#36 – The Cult Of Nigel: Script Development

I am still working on and developing the script, trying to get it to where it ‘needs’ to be. In my mind, I liken it to chiseling a piece of stone or granite (is that right?) into a statue – the statue being the finished piece, and in this case, our story. It’s there, but it needs to be unearthed. One mis-chisel, and the whole statue will change (perhaps unknowingly and forever). I am basically trying to reach a point where I feel most satisfied that the story is doing what the premise sets out to do. That sounds easy, right? But in fact, it is quite tricky. We can start off with the clearest idea of what story we’re telling, but most of the time, the characters just kind of take over, and as the writer, all my job really consists of is trying to keep them on the track I’ve already laid. Equally, I don’t want to force my characters to stay on that track, which will jar and often result in really unnecessary exposition in order to get the story ‘back on track’. So with each pass I make, it’s a matter of tightening that departure between character and the story ‘track’ and trying to find a compromise that both allows the characters to be free and entertaining, whilst still telling the story I hoped to tell.

There has also been a lot of discovery with regards to the story (think of the chisel and stone analogy), and as each new discovery has time to settle and embed itself, you tend to get a sense of whether it has integrated well or not – if you give it enough time to stew. After the second draft I wrote for The Cult Of Nigel, I was overall quite please with where I had arrived with it, but knew that there was still some unsatisfactory elements I needed to deal with. At first, it’s not clear what does or doesn’t work, or what needs changing. That’s why, when you’re writing, you actually do a lot of your work away from the desk. I’ll get ideas throughout my day, often doing other things, which will jolt me and suddenly another piece falls into place – I quickly write it down, and will try to incorporate it the next time I am at the desk. Some of these pieces are harder to find than others, but you know they’re missing, and you’ll know when you’ve found the piece that fits. I guess it also depends whether you are willing to wait or plough a head with an unfinished puzzle, hoping that it will go unnoticed. Or perhaps you’re luckily enough to have a finished puzzle, or maybe you don’t see that you’re missing something – often it takes a second person to point that sort of stuff out. I do have that second person, someone who reads each draft and gives detailed notes (Phil my co-producer). It’s a great system, and one I have truly appreciated it. We discuss his notes, and then it’s up to me to decide if they will work on not – more often than not, they do. And if they don’t, they at least pose a question about a certain aspect of the script that I then need to answer. With each pass, I’m growing in my conviction about certain decisions. I can defend many, if not all, elements to the story now because I know they ‘work’ for this story. When I made the first draft, I was totally loose with everything, and had no idea what would stay and what would eventually go. A few drafts later and many things continue to stay – there are just one or two pieces still missing.

Those two pieces are (were): Nigel has no immediacy in the first two acts, and alas, no drive to the story. And the third act does no satisfy the questions posed in the first two – I’ve tried different combinations of ideas to try and find the answers to these ‘problems’, but sometimes you can’t force it – if you do, you may chisel off a piece that cannot be replaced. So it’s best to just accept the missing piece, and wait for the right fit to come along. As it turns out, I do feel like I have now answered the two problems, but who knows, maybe next week I’ll read the script again and notice the pieces don’t fit quite as well as I first thought, or maybe another missing piece has cropped up somewhere else. But I am certain that the two issues I’ve just mentioned, were the main gripes I had throughout each draft, I just didn’t know how to deal with them. The first sort of developed out of the feedback given to me by Neil (lead actor, playing Nigel), who was honest enough and said he felt like the new draft had lost something – the immediacy. In the first draft, Nigel was on ‘a mission’, and for some reason in later drafts, that mission was reduced and eventually taken out completely – I think it was because it felt cliched. The answer wasn’t to take it out completely, but to change it so it didn’t annoy me so much, or not at all – it took a few drafts for me to realise that. The third act was always been a problem. The Cult Of Nigel is a delicate story, and it’s been tricky to thread certain aspects of the story throughout so it does what we want it to do when it’s supposed to. I had to go back to the drawing board. I asked myself: what story am I telling? And from that reevaluation, I realised that my third act was dealing with a different story. I had to be clear, and it was muddled. So I’ve scaled back a few of the ideas, and made some key changes. It’s certainly less about what it was, but now I feel like it has been directed back to the story tracks we are dealing with.

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