Yvonne Grace is an award-winning Television Drama Producer with 20+years experience in Script Development, Script Editing and Drama Production for the BBC, CITV and ITV. Her Script Consultancy Script Advice delivers workshops, provides online TV writing training and develops writer talent. Follow Yvonne on Twitter @YVONNEGRACE1.
What makes a successful story for television? How can writers make the strongest impact with their stories for the small screen?
In my world of commercially successful television series development — Art has to not only get along with Artifice — they have to be Friends With Benefits. For it really is only when all the nuts and bolts; all the joints and junctures; all the skeleton structuring has been done and built strong and firm and standing on solid ground, that the true art; the true poetry; the true creative juice can flow over an idea and the series narrative that you have so long labored over, truly begins to glow.
There is always talk amongst the creative community in which I am grateful to circulate, about the creative process; the awful and most irksome business of finding inspiration. And then the question of where does this inspiration come from and why isn’t it in the place I left it last time, usually follows… But for me and for the television writer clients at my Script Advice Writers’ Barn and various other places hosting my workshops on television writing, the bigger problem; the by far Bigger Issue — once the Muse has trapped you at your desk and you have acknowledged that this story or this character that you’ve started to obsess over really may be your Next Great Thing — is to learn how to shape, structure and stretch your narrative and your characters over more than one episode.
Art gives way very quickly in television drama to Artifice. And believe me, this is a good thing.
The tips and tricks that need to be used in this shaping and delivering good quality, engaging, impactful dramatic stories for television are also the very same ones that make a story line commercial.
Writers need to reach out to their audience — via the structure, the edifice, the visuals, the characterization, the subtext and the text of a good story line and if all these are present and correct then an impact will most certainly be felt and your audience will resonate with you.
It is no coincidence that the shiver you felt go up your spine when you got to a certain point in your story line for a certain character; when you made them do that thing, say that thing, in that place will be echoed and mirrored in the spine of your reader and the collective spine of your audience.
The way you structured your narrative; incrementally marking out along your character’s story arc, the text and the subtext of this particular journey, determined that the shiver will happen, and at that moment, for those reasons.
Art melting into Artifice and the two being inseparable; that is what truly great television writing is all about.
This is my tick list for checking if a story line has the commercial baggage it needs to pack in order for the it to be successful on screen:
THE MARRIAGE OF TEXT AND SUBTEXT — if a story is to have resonance and impact for an audience, text (the plot) must marry subtext (the motivation behind the plot) and then message will dance at their wedding.
VISUAL IMPACT — this is a visual medium. Pictures and atmosphere. Objects and geography all play a part in telling the story on screen.
STRENGTH AND RELEVANCE OF DIALOGUE — the characters must, by what they say and how they say it, feel and sound like they are honed out of the fabric of the particular world we see them populate on screen.
PACING OF THE STORY LINE — the attention and engagement of a reader and ultimately an audience will be dictated by whether you allow your narrative to flag and to meander. There needs to be an innate dynamism in the story as it unfolds on screen. Don’t deliver it all at 100 miles an hour — temper and alternate the pace of the story.
STRUCTURE OF THE STORYLINE — the choices you make in terms of the nuts and bolts plotting of your story line determines whether you make an impact or lose the opportunity to do so on screen. Think of each scene as a footfall along the story line that your character/s take. Meter out the story incrementally. Keep us taking the morsels as we go through the woods.