Friday, September 06, 2013

Dramatic setting

A producer once told me that the most important thing in drama is the setting. I lied my agreement, as I wanted to work with her, but I knew the truth: drama is character. I happen to believe that dialogue is character, but we're talking people, not places.


Well, I'm still not persuaded. And while she was talking about television drama in general, the conversation was dipping mostly into soaps. It's funny that I can remember this part of the conversation so well yet I can't fathom how we got onto it, but the topic included how a soap needs to provide a setting that very many characters can thrive in. And specifically a setting that can outlast its characters. I can see that. I can see that more than this maxim that setting is always more important than character or anything else.

Yet I'm pondering it. This is like sales: if you can get the customer to consider the product, you're halfway there. If you can just get them to say yes or engage in the conversation, you've got them. It's why all those tedious cold calls begin with "Hello, how are you today?" (I'm okay with that. I tend to say that I'm good, thank you, and then ask them how they are. Nine times out of ten, that throws them completely. One in the ten will reply and I'll carry on listening. The rest will lurch on to the next line of the script, and I won't. Actually, just to carry this aside way off, I've had a right spate of cold callers coming to my door lately. These ones always begin with "Don't worry, I'm not selling anything." To which the only reply is: "Goodbye, then.")

Where were we?

I'm pondering. Thanks.

The reason I should really ponder is because it happens to be true that each time I've found a particular setting for a Doctor Who story, the idea, the pitch, the treatment and then even eventually the script have flown far and fast and I think quite high.

But I'm actually pondering because of Deep Space Nine.

I'm going away on holiday shortly and intend to stock up my iPad with some reading so I checked out the Kindle and iBooks stores. (If you don't know, you can read Kindle books on iPad. And the Kindle Store has more books than Apple's own iBooks Store. But the iBooks application on iPad is sufficiently more pleasant to read that I buy more from there than I do Amazon. The differences are small and decreasing over time, but they're still there. The iBooks application has better typography, to my mind, and it matters.)

Deep Space Nine.

This was a Star Trek television series many years ago and now it is a long, unending series of Star Trek novels. I like Star Trek novels: I think they work better than the TV shows and over the years I have particularly enjoyed many linked DS9 novels. Not enough that I read all of them, but plenty enough that I look out for ones I fancy.

And it turns out that there is a new Star Trek book whose description begins:

After the destruction of the original space station by a rogue faction of the Typhon Pact –
– what? Destruction of what?

The fictional station Deep Space Nine has been destroyed and my first thought was that they can't do that, I lived there.

And then just to make certain I pondered setting, this week saw the opening of the new Library of Birmingham. I was already excited by this: I gabbled at you about it not long ago. But now going there, it was… overwhelming. Everybody had cameras and was photographing this rather extraordinarily marvellous new building yet I couldn't. Needed to see it without a lens in front of me. Needed to absorb it, somehow.

You know and I know that sometime quite soon, we're going to be used to the new library. I do want to know my way around it, I do want to work there, but I love how just at the moment, just at this moment, it is a barrage, a torrent of options and possibilities.

And it is so exciting to see people being so excited about a library.

I bubbled at one of the staff who bubbled right back: she's been working on the library project for five years. Can you imagine how she must feel now it's done?

Well, okay, yes, you're a cynic. She feels unemployed. But apart from that.

She showed me the room I'm going to be doing a workshop in. (And that reminds me, I am delighted to say that tickets are selling briskly but now I've seen the room I also have to tell you to get a move on as it's going to be a quite contained small event. A workshop on The Blank Screen or rather how to fill it, how to get on with writing. Have a look at the official brochure listing for the Birmingham Literature Festival. But, unofficially, a colleague just described it as being "about getting off your arse and writing". I like that. That's a poster quote, that is. I'm not 100% sure he'd like having that used or I'd tell you his name, but he's a smart guy. We'll leave it at that.)

I went back a day later to explore more, to finally take some photographs – and to join Angela at the newly reopened Birmingham Rep to see a play. The Rep's been closed for years while all of this has been going on so it is fantastic to be able to go back inside.

Into that gorgeous setting.

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