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Jingles of Christmas 1: Writing

 ·  ☕ 7 min read  ·  ✍️ noel

NOTE: When I started writing this post, I didn’t think that it would get so long. So, I’m gonna do it in 4 parts. Each one focused on one particular topic. Writing, recording, sound editing and directing. This one will be focused on skit writing.

This Christmas, we had ICPF outreaches in schools. Of which I had the privilege to be a part of. The preparations for this programs started just a couple of weeks ago and I had the opportunity to write a skit to perform. And when it was (more or less) written, I had to direct it, record the dialogues, edit the recordings and add music. And, it was my first time doing each of these tasks so it was certain that I would make some mistakes. And as the saying goes, “Those who forget history are bound to repeat it”. So, here I’d like to record my experiences. And then, I’d reflect a bit upon my approaches and leave some notes for myself so when I’m in position of doing these things again, I would not make the same mistakes again.

A thousand ideas and the death of skit

As far as writing a script goes, believe me when I tell you, ideas can make you… crazy. In the past couple of weeks, there has been more than one occasion when I was on the verge of loosing my sanity. All because of amazing, awesome and fascinating ideas. Yes, I am exaggerating it, however some points need to be exaggerated in order to do justice to them. This is one such point. Because everything else depends on the script.

If I were to go back to my programming roots, I’d say that the script is the system architecture. The quality of the system depends on its architecture and if the architecture is in disarray, the system won’t last much. When we translate this into script writing, it means, “A thousand ideas and the death of skit”.

So, what am I saying? Are ideas bad? No. Every idea has its place and when it is misplaced it creates havoc. Good ideas can be made great ideas if you know the right place to put them to. There is only one way to know if it’s right to put an idea in any endeavor. It is the mission. The goal. Or the objective. The purpose.

The one question that needs to be answered before any scripting starts is, “What do I want to communicate through this skit?” I made the terrible mistake of not asking this question beforehand and now when do ask it of the skit that I have written, I get no reply. It just sits there, silently, mocking me. Oh well, maybe a bit of mockery will help me remember the lesson… so I sit there staring at it…

So, once the you have a clear goal, you can check and see if a certain idea fits. The lesson is, define a goal and stick to it. Then bring out your idea canon and shoot at your goal. If the idea sticks, great. If it doesn’t, let it rest.

Infinite resources of dreamland

Just like the previous lesson, this is also not a particularly related to writing a script. It can be applied in pretty much every other discipline. The lesson is of infinite resources.

Let me tell you why computers are so successful. The reason is not because they are fast and efficient. They are very good at calculations. That’s why the banks use them. But have you ever wondered, why do graphic designers, animators, architects, engineers and scientists use them? Their jobs do not require them to be fast and efficient, their job is to create new designs, to solve problems, to shape new concepts. And do you know how they do it? They use their BRAINZ. ;)

So, where does computers come in? They come into use in the second phase of their jobs. The first phase is, they conceive of the design, solution or concept in their minds. Designers and animators, use the near infinite resources of the world behind the magic glass and semi-materialize their design/imagination in the real world. No other medium other than computers can give the designers the luxury of “Undo” as easily as a computer does. The work flow of the engineers and scientists also go from a similar phase. So the reason why computers are so successful is because you can project your ideas onto a computer screen without much restraint. In the case of game designers, the world they create is only limited by their imagination. There isn’t much data loss between the imagination and the projection on the screen. There isn’t much information loss in the translation between the imagination and the computer screen.

How are the success of computers and the work flow of the designers relate to the topic of writing a skit? Well, it connects very well. Maybe, it’s not a problem for the older generation which didn’t have computers and thus had a much stronger sense of reality. Not so with me and my generation. I have seen bizarre worlds and strange beasts. I have seen people disappear in thin air. I have seen men fly by throwing and then holding onto the thrown hammer (What the heck, Thor?). And before I get any more poetic, let me wrap up this lesson.

The lesson is, the stage is not dreamland. There is a very BIG information loss between your imagination and the stage. You won’t have infinite resources and you won’t be able to give magical effects around your actors. Maybe you imagined a scene in a cave and another in a desert. Well, on the stage you won’t have either. The place called the stage exists in the real world. Plan for it. Minimize the use of props and costumes (It’s extra baggage to carry around and it takes time to put up the costumes). And then, imagine the play being done in different settings at different times of the day.

The checklist of assumptions

In the first lesson, I told you to ask a particular question before you start writing the script. Well this activity must be done when the script draft is written. The activity is to identify the assumptions that are made about and about the knowledge of the audience. In the beginning the question was, “What do you want to communicate?” However, the process of communication will be different when you are explaining a programming concept to a child and when you are explaining the same concept to a fellow programmer.

So, what is the exact element that makes the difference? Assumptions. I tell you. You instinctively assume that your fellow programmer knows certain programming concepts which will result in you using a lot of jargon. However, when talking to a child about the same concept, you won’t use that jargon(If you do, take a class in communication skills).

In the same way, if we are asking the question, “What do you want to communicate?”, we should also ask the question “To whom we want to communicate?” Once the audience has been decided, go over the script and identify the assumptions that you have made in the skit. The things that you used have as common knowledge. And if you find any assumptions that you know that the target audience doesn’t know about, eliminate those.

Metaphors: Eternal creatures of human understanding

This might not apply to every script, however when you are creating a skit to communicate something, sometimes it might be better to use metaphors. Let me quote Fernando J. Corbato on the importance of metaphors:

The value of metaphors should not be underestimated. Metaphors have the virtue of an expected behavior that is understood by all. Unnecessary communication and misunderstandings are reduced. Learning and education are quicker. In effect, metaphors are a way of internalizing and abstracting concepts, allowing one’s thinking to be on a higher plane and low-level mistakes to be avoided.

Sometimes, the things that you want to communicate can’t be communicated using normal means, you might need to make too much assumptions which might result in poor communication. However, these are the cases where metaphors really shine.

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