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.