The backstory

The screenplay of Not Your Heart Away went off to a proper, professional script-editor a few weeks ago. For flattering but still unknown reasons despite doing this all of a very long day for a living she wanted to have a look at my attempt at a screenplay to see if Ben’s longing for Claire’s jeans and their contents might be visualised in a format conducive to people paying £10 to eat popcorn in the dark.

Several people have said the beginning of the book is confusing. So did the script-doctor. Not because it was, in a Donnie Darko sense. (Come on, that whole film was confusing). But because unlike the book, you don’t get any time to explain things. You can’t say what a character thinks, unless he says it or sees it, so you can hear it or see it too. A picture might be worth a thousand words, but only if you know what you’re looking at. So the backstory needs filling in.

Where are we now?

Why is Claire where she is? I think that’s explained as the film unwinds, but why is Ben the way he is? And Liz? And Pete? And Poppy? Again, Poppy, being essentially anyone (yes, as in anyone would do, and if they’re funny and into Ben then so much the better, but let’s not kid ourselves about him. He might be the romantic lead but he’s not a romantic hero. He’s 19, for heaven’s sake. What were you expecting, Lord Byron in Levis?) she doesn’t need so much explanation, but the three main characters, they certainly do if we’re ever going to find out why they act like that.

Only one person reviewing the book has commented on Liz’s love for Ben, which I certainly intended to show when I wrote it but no-one has picked up on at all, save one of the most forthright reviewers. So even there, in book form, the backstory isn’t complete.

I’m finding the same with a new screenplay I’m trying to write, (School Lane) about a German boy who I met in a pub when he was an old man. Every time I start writing it I get the first scene down and then think: ‘that’s not the first scene. We need a first scene before the first scene, to see how they got there.’ That’s four times, so far and I don’t think it’s any nearer being the first scene yet.

Maybe that’s the secret. Start at the end and work backwards. Then at least I’ll know how it turns out.

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