Updated: July 2, 2010 15:25 IST

Bringing ideas to life on the small screen

D. Murali
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Title: Soap! Writing and Surviving Television in India, a Handbook for Aspiring in india
Author: Venita Coelho.
Title: Soap! Writing and Surviving Television in India, a Handbook for Aspiring in india Author: Venita Coelho.

To writers, the capital "I" is not the first person singular but the “Idea.” However, having an idea is not as important as writing it down and registering it, says Venita Coelho in ?Soap! Writing and surviving television in India? (

?If you have a great idea rattling around in your head, and you happen to meet a friend and excitedly share it, and the friend goes and sells it to Karan Johar for a million bucks ? guess what? There is nothing you can do. Now if you had written it down and registered it, the story would have an action-packed climax, which could include Karan Johar on his knees in front of you!?

How to register your work?

Among the tips in ?the writers? toolkit? chapter, at the close of the book, is guidance on how you can register your work with the Film Writers Association of India, Mumbai, after becoming a member of FWA by proving that you are professional writer. ?Carry something that has your credit line as a writer. Or take a letter from a producer confirming that you are writing for them. They register scripts the old-fashioned way. Every single page is hand-stamped and signed.?

You can also register your work with the Writers Guild of America, paying $20 through their website, the author suggests. Well worth the price for peace of mind if you work is going to be circulating out of India, she adds.

Another alternative is to seal your work in an envelope and send it ?Registered Acknowledgement Due? to yourself, notes Coelho. ?Do not open it. The sealed packet will only be opened in a court of law in front of witnesses and is considered definitive proof that what is inside was indeed created by you on or before the date.?

Making ideas workable

Ideas lie thick on the ground, and as a writer you should be able to knock out at least three to four ideas a week, the author urges. ?The mark of a good writer is where he takes that idea ? how he develops it and makes it into a workable, viable series. That in itself is a process that will last several months, take non-stop work, and need great discipline and technique.?

The next step after an idea is to prepare a two-page concept note that fleshes out the story to some degree, and which has enough matter for you to be able to pitch the idea to someone who will buy it, Coelho instructs. Learn to ?tell your tale? to be able to ?sell your tale,? she advises. ?You are a storyteller. It is your job to have people hanging on to your every word. Practise in front of a mirror if necessary, but when you open your mouth, you better have them begging for more.?

The originality challenge

Taking on the common complaint that it is ?same old stuff? on TV, the author reasons that the medium is too large and too gruelling to sustain original work. ?How much original writing can you possibly do? One year?s worth? Two years?? Three? Take a look at the sheer size of the story that you will have to construct for a daily soap. You will use plots by the dozen.?

While you might strive to keep one major plot on the boil, the truth is that you need every plot you can come up with, to keep the show going; and at some point you are going to have to scrounge for inspiration, she concedes. ?The reality of television today is impossible deadlines, fragmented working styles and insecurity. Not the best soil in which to breed originality. It?s a wonder that anything even approaching creative work gets done.?

Re-fuel creativity

Lest you get depressed, the author cheers that good work can yet be done within these confines provided you re-fuel your creative self. ?Before I plunge into writing, I go for long walks on the beach with my dogs, or simply doze in the sun. Contrary to what one might think, this is not laziness. Under all this slow activity, the mind is actually working and building up velocity to plunge into the job.?

The unconscious mind, as Coelho explains, is hoarding up things that will help it survive ? the feel of the sun on the beach, the blaze of gulmohur flowers on the pathway, the sound of frogs late at night. ?When one is harried and deadline driven, the mind will return to these little things for sustenance.?

Far too often we drive our creative self ruthlessly and relentlessly, she cautions. Be kind to yourself, therefore, reads her counsel. ?Go on, buy yourself those three books at the bookstore. Indulge in the expensive lunch. Pick up that pair of shoes you covet. Sometimes you need to be kind to yourself, like you would be to a child. The muse will approve.?

Film vs television

An interesting section in the book discusses three main differences between film and television, viz. length, infinite potential, and structure. A film tells a story that is over in 80-odd scenes, six songs, and two and a half hours, elaborates Coelho. ?But a daily soap is considered successful only if it has a run for at least three years. That?s 576 episodes, 5,184 scenes and 288 hours? It is equivalent to 100-odd feature films.?

As for ?infinite potential,? the author rues that the biggest mistake new soap writers generally commit is to write a single story, rather than create potential. ?Enough characters. Enough conflict. Enough seeds for possible stories, so that these can then be spun out, expanded, and kept going on forever.?

In terms of structure, a film has a beginning, a middle, and an end, while a soap is constructed to go on forever. Everything in a film works towards a climax, entirely the opposite of a soap, where you are not working at a single climax but a series of climaxes that will happen every month, Coelho distinguishes. ?Instead of one driving story, you are looking at cycles of stories, with various story threads taking front stage from time to time.?

Educative read for the entertainment professional.


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