Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Get to the Point!


A short(ish) post today, taking my own advice about getting to the point…

A few nights ago my dear lady wife and I sat down to watch the BBC’s new adaptation of Jamaica Inn. I’ll confess, despite it being right up my street I haven’t read the book, so I came to the series cold. The trailer looked great, though!

Now, I’ll set aside all criticisms of the show that have been covered elsewhere. You can’t type ‘Jamaica Inn’ into Google without finding some mention of the mumbling, poor-quality sound and historical inaccuracies present in the show. I forgave it, for the most part anyhow.

The show featured lots of walking around in 
thick mud whilst wearing long skirts.
Which kind of counts as conflict, I suppose.
What I couldn’t forgive quite so easily was the seemingly aimless meandering of that first episode. Half an hour in and I had no idea what the story was meant to be about. What was the conflict that ultimately would have to be resolved? What was there to the story, other than the fact that our heroine, Mary, has fallen on hard times and has had to relocate to Jamaica Inn? By the end of the episode, I kind of worked out where it was going and why, but the opening 30 minutes just sort of drifted by, which is a bit odd for a TV drama. No questions were asked, beyond ‘how will Mary cope with life at Jamaica Inn?’ Is that enough to sustain three hours of screen drama?

The point of this blog, then (ironically coming halfway through), is about getting to the point. This TV show made me evaluate my own writing. It made me think about how important it is to set up conflict nice and early. While spelling out the overarching narrative isn’t recommended (it robs the text of real immersiveness if everything is there on a plate), it’s really important to establish plot and character as quickly as possible, and give the reader some genuine questions to answer, and reasons to carry on to the next chapter. In the TV show, I simply needed some cue to tell me ‘this is about Mary’s struggle to rise above criminality’, or ‘this is about Mary trying to stay true to herself through really hard times’; maybe just 'this is another Regency love story about Mary falling in love with a wrong 'un'. Or even ‘this is about pirates and smugglers, being all piratey and smuggly’. Sadly, none of the above points were very forthcoming; although it was all very broody and moody, which is something I suppose.

I intend to give the book a read now, just to see if it’s more gripping than the TV drama. Maybe it’s a sign of the times – those Regency heroines used to just drift between balls and dashing beaus, after all, whereas these days the reader requires pace, action and quicker gratification. 

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