Thursday 18 May 2023

Why I Abandonned Writing a Novel. Twice.

I started writing a novel in lockdown. Who didn’t? I had some characters from a play I’d written. I had an exciting new story and situation. How hard can it be?

Answer: Hard.

I got lost in the weeds, my research got out of hand and I realised I should be writing it as a pilot episode for an hour long action-adventure comedy drama. You know, a British Moonlighting-meets-National Treasure kind of thing.

So I abandonned writing the novel.

My agent sent out the script, and there were crickets. Nothing. Not a bite. No interest. No-one wanted me to be writing hour-long mainstream comedy drama with my half-hour sitcom CV.

So after a while, I had a brilliant idea. Let’s turn that one-hour screenplay back into a novel. Now I’ve got the characters, and a beginning, middle and end. Just turn each scene into a chapter of the book. How hard can it be?

Answer: Easy. At least I thought so.

But after my wife read the first 15000 words, and then a friendly publisher who was prepared to indulge me had a look, it turns that I had to learn a harsh truth: I don’t know how to write a novel.

So abandonned writing that novel for a second time.

Anecdote over.

I have, at least, delivered on the title of this blogpost.

But why have I beclowned myself before your very eyes?

It is to make this point: a moderately successful comedy writer who’s been making a living for over 20 years working with stories, characters and jokes, has a lot to learn about writing. I can’t just turn my hand to writing novels. It’s a lot harder than it looks.

After all, if a novelist said to me that they were writing a sitcom, I’d smirk and think to myself ‘wow, you have no idea how hard it is!’. But I wouldn’t say that, in the hope that they would ask me to help and that I would be paid (after all The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin and Men Behaving Badly began life as novels).

I thought I knew how novels were written. After all, I read novels – for my own pleasure and to my kids. And I know how stories and character work. I can do jokes. But there’s more to it. It’s all about meeting expectations. Like this blogpost.

If I want to master this form, and write a presentable novel that someone might actually finish, I need to learn a new set of skills, study the genre, take advice and learn.

If you want to learn how to write a sitcom, you can learn by trial and error, and waste months of work like I did on that novel, twice over. Or…

… you could just do a course, one that’s been put together by someone who’s been doing it professionally for over 20 years. It’s called Writing Your Sitcom and it’s available now.

If you take the time to do what the course says, your sitcom script will be better – and will probably be better than 90% of the scripts that turn up to the various writing competitions that pepper the calendar. Because you've actually learnt how to do it. And then you can do it again. And again.

No comments:

Post a Comment