I got great feedback from the BBC for Twenty Million Shirts that’s lead me to make plans to undertake a drastic re-write. Usually this isn’t my style – it takes me a while to hit that first draft and subsequent changes don’t tend to be dramatic – but in this case, it’s necessary. Basically, I need to do two things:

1) Take a 60 minute play and bring it down to 45 minutes.

2) Rework the central dramatic relationship to be more direct.

On the first point, I can see that I tried to cram the arcs and subplots of a ninety minute one off drama (I’d be reluctant to say film) into a sixty minute play. As such, whilst the outlines were there, not all of them came off satisfactorily. Cutting stuff in this context is a bit of a joy. It’s also helping with my problem of writing minor characters. I’m very bad at it, because I can’t help but want to give them a considered, beat by beat arc. If I was writing long form drama, I’m sure that’s a good instinct. Not with stuff like this.

On the second point, the play carried a lot of legacy aspects of the very first draft which I need to focus away from. Basically, I had started it off as being entirely a faux documentary. I love radio documentary as a form, the way the slow reveal of information keeps you hooked. Twenty Million Shirts as it is mixed that aspect with a dramatic throughline in which the main character learns about the subject of the doco (Keval) at the same pace as us. The ratio of drama to doco was about 50/50. I thought our journey mirroring the main character’s in this context would be a good way to navigate the world but in practice it kills the drama a little, giving not much room for subtext and irony (except in one particular twist). As such, I’m going to do an effective page one rewrite, altering the protagonist significantly in a way that allows for the core structure of the story to remain (I was mostly happy with that) but alters the way the interviews he conducts go and what effect they have on him and his goal.

Basically, with this rewrite I’m going to really push the drama side, keeping a touch of the documentary edge, whilst making the whole thing leaner and punchier. Will give specific details once I’ve done it.

NEXT POST: Why writing what you know is harder than you think.


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