my life and a thought worth holding onto when things look dark and grim.

And there endeth today’s sermon by Steve.

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4 Responses to “Arcs and Threads and New Beginnings”

  1. Andy Melton Says:

    Dammit, Mary, just get over life and get your ass onto the Skype! Live life like I do, online, all the time. Its great! LOL

    Ok, sorry, I knew I should have waited until tomorrow to comment. Its 1:50 AM, I didn’t have a nap this evening, I’m not very coherent, I am going shopping tomorrow and have to be up early, so this comment, is, in-coherent. I hope tomorrow I can have a better comment, but, I wanted to be the first, HAHA.

    *hugs*

  2. Andy Melton Says:

    Ok, I just took a sip of water (geez, I had to stop and think what I drank). Let me try again…

    “Anyway, I obviously like the sound of my own keyboard rattling (like you didn’t know?!) ”

    — Seriously, for me, typing away at the keyboard makes me feel so much better. I am always saying in my journal that just letting the words flow out of me and onto the screen is very soothing, relaxing and therapeutic.

    “You can break the rules, but you have to be careful and very clever to do so and this is why some films find the acclaim of critics while bemused punters mutter “it was a good film, but, er, yes”.”

    — For me, the best films are the ones that throw you off at the end. But, I don’t like them all to be like that because I’ll wind up expecting it.

    “New Years’ stuff always frustrate me because it doesn’t mean shit and gives people false expectations, so even though it’s September (and I can hardly believe it is) I think new beginnings are what my friends and I will be witnessing before too long.”

    — I can’t believe its September already either. I was working on my blogs tonight and noticed I had a post all the way back in September of last year, when I picked up blogging again. Time has flown by.

    — Speaking of New Year’s resolutions that don’t mean shit, its really funny, my resolutions are starting to happen right now.

    “Sometimes things have to shift to an incredible degree in order for us to get where we need to be in life. It can be painful, difficult and traumatic, but a few years down the line we can look back and make more sense of it. It takes time, for sure, but it’s certainly been a pattern in my life and a thought worth holding onto when things look dark and grim.”

    — HOPEFULLY!

  3. purrplechick Says:

    This might be a blog post in itself, but there is a school of thought that says that New Year isn’t actually the start of a new year, but September is. September is the start of the school year, it’s the start of the transitionary period from summer to winter (our most extreme seasons). It’s time for harvesting and preparing to hibernate. It can be summer’s last gasp or winter’s first roar. Things start to change, the leaves turn colour, plants die back, the whole world seems different somehow.

    Anyway – about the arcs thing, you’re right. I’m fed up of living in a soap opera though and having my Eastenders-style ‘doof doof doof doof’ moments (which will mean nothing to your American readers). It seemed somehow apt that Jack passed on 31 August – it seemed to bring more closure. I hope September will be the start of a better year for us, although I know it ain’t gonna feel like it at the time. It can’t get much sodding worse, anyway 😐

  4. Steve Says:

    Andy – have you never heard of blockquote, Mary??! Thanks for the thoughts anyway! 😉

    purrpleypaloozah – That’s really interesting and I know… I know.


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