Much of the credit for the success of this new drama has been attributed to David Tenant, whom I agree is an actor with impressive skills, but I would like to give a mention here to another David: David Wolstencroft. Wolstencroft is the writer behind this latest drama and the reason for me blogging about him is because his latest offering raises important questions for writers everywhere. Those questions boil down to two fundamentals: (a) How fast does your story move? and (b) How do you deal with the obvious predictability of what you have written?
The first point, pace, is of increasing importance these days. My last brush with a literary agent, (the wonderful and extremely superb Camilla Wray at Darley Anderson), taught me a fantastic lesson about the importance of pace which essentially made my novel, The Scarlet Tessera, what it is. (Frustratingly, I remain unrepresented as a writer and eventually self-published the novel via the Indie route, but that is a different story for a different day…). Pace is very much a commercial demand these days in crime writing, and you ignore it at your peril. The Escape Artist is an unbeatable example of story pace, even though it is a visual drama as opposed to a book based experience.
The second point, about dealing with the reader’s ever-increasing skill at predicting story-lines, (and therefore desperately wanting to be proven wrong and surprised), is the true mark of a talented writer. To be able to present a compelling opening, to set up questions that the reader urgently wants answered, and then to either answer them in a surprisingly and satisfying way, or, more effectively, to deliver those answers so quickly that the reader’s mind is overrun and they are dragged into a space where they cannot foresee what comes next… well, this is the Holy Grail for all writers. David Wolstencroft has given a masterclass in that with his latest TV work.
So how does he do it? What can we, as writers, learn from this? Well, the answer is as simple as it is difficult: He writes himself into a corner and then lets his main character get him out of it. Easy, right?
Well, in reality, no, because what stitches great writing together is character, and what generates a compelling and believable plot is a set of actions that spring naturally from those characters. You will know you have a great story under your pen when you find that you are not writing it all - but your characters are by their sheer individual and unique competing interests and desires.
If you do nothing else this weekend as a writer I would urge you to (a) watch episode 1 if you haven’t already, and (b) have a quick read through this interview with David Wolstencroft http://www.bbc.co.uk/mediacentre/mediapacks/escapeartist/wolstencroft.html
Lastly, the single most impressive skill that sets writers apart is the ability to set the bar high with a dramatic work whilst still ensuring that the end is satisfying. On that particular point, the jury is still out…. until the next two episodes, obviously!!