Ken Duncum

This is about recognising the basic requirements of a story idea in order to be confident that it has ‘legs’ – i.e. has enough going on in it to be worth pursuing.

As preparation for the writers attempting to encapsulate and pitch their own story ideas, I pitch them some ‘brilliant’ ideas of my own, and challenge them to identify the faults and/or gaps in each idea.

They are:

1 A woman struck by lightning travels back in time.
(Only the beginning of the story – what happens after that?)

2 A bank robber ends up saving lives and becomes a hero.
(Only the end of the story – what happens before that?)

3 The story of the Maori Battalion.
(Too vast a canvas – who’s it about, when and where is it set, what’s the personal story?)

4 A couple who are perfect for each other never meet.
(What are they doing while they’re not meeting?)

5 Biopic: I Am . . . I Said: The Story Of Neil Diamond.
(Biopics are only as good as their subject’s dramatic life – as much as I like his music, Neil Diamond has led a pretty undramatic life.)

6 A likeable man starts a business which becomes successful, he gives a lot of money to charity but is rewarded when he wins $1 M in a lottery.
(No conflict, where’s the drama?)

7 Pauline: slums of Glasgow – domestic violence – marries early – unemployment leads to repetition of parents relationship – drinking/rape/husband leaves/baby taken away – sinks into drug use and prostitution, rescued by idealistic young Catholic priest who she falls in love with. She finally convinces him to renounce his vow of celibacy and leave the Church – only for him to come out as gay. He’s beaten to death by an angry mob of football supporters on the same day as Pauline visits the doctor for the results of a pregnancy test – only to learn she has terminal cancer. Despairing, she throws herself under a train. In a final twist, an answerphone message on her phone explains there has been a mixup in test results.
Title: Life’s Hard And Then You Die.
(Unremittingly and artificially grim, manipulative with no real surprises, a nihilistic and adolescent message which does nothing to inform or enrich human experience – thematically a waste of time.)

Ken Duncum

Extract from The Exercise Book, available in all good book stores or online from VUP.

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