How do characters arc through the scene? e.g. starts off happy and content, then confused, then angry, then shocked and broken. How does this dynamic contribute to the characters dynamic through the episode? What could you add to the scene to increase the difference between a character's dynamic at the beginning to the end of a scene? You should be able to draw this dynamic as a line on a graph. The position of the line should be different for each character at the end of the scene than it was at the beginning. The same for the beginning and end of the episode. The more ups and down in the graphs, the more dynamic the scenes, the better the episode.
Could you add other characters to the scene? Who is available? How would various characters change the scene? Do they add anything worthwhile to the story of the scene?
Who gains in the scene? What do the gain?
Who loses? What?
Where is the conflict in the scene? Are you starting the scene as the conflict starts? Are you ending it before it is resolved? Do you want to resolved it here? Is there inner conflict for char(s)?
NOTE: Conflict is NOT always arguing!
What do chars want?
What do they actively want in the scene? Do they achieve it?
What do chars need?
What do the characters need to learn/know/realise (they may have no idea that they need to learn/know/realise anything)? Do they? Why? Why not?
How do chars change by the end of the scene?
In mood, dynamic, resolve, character. They ALL should change in some way.
What is at jeopardy for each of the characters? What are they fighting to save?
Choices they make?
What character-revealing choice does each character make? Is this choice forced on them? Could it be?
Where is the truth of the scene/char/situation?
Take a step back and look at the situation these characters are in. What is the truth of that situation? What does/could it tell us about human nature? What does it tell us about them? This doesn't need to be something huge. It could be something fairly banal, but revealing the truth of a banal situation. The scene is set in the morning? How can you make it less generic than the "morning" scenes we usually see on the telly? What do you do in the morning that you've never seen on telly? Keep it clean, now! Remeber that 8 yr old viewer.
What does the scene reveal about the chars?
Where is the potential in the set up/scene to show the truth of that character? What would they really be like in the morning? What would be so them to do? Or where can you show their insecurities, secrets, inner self in this situation?
What is the thing that we relate to as an audience?
Where is the universal truth in this little morning scene? Again, pulling it out of the generic, what will draw the audience in because they recognize and relate to how you are presenting these characters in this situation.
Anything else that I think might add to the scene?
Any references to previous storylines, character traits that might add to the scene.
Is there any way of using anything other than dialogue to tell the story and change the dynamic of the scene?
So, there's the cliff at the end of the episode. And another half-way through for the commercial break. But could you have a little cliff at the end of your scene? Can you make your scene end with a question, reveal, doubt that will make the audience decide they want to sit through the next couple of scenes because they want to see what happens next?
Of course, you don't have to answer ALL these questions for ALL the characters in all the scenes. Some of them just won't be relevant. But I found that asking these questions and writing down the answers forced me to push the scenes and characters in different directions. I started coming up with loads of different ways of looking at the scenes, making them more/less dramatic, seeing how those characters would really deal with that situation. I probably spent an hour or so on each scene going through this stuff, but it added so much. Most importantly, I got to the end and felt that I wasn't just joining someone else's dots in the episode breakdown.
Then I wrote the scenes and changed everything.
But that's cool. Going through the scenes, looking at the possibilities was what allowed me to come up with the scenes that I did.
Anything else, John?
Now, let me see.
If the show is 20 scenes on average and 23 minutes (or thereabouts) then you are talking about 2 pages a scene. Not much when you are trying to show conflict, character reveal, arcs, truth, what the chars want/need, and the rest. But hey, who said it was easy?
Having chosen my scenes, I realised that they depended on knowing what happened during the story in the previous week. That created a bit of a dilemma - call the script editor and risk annoying her by asking lots of questions? Or find a way of writing around those story elements?
I really liked the scenes I'd chosen, but if you'd asked me which characters I would have chosen to write about for my trial, I would never have chosen the characters in that plot. I didn't feel as if I knew them particularly well. Or that they had very distinctive voices. How wrong I was! Going through the scenes, exploring the characters, I got to know them much better and realised how much watching the show for the past year was paying off. It goes back to the same thing I was saying earlier - you suddenly realise that knowing the show and the characters is key to writing soap.
And that was it. Except to say that I absolutely and thoroughly enjoyed it. I'd always felt that I'd love to write for soap. I'd always felt that I'd enjoy it. And it was a great kick to have that confirmed. I had a ball. And going back to that whole "where's the fun in writing when you can't make up what happens?" thing, it really wasn't an issue. There were other challenges, other ways to be creative, other satisfactions in feeling I was getting the voices right or knowing how a character would behave.
So, what next, John?
I'm glad you asked that, faithful reader. So, I finished the scenes, did a bit a re-writing and cutting, decided they were still too long but to hell with it. So, I hit "send" and off whizzed my email and my scenes.
I sat in front of the computer, staring at the inbox. I'd heard that an answer could take between 4 and 6 months. Having spend a week thinking about nothing but the ups and downs of Carrigstown life, the thought of a 6 month wait wasn't exactly what I wanted to hear. Still, that's the way it goes. It's always the waiting game. So, I decided not to stare at the inbox any more. 6 months of that was going to do my head in. And off I went to make a cup of tea and think about what was next. Finish that script I'd been writing...? Still enough time to do Red Planet...?
I sat down in front of the computer to make decisions.
And an email in my inbox.
From the script editor.
She'd had a quick read and liked the scenes! Wey-hey! And she'd be back in a few weeks to discuss the edits.
No idea what that means, but I don't care. Looks like I got past the first post!
Now, for passing all the others. Posts, that is.