13 Hour Drama

Storytelling

Kevin Spacey has suggested we might be seeing the production of 13-hour dramas, due to the change in viewing habits:

http://www.broadcastnow.co.uk/5059536.article

We ‘gorge’ on series these days, for all that the BBC reported today that most people still sit down in front of the telly and watch what’s on right now.  I was chatting to one of my clients this week, who said he felt his brain would have exploded if he couldn’t watch Breaking Bad as back-to-back episodes.

Right now, writers have to put in cliff-hangers at precise moments – just before the commercial break – to hook viewers into staying with the programme.  It’s noticeable when the plot beats come too slowly (filling time) or a twist seems manufactured.  A bit like a body wearing a wrongly-shaped corset.

This way, the story can be paced in a much more organic way – and even take the time it needs, whether it’s an hour and five minutes, or 13 hours.

But a story still needs to keep the viewer’s attention. The Victorians feared that – without a corset – a woman’s vital organs would slosh about dangerously.  In storytelling terms, we don’t want 13 hours of formless tale.  Our forebears knew it – Homer kept us going in The Odyssey. Cliff-hangers and reversals are a couple of standard devices for this, as are changes in tone or genre.

As Chris Fowler puts it, a story is like a pudding and, every little while, there should be a nice plum.  I’m looking forward to 13 hours of these storytelling rewards.

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