I’ve got a bleak, dimly lit and darkly comic storyworld. Who wants to come live in it?

Looking back at February and our first residential workshop, I remember looking at the paragraph-long synopsis I brought with me and thinking: ‘yeah, you’re short, meandering and, in places, elusive on purpose, but my God, what a cool premise! A draft by the end of August? No problem!’

With every revised treatment, pitch, meeting and scheme milestone we all had to deliver to/participate in, I inspected, questioned and redefined a lot of the script’s core elements. As I got closer to the core of the story, I discarded a lot of the décor I thought constituted the heart of this world I was obsessed with building. By the time I had to start working on the draft, I felt like the place was literally unfurnished. Naturally, I panicked and turned to the last treatment and step outline I produced in the lead-up to the first draft. The beats of the story were there, Coral, my lead was there and so were all the people meant to give her a hard time. I just need to paint the place. They’ll bring enough baggage to fill this place up with all sorts of interesting items. 

There’s a certain mad trance you fall prey to the moment you start typing out the first draft of something. It’s as if you can tap into resources and knowledge from a past life – it’s all very familiar and yet absolutely new – and all you need to do is type, type, type. And so I did. I built it, and ‘they’ came. I took a step back and proudly admired this beehive of activity: Coral and all her friends and enemies moving to the beat of my carefully crafted step outline. 96 pages of… activity. As I stood there gesticulating with my imaginary conductor’s baton, Kate Leys metaphorically tapped me on the shoulder and asked: who are all these people? Who is Coral – really – and what is she up to? How come she never questions herself, or all this noise around her?

I looked around, searching for Coral, to discover Kate was right. All along, I thought I was throwing challenges at a well-rounded character, putting her in difficult situations in which she would have to fend for herself and emerge a different person, be it more damaged or victorious, but changed nonetheless. In focusing so much on the perfect backdrop for her story and crafting these challenges, I managed to deprived her of motivation and agency, limiting her involvement in her own story to rather hazy reactions. A really bad case of arrested development.

To end this account on a more positive note, writing out a full draft helped me articulate and define in minute detail the setting, atmosphere and tone of ‘Viral’. The challenge for draft two is to have these elements naturally seep out of the lead’s psychological makeup and view of the world. Game on.