The Questions You Always Get Asked

There are certain questions writers always get asked. Live events, blogs, AMAs, Twitter, Facebook, whatever. And we grit our teeth and answer them, and then someone else asks them (or increasingly, through electronic forums, the same person asks them again in five slightly different ways!)

A lot of these endlessly-occurring questions are obvious stature bait – someone wants to know what’s going to happen next series, or who’ll be in the cast, before their friends do, so they can feel special. Others are clearly designed to start fights, like a bunch of recent questions asking whether there was rivalry or competition between Wolfblood and a number of other named shows.

Others are unanswerable, apparently pointless, or just slightly baffling!  But I decided to ask myself – what are these people really asking, and how can you answer the question they’re really trying to ask you? Are there lessons to be learned about how we present what we do to the public?

Some of the perennial favourite questions I get asked:

How can I get an agent/manager?  Sometimes this means “will you introduce me to yours?” which is always awkward. After all, you wouldn’t arrange a marriage for a total stranger, so why would you try to match them with an agent? It’s a relationship every bit as long-lasting and difficult to arrange from the outside…

But quite often this question means the same as the next question –

How do I become a successful writer?  In fact, they don’t want practical advice. What these people are really asking is  “Will everything be all right? Will I get discovered? Does talent always win out?” This is about reassurance, not facts.

Which is your favourite character/episode in your series? I get asked this about once every forty-eight hours, and it puzzled me for ages. I’m the series creator – I love every character and every episode, all for different reasons. If I didn’t, they wouldn’t be there. Then it occurred to me that what these people are looking for is affirmation. If the character you quote as your favourite is their favourite too, they feel they’ve got your show “right” somehow. Not noticing, it seems, that there’s no right choice…

Have the characters in your TV show changed during the series?  This probably seems like a good question to a non-writer, but to a writer, it’s baffling. Of course they’ve changed. Change is the whole purpose of drama. It’s what we think about every series, every episode, every scene we write. So for this question, we have to remind ourselves that non-writers don’t appreciate the role of change in drama, and do our best to educate the public that change is what it’s all about.

Why don’t you write all thirteen episodes yourself? is another popular perennial, but I don’t mind that so much. Because (along with it’s sister question How can it possibly take eight months to make a new series?) it’s basically a lack of understanding of the writing and production process, and you can’t blame the general public for that.

(One of my all-time favourite tweets was one child fan solemnly informing another than there are only two Wolfblood episodes a week because we need the other five days to write and film next week’s two episodes…)

And last but not least –

Where do you get your ideas from?  Arrgghh! Yes, that one! My standard answer is along the lines of  “I don’t know, but if you have ideas at least occasionally, you’re a writer. If you don’t, you’re probably not.”  Again, I think what people are asking a lot of the time is  “Am I doing this right? What do you do, so I can copy it and be ‘professional’?”

So many questions from fellow writers boil down to “Tell me it’s going to be okay…”

So, if you’re a writer, what’s the weirdest question you’ve ever been asked?

Interactive Television – It’s In Your Hands

People talk a lot about the future of interactive television, and how new platforms and technologies are changing the experience of viewing. But as always with new technologies, the most interesting uses are springing not from the companies and producers, but from the end user – the television audience.

ITV’s excellent new drama Broadchurch seems to have spawned one of the more interesting ideas so far. Fans of the show have set up ‘parody accounts’ on Twitter in the name of the main characters, and are discussing among themselves – in character – the possible identity of the killer. Other Twitter users can ask them questions and tease them about their onscreen behavior. And there’s a good amount of humour from everyone at the expense of the characters and the premise, setting and plot of the show, of course!

So now you can watch an episode of the show, while accounts purporting to be the characters themselves comment on events and on each other’s behaviour and motivations on Twitter.

This isn’t an approach that would work for all stories, and it’s dependent on the wit and the ‘acting’ ability of the fans running the accounts – the Broadchurch accounts do a good job of staying in character and capturing the serious-but-wryly-amusing tone of the series, but it’s easy to imagine this done really badly.

That said, it’s a fascinating example of a way fans can not only engage with the show, but actually add a new layer of enjoyment and engagement for other viewers. The core of television – a story that’s told to you, like primitive man gathered at the feet of the storyteller – is preserved, and technology provides an optional enhancement for those who want it. Surely that’s the balance that will prove to be the future of interactivity?