Monday, 28 May 2012

Why I am grateful to Simon Cowell

Not Simon Cowell
I am going to talk about my work in progress.

I’ve been working on it for… ooh, months (ish). And for much of that time, I have not really ‘connected’ wholeheartedly with the story. Part of that has been to do with circumstances – births, marriages, and near death experience kind of circumstances – and each of these has taken me out of my story world for a while.

But apart from this, (and possibly what has stopped me rushing back after an absence), an even bigger obstacle has been my lack of connection, or my lack of feeling about the project. I talked a little about this in a previous post and thought I had overcome the annoying indifference I felt towards my protagonist by giving her a bit more of a rebellious, defiant streak. For a while, I thoroughly enjoyed her bolshy, snarky character and I fell quite in love.

But it didn’t last for long.

I struggled to be interested if I am honest, and whole days, sometimes weeks went by when I just couldn’t care a less about what I was writing. That’s not a good sign, is it?

During this time of disinterest, I turned to my guiltiest pleasure for solace;  reality TV. Now before you cry ‘shame!’ I would like to justify this personality flaw with the defence that I am a writer and I am interested in people; what real people do, and say, and think, and dream, and feel… I’m not dumb enough to believe that Simon Cowell’s X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent, (or any other of the non-SYCO productions like I’m a Celebrity, Big Brother, Secret Millionaire or Don’t Tell the Bride to name but a handful) aren’t formulaic and therefore scripted in some fashion. Of course they are. We all know the formula and we all know the outcome, but the people are real.

Not Simon Cowell
Most of what happens in these programmes is staged and to some extent that includes our emotional reaction. If you watch without a critical eye, you will love one contestant and hate another. You don’t know them so you don’t have anything other than the producer’s cues to respond to, but if you do get hooked and follow the process from start to finish you will find that at some level you will have connected to a range of emotions including happiness, sadness, anger, distrust, fear, loathing, yearning, surprise, joy, adoration, disgust, curiosity, dislike and boredom, and not least love and hate. Your connection may be superficial but you will feel both positive and negative emotional reactions. 

And then along came The Voice. The Voice attempted to strip these reactions away and you were supposed to watch this programme purely and simply because you liked to hear quality singing. To some extent The Voice succeeded. The judges couldn’t actually see who they were choosing to champion in the first round, and everyone (judges and viewers) was supposed to connect with the singer rather than the rest of the hype. It seemed like a great idea and viewing figures were good.

Not Simon Cowell
Except that once the 'blind audition' round was over, ratings fell, and frankly the single emotion The Voice engendered in me was boredom. I wasn't alone because The Voice then started to lose out in the ratings war to Britain’s Got Talent (the classic emotional variety show).

And then one sad Saturday night when I was 'forced' to watch The dreary Voice, and found myself bizarrely hanging on in there for BGT, I had an epiphany.  

There was nothing wrong with my new feisty protagonist, it’s just that in falling in love with her, I had forgotten to hate anyone! I had forgotten about all the other emotional reactions which give contrast and depth, meaning, loyalty and hope, wish fulfillment etc etc. If everything is one thing, how should we react? What are we supposed to feel? Who are we meant to root for?

Simon Cowell
For all it's faults, (prescriptive, predictable and manipulative to name but a few), reality TV (and BGT in particular) does at least allow you to feel a wide range of emotions and frankly, that is far more entertaining and interesting than just feeling one.

With this in mind, I turned back to my WIP. I wrote in a couple of new plot lines, upped the ante on the heroine's back story and turned a hitherto insignificant character into a proper bad boy. Et voila! ...  instant emotional rollercoaster. Sure fire success.

Thanks  Simon Cowell.


  1. I wouldn't like to attribute anything to Simon Cowell other than ridiculous waistbands on his trousers and the smile of a piranha. But I'm so glad you've rediscovered your passion for your WIP. Well done that woman. Now switch off the telly and get writing!

    1. Ha ha. Yes, I was being generous. But structural re-draft almost there. I reckon I should be done by the weekend. Hooray.


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