Doctor Who Mag #385, Power Of Three, Apostrophes & the Best Antiseptic Cream Ever

Doctor Who Magazine smashed headlong into UK shelves today. It features my eight-page article on the special effects of Series Three's last three episodes, collectively known as The Master Trilogy. There's also a bit of brief Episode 13 on-set reportage from me. Buy it at once! As I've said before, I swear it'll be of interest, even if you're not especially into the series, thanks to its wealth of information about how TV shows are made.

The first round of Power Of Three is complete: I started to make changes before the third response came back, partly because of the Red Planet Prize's September 1 deadline and partly because I'm impatient. But as usual, each and every person has delivered vital information/questions about the script. As well as consensus on some weak points (one scene on a bus is so destined for the cutting-room floor, for instance), there also seems to be a consensus that the central story idea is strong, which is encouraging.

Lucy ran an interesting piece today about writers who are offended and/or disheartened by frank PO3 critiques. To partly repeat my comment on her post, we surely need to have thicker skins than that. A PO3 person's critique is either right (and therefore useful) or wrong (and therefore well-intentioned, but ultimately irrelevant if you disagree). The only irritation I've felt after a PO3 round has been with myself, for not seeing the flaws which others have had the objectivity to point out. But when you're chipping away at the coalface, you can't see the wood for the trees (God knows what a wood's doing in this mine), and therein lies the joy of PO3.

I've had nothing but good experiences with the system so far. One PO3 helper critiqued a script of mine to high heaven, to the extent that they subsequently wrote again to apologise, having re-read their own blunt missive! It didn't offend me in the slightest, though, because they were giving me great feedback. So for what it's worth, I'd say this: forget the way in which the feedback's phrased or couched, and concentrate on drawing the maximum value from the feedback itself. That's the whole point. Besides, no-one agrees to be a PO3 helper in order to belittle or upset you, unless they're seriously in need of a life! And if their feedback carries a slightly weary tone - almost a creeping resentment at having agreed to read your work and being disappointed by its quality - then maybe that's just your fault. Accept it. Improve that script. The next draft will inevitably be better.

God Almighty: apostrophes. I'm not sure what's going on out there in the world: maybe a whole generation of people who couldn't be bothered to learn about apostrophe useage has recently spilled out into positions of copywriting power. I'm no grammatical god, but it really seems that so many people see a word ending in 's' and think, "Blimey, I'd best stick an apostrophe in there". I've noticed incorrect apostrophes and general typos all over the place lately, from fairground signs to newspaper articles to antiseptic cream packaging (more about this brilliant cream in a minute). I even saw a ludicrous typo on a BBC One between-programmes page: the word 'subtitles' being spelt 'sutitles'. Whats' going on? And yes, that was a deliberate misuse of an apostrophe.

Right, then. What's so great about this antiseptic cream, produced by Galpharm Medical? Well, in truth it's not the cream itself, but the packaging. For a start, there's a textbook apostrophe fuck-up in the shape of this:

Help's to prevent infection.

But best of all, here's a snippet from the instructions:

Avoid contact with eyes, ears, brain and surrounding membranes...

Call me picky, but if your brain's exposed, then antiseptic cream is probably a bolted horse/locked stable door interface. Hmmm?

17 comments:

Lee said...

Don't know if you've downloaded The Kill Point yet, but there's almost an entire sub-plot in its first two episodes revolving around apostrophes. I'd give it a try if I were you - strong cast, good writing; generic, but well crafted.

Again, sorry to be so late with the PO3 feedback/ If you'll take me, I'd still be happy to read the rom-com piece when it's ready.

Jason Arnopp said...

Word up Lee - your PO3 feedback was brilliantly useful stuff. Thank you very much. Will I take you again? Does the Pope shit in the woods? (Um, that's a definite yes - I just became confused for a moment. And besides, I'll wager he does occasionally when caught short during a Vatican outing).

David Bishop said...

I see you're got the same disease as me: forgetting to put the word not in sentences. Or did you mean it when you said 'I'm sure what's going on out there in the world...'?

I once published a subscriptions coupon that asked for a signature, and then announced: Coupons with a signature cannot be accepted.

Robin Kelly said...

I can critique quite quickly it's the guilt and trying not to be blunt that takes time.

Jason Arnopp said...

David: Just edited that! See, the thing with us is that we're just too sure about everything. ;)

Robin: No need for guilt in your case, sir! Here's another potential PO3 pitfall which I meant to post about: people not telling you the truth. Especially if you've said nice things about their script, and they feel reticent to tell you that yours needs work. This pitfall's surely even worse than someone being overly blunt, as it renders the whole process useless...

Piers said...

Robin: Why not be blunt? Being polite isn't going to make their script any better, or help anyone involved.

Unless you're charging. In which case it's going to help you to get repeat business.

If I'm giving comments, it's because I've been asked for them. Which means that the writer wants to improve. Which means they get it straight.

If they want a go-get-em and some undeserved praise, they should ask their mum for notes. It won't help them improve as a writer. But at least their feelings won't be hurt.

LizH said...

For me, the crucial thing isn't whether someone's being blunt - it's whether they're being constructive. Being blunt without being constructive is just arrogance, imo - but (she says sycophantically) I'm sure that's not what anyone here had in mind.

By the way, Jason, did you get my email? Sent it...er, sometime ago.

Liz

Robin Kelly said...

Piers/Jase, you're right of course. I just need to remember to switch my mindset between reading absolute beginners and reading pre-professionals.

Jason Arnopp said...

To a certain extent, perhaps it also depends how well you know someone. Within the blogosphere, I like to think we 'know' and trust each other to handle PO3 duties with the best intentions. If you know someone well enough, too, perhaps having met them in real-life and everything, I think you can get away with more upfront criticism.

Liz: Sorry, will message you back shortly!

Good Dog said...

Jason,

Well, there was a reason for the apology. After sending the notes I was “chatting” with someone who I think was also one of the three on a different matter, mentioned what kind of depth I had gone into with the notes – nine pages of notes wasn’t it? The full wash and wax - and asked if I was doing it right. When I mentioned a few of the things I had put in the notes, their response back was along the lines of, “sounds a bit harsh”.

The reason I asked their advice was because of the reaction I got as a reader to the first P3, I did. There it was a full 90-odd page script. Arrived early evening, read it twice, and wrote a two-page response just after midnight because the clock was running for them and I had to be out the door in about seven hours anyway. At work the next morning sent off the next set of notes. That evening, concentrating on some specifics, a third and final set went off. In total about nine pages worth.

Got a response for the first set, nothing on the second or third. And, since then they’ve stopped coming by my blog. The odd times I visit their page and leave a comment it gets ignored. Anyway, in the grand scheme of things, ultimately it’s no skin of my nose. The script, in places, just didn’t work.

As you saw from the notes, for everything that I flagged up there was a reason behind it, whether it was in story or a description that seemed a bit odd. It wasn’t a case of saying I don’t think this or that worked without explanation because that’s not beneficial to anyone. I’m certainly not out to help anyone’s feelings. Most of the content of those nine pages was, at each instance I flagged something up, me explaining myself, wasn’t it?

Sometimes it’s not the stories themselves but the details. Of the four P3s that I’ve done for people, one had scenes set abroad, in a city I’ve been to a good number of times now and had a character use public transportation. And it was wrong. So I wrote an explanation about how the buses worked out there and found them the website that had all the details they needed.

Another script had a character driving on the motorway and slow to a crawl to talk to someone walking in the central reservation. The first thing that leapt out was, they’re driving in the fast lane. Probably not the best thing to do any time of the day. This scene was set at night. Hilarity would definitely not ensue.

Having a drink with Bill Martell, the conversation turned to how important it is to have life experience. This doesn’t mean that only folk in their forties or fifties should be allowed to put pen to paper and the rest have to wait their turn. But the scripts that I’ve read, especially from people in their twenties, have come across as an amalgam of other films and TV dramas to an extent where characters are in danger of becoming caricatures. The villains of the piece, say, are so obviously villainous in their reactions that they should be standing over a maiden tied to the railway tracks while twirling their moustaches. The writers are too caught up in concept to properly create fully formed characters.

Having said all this, the last script I read was so brilliant in story and execution that I had to read it again immediately. I even felt like putting the keyboard on the chair and kneeling before it when I wrote my response.

Glad you got Lee to give you notes. What he sent back on my last shout out was so on the money that I emailed the other two readers and told them not to bother reading it until I made absolutely necessary changes.

Jason Arnopp said...

Mr Dog: you outed yourself! As I said, your notes, while caustic in places, gave me plenty of food for thought. Great stuff.

If you haven't seen it yet folks, Adrian Mead posted a comment about PO3 over at Lucy's place...

Lucy said...

Perhaps the antiseptic cream could get on to your brain through your nasal cavity if you shoved it up far enough? I'm told by my doctor sister this is *technically* possible, so in this age of litigation, the antiseptic company may be attempting to cover all the bases.

At the end of the day, it's a question of interpretation of what's possible or not. As Good Dog says, there are reasons behind all the feedback we give and receive. There will also be reasons why we may or may not take notice or not of said feedback. There will even be reasons as to why various people may or may not reply to such feedback - or the fact they did, but a fuck-up in cyberspace means it obviously did not get thru. There will be reasons too why that emailer was not given the benefit of the doubt; we humans are complex creatures.

As a script reader, I know a lot of the suggestions I come up with will be ignored. Why? Because it's not my screenplay or my story. I cannot possibly envisage what that writer feels when thinking about this script. It's their baby. Not mine.

I also know that the way I read that script is not THE ONLY WAY. What may seem bizarre at best to me is more than likely just a failure to get on the page exactly what the writer envisages - or, *shock, horror*, a failure on my part to understand what is happening: I don't tend to read documentaries about sport, for example: I can only comment about structure, dialogue etc here - I would have no idea if stuff about cricket or football is accurate in the same way I could pick up a story cliche in a comedy or drama.

So I point out what confuses me - and the writer can think on it. Maybe they'll change it. Maybe they won't. Who's right in this equation? A method like the Po3 then can help people get second and third opinions and give them food for thought. But responsibility for their work ultimately lies with them. Just as it should be.

Personally, I think it's preferable to leave ego and assertion out of all this. As Jason said over at my blog, it's about world view. One can say multiple times a certain scene is "this way" or should be "that way" or a script is whatever you think it is, but without having written it, you can't be sure it's what you think it is - or why the writer is "wrong" or "right" to have done it the way they have. You can only offer opinion based on your own way of looking at the world and that is why opinion is always fallible.

Jon Peacey said...

From Jeeve & Wooster the other night…

Aunt Agatha: “If I’d known that was the artist I would have been more forthright with my criticism.”

Wooster: “You could not have been more forthright without resorting to physical violence.”

Lucy said...

Love it! ; )

Helen Smith said...

What do you need the antiseptic cream for? Is is contagious?

Jason Arnopp said...

It's okay Ms Smith: I don't think anything we did in Cheltenham can pass it on. :-)

Lucy said...

I KNEW IT! U dirty, dirty bloggers...