Monday 12 June 2017

Advice for writers #13: hidden gems or crazy counsel? No greater agony...?

Next in THIS SERIES of quotes is number #13.

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you” (Maya Angelou)

*No* greater agony? Hmmm...

I know from experience that there is a spectrum that runs from mild frustration to serious vexation in having the nuts and bolts of a story in my head and, for whatever reason, being unable to tell / write it.

That urge to tell the story is something that crops up a lot in modern life. Why else do warring couples or battling neighbours go on to daytime TV to play out the details of their mini human tragedies for the baying crowd?

Clearly each party is convinced of the rightness of their cause. And, people being people, the majority (all?) of these cases will not be cut-and-dried goodie-versus-baddie situations.

However, these are 30 or 60 minute productions that cover several cases. They need cut-and-dried; and they need goodie-vs-baddie for the baying medieval crowd they’ve assembled (and for their ratings). So every complex human tragedy will be cut, edited, shoved, shaped and led by the nose to fit the blueprint.

Judge, jury and executioner of audience ratings will vilify one side and venerate the other in the interests of shallow, knock-about entertainment.

One side will be declared ‘innocent’ from the off, on the basis of some superficial factor that might be percentage body fat. The appointed ‘goodie’ will preen and gloat, maybe squeeze out a few tears and, urged on by the rabid presenter and the baying mob, will scream accusations and shout for blood.

But what about the people who really matter back in post-production-company real life? Sadly that 15 (more likely 5) minutes of fame is usually it. The 'goodie' returns to a world that at best disregards them and at worst despises them. The nuances of the story begin to matter as the fallout hits. The ‘How could you...?’ from the people who are still around long after the production company has moved on –  children, family and friends. The hope of being recognised as ‘someone from the TV’ evaporates sharply when the only recognition is accompanied by derision. And relationships that might have settled given time and measured thought are now fractured beyond repair leaving families split and friends gone.

No greater agony than bearing that untold story inside you? Clearly that one doesn’t stack up put against the suffering around the world but I’ll allow Maya Angelou some poetic licence, because there must be something in it given the lengths that people go to get their stories told.

Here’s the caveat: where you tell that story can be more important than simply getting it out.