24 Sep Are you sitting comfortably?
With the nights drawing in, Bruce Gulland is trying not to lose the plot.
It probably doesn’t escape your notice each year that autumn is when the TV schedules bring out their biggest guns of the year in prime time drama. There’s fiction & fantasy, with ‘Downton’ and ‘Doctor Who’ leading the charge, accompanied by a host of others embodying murder, mystery and intrigue. We might justifiably include the talent show big-hitters headed up by ‘Strictly’ and ‘The X Factor’, insofar as they too are full of drama, and lead us into various personal (sob) stories, underpinned by a bigger narrative arc. All this, plus the winner of the BBC National Short Story Award is soon to be announced, with the main contenders being broadcast on Radio 4 all this week.
Story, in short, is all around, and people love it. I’ve been reading about the theory of story lately, how and why it works. Character and conflict… being transported to alternative and unfamiliar settings and situations where we temporarily lose or forget ourselves… and in this process, being made susceptible to viewing things from very different angles and viewpoints, as we journey and identify with characters we come to care about.
Love of drama & story reveals a hunger for possibilities and perspectives beyond the familiar and ordinary – perhaps signalling a deeper often unacknowledged hunger for the spiritual, and eternity.
Many of us in the media are story-makers, constructing narrative, whether our material be real life or fictional, in print, visual, audio or any combination. And just today I was reading about Jesus’ own superlative story-telling skill in parables, embodying three vital qualities. First they grabbed people’s interest, compelling them to stop when they could have just walked by. Second, they made the abstract concrete, conveying spiritual truth in earthy familiar realities. Third, they didn’t hand truth out on a plate, but made the audience think.
The darker months traditionally afford an excellent setting for stories; autumn TV has largely taken over oral story-telling by the fireside. With Halloween, Remembrance, Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter all ahead in the next six months, there are particular opportunities to communicate aspects of the greatest story. Let’s find new ways to ‘get inside’ it, re-imagine and re-express it. Surely it has the potential to grab and transport audiences at least as much as any primetime TV plot.
Bruce is a producer with Whistling Frog Productions.