Friday, 23 January 2009

Political Correctness and Character

I think it's all too easy to bash political correctness as a bad thing. Certainly it keeps the tabloid papers going on slow news days, so for that reason alone we should perhaps be grateful. Beyond that though, I think the quest to avoid using language to denigrate people because they are different from the perceived norm is not an unworthy one.

However, in this attempt to avoid giving offense and to make sure that people are treated as equal, we've clearly lost the plot (which will be no news to followers of aforementioned tabloid publications). This isn't because it's no longer kosher to use racial slurs, derogatory terms for disabled people (or should that be differently abled (note my spell check is telling me that abled isn't even a word, which shows where politically correct language can get a bit too far up its own backside)), but because it seems that the behaviour arising from it has stopped treating those groups as real people.

Case in point (and the reason I started this post): there's been a recent poll conducted on behalf of the BBC and Channel 4 to look at how disabled people felt about their portrayal on television.

Shockingly the survey came up with the following findings:

Disabled people wanted to be portrayed realistically by programme makers - warts and all.

They wanted to see less targeted programmes - they found programmes focusing on disability to be a turn off.

They wanted to see more disabled people in regular programmes.

The fact that we need a survey to point out the bleeding obvious suggests how far we've yet to come. Unfortunately those trying to follow the politically correct line often still fail to see the real person behind the disability or the differently coloured skin.

In terms of writing I think it's important to consider characters in this light. Writing tends to swing from negative stereotypes to positive stereotypes. Both betray the truth and both fail to properly meet the requirements of the audience and of the minority group being portrayed.

Of course if we could get away from thinking about creating characters who represent a minority group and start thinking of them as characters who represent people then I think we'd be some way along the road to finding the right balance.

Saturday, 17 January 2009

Why not writing is sometimes the best course of action

I've been sitting on my (allegedly) finished novel for a while now. Although I'd written the thing, been through every single word to check for errors and rewritten the end, I still didn't feel as if it was ready.

So I waited.

While I was waiting, I struggled to figure out what I was expecting from the wait. After all I had a good idea of where it went wrong and I had a few ideas about how I could fix it. But something in me balked at the idea.

I was probably just being lazy, not wanting to face writing any more words for the story. After all it took me weeks (months?) before I wrote the epilogue chapter that it so desperately needed. However, a couple of days ago I realised that I was wrong with my idea of where the story went wrong. It actually went wrong about a chapter before the place I though needed rewriting. At least if I start the rewrite at that earlier point, the alteration to the story should flow a lot easier.

And that was what I'd been waiting for. The reason I've been sitting doing nothing about sorting out the story was because I was making it too hard for myself. Rewriting at the later point would have been more effort for less reward.

Sometimes it's good to be lazy.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Plot Points and Character Arcs

Brief anecdote: several years ago when I was still using online sites to get feedback on my writing one of the people reviewing a script of mine congratulated me for hitting the first pinch point on exactly the right page. He then proceeded to take me to task for not getting all the other points on the right pages.

One of the things I could have pointed out to him at the time was that due to my funky formatting, what he was taking as page 27 was probably closer to being page 25, so I missed the initial pinch point too. I didn't bother to mention it though.

A recent thread on Wordplay has been concerned over a different screenwriting term - whether there's a need to have a character arc in every story. I'd like to question whether there's a need to use the term 'character arc' at all, let alone have one.

There's a lot of terminology that gets thrown about regarding screenwriting especially, other writing not so much. Much of it seems to derive from self-help books that are more often written by screenwriting analysts rather than successful screenwriters.

As a result I'd put much of it on the Helpful to Writers Scale at somewhere around 3/10. Character arcs, plot points, pinch points, or whatever new terms the latest writing guru has created to sell his/her book are all useful if applied AFTER the screenplay has been finished and taken with a pinch of salt when doing so.

And that's only if you know you have a problem with the story but can't quite put your finger on what's wrong. Although frankly if that's the case then I'd suggest ditching the script and starting on your next one because you probably either need distance or more experience to solve the problem.

Where all these wonderful terms should be ignored (I'd say must, but that starts to sound like I'm inventing rules instead) is in actually writing the story. It's certainly important to understand how to pace a story, how to create compelling characters and so on - but slavishly ensuring that you tick off every single box in the Screenwriter's Workbook is not going to guarantee anything more than the appreciation of the other terminology slaves.