Sometimes you have to say something before you realise that you think it. Consequently this may be very obvious and I’m definitely going to take a time getting to it, but I first realised it on the ring road near Damascus.
Follow. This week in Stafford there’s been a children’s event called Page Talk, produced by Hayley Frances for Writing West Midlands. It’s a writing event where a small group of 10-14-year-olds have worked with professional writers, journalists, poets and more.
On Monday, they had poetry with Stephen Morrison-Burke. Tuesday was journalism with Alex Townley. Wednesday was science fiction and horror writing with Alex Davis. Tomorrow they get taught performance by Cat Weatherill. (Seriously, what a week for these kids, eh? Stephen, Alex, Cat – I don’t know Alex Davis’s work as well as I do the others but the kids told me he was superb. I’d pay to see that lot.)
Today they got me and “Play in a Day”. Twenty kids wrote a play together from scratch. At 11am, we had nothing whatsoever. At 4pm, we had a play.
What I hope also happened is that they got to taste a little of what it’s like writing for real. Not in school, not to be praised for how clever you are. For real. I told them that I wouldn’t be giving out grades. I told them that if we didn’t quite manage to finish the play today then we needn’t have bothered starting.
(I can do that, I can play the this-is-real and this-isn’t-school card because it isn’t school and I’m not a teacher. I’ve only once been studied by Ofcom people and that was a mistake. I’ll tell you now, I came away from this Play in a Day feeling pretty good – but I could because today I’m in my office writing for 16 hours or so. No kids. No trying to teach anybody anything. I’m not even a parent. Truly, I am a civilian.)
Anyway. No near misses, I told them, no well done for trying, the job was to write a play and that’s what we were going to do. That’s what we did.
But I was also strongly aware that this was one day in a week and that they have been doing all these other types of writing. They were obviously going to see what the differences are but there are two that I particularly wanted and needed them to know from the start.
I think one of them is obvious and I’ve said it a hundred times. Scriptwriting is different to novels and short stories and journalism and poetry because the audience never reads the script. The script is there for you and everyone else involved to make something else: a play, a TV show, a film.
It’s the other thing that I hadn’t realised I really think and it’s this.
Journalism is about the facts.
Drama is about the truth.
Journalism is who did what, when, where, how and only in the most coarse way why. Drama is all about why and also why it matters.
I’m not convinced that I gave them a brilliant example but it popped into my head and I said it. Since nothing else has popped into my head since, I’m going to say it again.
I was working with a guy named Connor Evan so I pointed at him. “If I walked in here with a custard pie and slapped Connor in the face with it,” I said, “that might be a news story.”
You can see the headline: Prat Pies Producer. Connor would point out that he isn’t a producer but we’re talking 21st Century journalism here and alliteration goes a long way.
You can also see the news report. You can practically read it now. A reporter would get a quote from a witness, from Connor and from me about why I did it – “Well, I had this spare pie and…” but otherwise the whole news story is Prat Pies Producer.
Whereas drama would convey to us – not tell, never tell, always convey, always show – what it is like to be the victim of that pie. What it’s like to feel cold custard against your skin for the rest of the day.
It would also convey why I’d really done it – and it would’ve accepted the fact that actually, maybe I don’t know.
Drama is messy. Drama is people. Journalism is just the facts.