Thursday, February 2, 2017

Less is usually more when it comes to writing.

One of the things that really bothers me as a writer is watching episodes of tv shows that don't make enough sense. Watching these episodes might make you think that you didn't pay enough attention and that there's something wrong with you.

In most cases though, it's not your fault that you didn't 'understand' what happened on your tv screen. Most of the time the blame is on the writers, who for some reason weren't able to deliver coherent and entertaining scripts.

To give you an example, let's look at an episode of Modern Family that aired a couple of weeks ago. This episode, 'Ringmaster Keifth' (S8e10), managed to make very little sense, even though it was packed full of content.

One of the biggest problems with the episode was that it didn't know what it was supposed to be about. The episode had so many things going on and went into so many different directions that it made my head hurt.

The episode basically had three different premises in it:  Phil and Claire were at an amusement park waiting to get on a scary ride, Jay & Gloria were celebrating the new year's day in their backyard, and  Cam & Mitchell were about to roast a full-sized pig. 

These premises by themselves weren't that bad and could have lead to a decent Modern Family episode. Had the writers used their imagination and expanded from these premises organically, we could have seen something entertaining.

Instead, it didn't take more than a couple of minutes before everything fell apart and all the story openings were ditched. Each and every one of these couples got an additional storyline that made it impossible to pay attention to what was going on.

For example, Phil and Claire's storyline about being at the amusement park switched to them coming back to their home. They arrived at their home, where they met Phil's dad with his new girlfriend, who was revealed to be Phil's first crush.

The story thread about Jay and Gloria spending time with their mischievous bulldog switched quickly to them talking about Gloria's past in their attic. This 'new' stuff came from nowhere and I couldn't understand it at all.

Still, by far the worst storyline was the one with Cam and Mitchell preparing that pig. This storyline very quickly switched to them bizarrely ordering another already roasted pig through a phone service - ran by Cam's former boyfriend (Kelsey Grammer).

It made absolutely no sense that - only five minutes in - they would fail at roasting the pig in the ground. Even if they did screw up with the fire, they still had six more hours to get it done - and the pointless melodrama with Frasier could have been avoided.

Needless to say, after the episode ended, all I could think was that the writers had completely dropped the ball when it came to the script. None of the storylines made sense and I don't think I managed to smile even once during the episode.

In the end, I guess what we should learn from the whole thing is that you aren't supposed to mess with your storylines too much. It's not okay to think that just because your original storylines and premise weren't strong enough, you can forget that they even existed.

On the contrary, when it comes to writing, you should always follow your premise and keep things as simple as possible with your storylines. You should make sure that your characters and your situations are going to be as plausible as possible.

If you're not willing to do this, there's almost no chance that your script as a whole is going to work. There's no way that you're going to write a good script based on ideas that aren't coherent and that go in every possible direction.

All in all, in the case of Modern Family's episode S8e10, the writers simply forgot the basics when it came to writing quality stuff. Their script made no sense, the story was impossible to follow and watching the episode made most of us in the audience unhappy.

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