The following story was put out on twitter last week by @sixthformpoet and quickly went viral – it’s even made its way onto The Sun website! I have to confess I knew nothing about @sixthformpoet before last week but she/he seems to be a rather wonderful story-teller.
I read the following story thread on twitter during the lunch break on my two day screenwriting course at the weekend and then read it aloud to the 20 writers on my course and it got the engaged, animated response I expected. Here it is –
‘My dad died. Classic start to a funny story. He was buried in a small village in Sussex. I was really close to my dad so I visited his grave a lot. I still do. [DON’T WORRY, IT GETS FUNNIER.]
I always took flowers and my mum visited a lot and she always took flowers and my grandparents were still alive then and they always took flowers. My dad’s grave frequently resembled a solid third place at the Chelsea Flower Show.
Nice but I felt bad for the guy buried next to my dad. He NEVER had flowers. Died on Christmas Day aged 37, no one left him flowers and now there’s a pop-up florist in the grave next door. So I started buying him flowers. I STARTED BUYING FLOWERS FOR A DECEASED MAN I’D NEVER MET.
I did this for quite some time, but I never mentioned it to anyone. It was a little private joke with myself, I was making the world a better place one bunch of flowers at a time. I know it sounds weird but I came to think of him as a friend.
I wondered if there was a hidden connection between us, something secretly drawing me to him. Maybe we went to the same school, played for the same football club or whatever. So I googled his name, and ten seconds later I found him.
His wife didn’t leave him flowers BECAUSE HE’D MURDERED HER. ON CHRISTMAS DAY. After he murdered his wife, he murdered her parents too. And after that he jumped in front of the only train going through Balcombe tunnel that Christmas night.
THAT was why no one ever left him flowers. No one except me, of course. I left him flowers. I left him flowers every couple of weeks. Every couple of weeks FOR TWO AND A HALF YEARS.
I felt terrible for his wife and her parents. Now, I wasn’t going to leave them flowers every couple of weeks for two and a half years but I did feel like I owed them some sort of apology.
I found out where they were buried, bought flowers and drove to the cemetery. As I was standing at their graves mumbling apologies, a woman appeared behind me. She wanted to know who I was and why I was leaving flowers for her aunt and grandparents. AWKWARD.
I explained and she said ok that’s weird but quite sweet. I said thanks, yes it is a bit weird and oh god I ASKED HER OUT FOR A DRINK. Incredibly, she said yes. Two years later she said yes again when I asked her to marry me because that is how I met my wife. [END]’
What is your response to this story? What is it that makes this a brilliant piece of storytelling?
‘Every scene needs to change the story’ is something I’m often banging on about. And in this story almost every sentence seems to send it in a different, unexpected direction.
Tonally it’s very distinctive – in particular, there’s a very clear sense of humour / humanity to the story. It’s essentially a serious, highly dramatic story but it’s lit up by brilliant shafts of humour. Much of it is genuinely funny.
Point of View – you get a clear sense of the personality / sensibility of the person telling the story. Their surprise / shock becomes our surprise / shock.
The story hits the ground running. You’re immediately hooked into the story by the unlikely, wry juxtaposition of the first two sentences.
And sentence 3, 4 & 5 cause you to engage with the narrator and feel you are in the hands of an accomplished, confident story-teller.
Rhythm – the rhythm of the story is distinctive – short, snappy sentences that give this a dynamic feel, the sense of a rapidly-developing, escalating story. And the use of capitals adds to the nuances of the story-telling. I’ve broken the story up into paragraphs as it appeared as separate tweets in a thread. This structure also helps to make it more enthralling and digestible as a story.
I have no idea whether nor not this has any basis in truth – but the important thing is that it feels real. Details like the Balcombe tunnel lend it an air of authenticity.
It’s got a great twist at the end. The last sentence brings the story to a brilliantly unexpected and resolved conclusion.
Two quotes from a Q&A with Charlie Brooker and Annabel Jones that appeared in a recent Guardian supplement –
Whose TV writing do you admire?
Charlie Brooker: Recently, anyone and everyone who hammered out words for Succession, Catastrophe, Inside No 9, Fleabag, Better Call Saul, Russian Doll, I Think You Should Leave, Derry Girls, Back To Life, Blood, A Vewry English Scandal … I mean I could go on. I bet Years and Years is really good too; I’ll probably be too jealous to watch it.
Annabel Jones: I’d add Mum to that list. The writing is small, beautiful, funny and painfully poignant.
PS: A reminder of the screenwriting riches on TV at the moment and recently.
What do you think is most important to think about when writing and developing a character?
CB: I honestly don’t know. You just kind of picture someone and start imagining what they’d do. This sounds unbelievably trite, but coming up with a name is an important first step. Somehow, the moment I’d thought of the names “Yorkie” or “Colin Ritman”, I had a sense of who they were. I really can’t explain why. Get a name that fits and you start hearing how they might speak. Then you cast an actor in your mind’s eye and start describing the film you’re imagining they’re in. And don’t just write dialogue – spend a lot of time describing what they’re looking at, how they’re reacting non-verbally to things.
PS: I really like this. And I think the same is often true of titles. Get a brilliantly memorable, quirky title and sometimes it will spark an equally quirky, interesting story.
SCRIPTNOTES podcast – Please can I draw your attention to ep.399 which is all about the tricky business of NOTES – mainly from the POV of writers receiving notes, what works and what doesn’t work, but it’s also really helpful for those who give notes to writers. One of the best, most useful episodes.
The next newsletter will be on Friday June 28th
All the best
June 14th 2019