Tag Archives: writing

Corrie the Soap

When did Corrie become a soap opera? Here I mean that in the derogatory sense of the phrase, denoting melodramatic, formulaic and often illogical storytelling. About four months ago. That’s when Coronation Street went to six episodes per week.Media-City Footbridge July_2016 Ardfern-wikicommons

Corrie Changes

Maybe it’s coincidence. There have been a lot of changes at the Coronation Street production site in the past year or two. The actual site itself moved and expanded. They are working on further expansion of the set. Actors have come and gone. A new producer, Kate Oates, took over in August 2016.

But only that last one, a new producer, is something that can cause changes that are apparent on the screen. With good producers, historically, changes are seamless. Watching the show, you shouldn’t be able to tell right off the bat that a new person is in charge. That seemed to be Kate Oates’ style. She kept the Corrie tradition going while also doing some spectacularly dramatic stories.

Six episodes per week

pat-after-he-shot-andyThen we added the sixth episode. Storylines began to be very gloomy and dark. Some, like Phelan’s move into murder, were spell-binding and truly horrifying. But others were just horrifying in their petty nastiness. A change in volume, even, people yelling at each other seemingly all the time.

Oh, the humour was there. Dropped in like a brick once in a while, apropos of nothing, amid the snarling and weeping. The necessary flow and balance of mood was not there.

Things will sort themselves out, I tried to convince myself. Accept the stories as what they are, and assume there is a good reason that will become clear down the road.

Soap Clichés

gary-on-phoneBut I started noticing something else: soap clichés. Too many private conversations overheard by someone lurking nearby. Actions that make no sense for a character until you see the result. Aha, they needed to get to B from A and that stupid move provided soap lurking seb-appears-after-eavesdroppingthe most direct route. Characters jumping to conclusions out of nowhere. Oh, we needed a misunderstanding so that x and y could happen. Or we needed something mentioned so that a character could return or be introduced.

Script clunkers, contrived situations. These are not uncommon in soap operas. Also not uncommon in movies, television series and novels. They are more excusable in soaps. American soap opera production people say that they create the equivalent of two movies a week. Five hours of screen time, year around.

Writing and producing this amount of material so quickly also has to take into account real life circumstances of actors. Illness, decisions to quit, being fired, even death – expected and unexpected events crop up and must be dealt with somehow in the story. The show will go on regardless. It is a testament to the skill of actors, writers and production staff that American soaps are as good as they are.

Therefore, the writing and production method is a kind of machine. It’s a system that continues to produce regardless of the specific individuals involved at any one time. That machine keeps the identity of the show, its look and feel, consistent over decades.

The Character of Corrie

Coronation Street is a soap opera in its production and storyline. Multiple episodes per week, year around, with no end foreseen. Stories focussed on personal relationships and emotion.

Granada_TV_studios_Coronat_geograph.org_.uk-1999-wikicommonsBut Coronation Street has never really looked like a soap, at least not the American kind. That’s due both to its production schedule and its ethos.

In its stories, Coronation Street has more comedy and more characters with whom the average viewer could identity. Less dreams coming true, more chuckling through the bad times.

In production, attention to details. History of the show, its people and places, is remembered. And characterization stays true. Characters don’t have to stay static, but changes in behaviour occur in such a way that makes sense to viewers.

There is the time to take that care. Writers have time to say ‘hmm, maybe there’s a better way to do that.’ More rehearsal time, more time for retakes. Coronation Street‘s air time is half that of American soaps. So there’s that bit of time to reflect, to redo.

Speeding up

Adding another half-hour of air time exponentially increases the preparation time. Maybe there has to be more reliance on the formulaic part of the writing machine. The process must speed up. I haven’t noticed glitches in acting. I assume that’s due to the expertise of the actors and directors and long, long hours of rehearsal and taping. The clumsy bits I’ve seen are in the plotting of stories, that creative imagination where time for reflection and rewrites is so necessary.Granada_Studio_Tours_Manchester_2011-Mikey-wikicommons

Maybe it will get better? Coronation Street has faced this challenge before, and risen to it. They went from two to three, then four, then five episodes a week. Each time, there were complaints and fears. The quality couldn’t be maintained. But it was. If there was a period of not-so-great adjustment, I don’t remember it. And I’ve been with the show since it was two episodes per week. I don’t remember feeling like I do with this change to six.

Time to take a break?

Just fitting that extra episode into my Corrie routine has made watching feel like work. So that plus dissatisfaction with the stories? Maybe time to take a break. Remove Coronation Street from my pvr record settings. That’s a big decision after having lived with a show for so long, gone through highs and lows with it. But when you’re Coronation_Street_Sign-Andrea_44-flickr-wikimediawatching and thinking you’d rather be cleaning out a closet?

Since the new year, in Canadian air time, it’s been a bit better. Still some cringe-worthy moments. But I’m not looking at the clock every couple of moments, wondering how much longer I have to endure.

Poems by C. H. Burwell

Cover 3rd ed poems Charles H BurwellIt took a year but I have my grandfather’s poetry book in pdf format.  If you would like to print it out, click here and download the file links on the page.

I don’t know when he began writing poetry but the 1st edition of his booklet was printed January 1946.  The 2nd was printed in June 1958 and the 3rd, nine years after his death, in 1974.  It is the 3rd one that I have scanned.  There are some different poems in the first two and I will add those later.

He used poetry in two ways:  one as a way to witness for his faith and the other to comment on life around him.  The subtitle is “Poems concerning the things of today and poems confirming the Heavenward way” and that pretty much sums them up.  If he were alive today, maybe photo from 3rd ed poems C H Burwellhe’d make his observations through Twitter.  But I’m glad he chose the medium of rhyme.  Again, his own words best describe that.  In “The Poet’s ‘Must’”, he writes, “Yet must the poet keep his feet – And beat it down the line; – And make his feet the accent keep – Or lose the swing and rhyme.”

What his poetry also did was to make the writing of poetry a part of life.  It wasn’t something rarefied, that “ordinary” people couldn’t dream of doing.  His children and grandchildren grew up with his poems and poetry books around.  My mother said she’d see him at his desk in his cement shop, with a pencil stub and scrap of paper – working Poem by Ada May (Burwell) Scanlonout words and rhyme while they were in his mind.

His children naturally turned to putting their thoughts on paper too.  While none of them wrote as prolifically as he did, they too wrote poems of their faith.  And they didn’t just stick the final product in the back of a drawer as so many of us do; they had them printed and distributed.  They had seen him do it so knew it could be done and there was an audience out there.

Perhaps too it was their church that helped them to know how to print and distribute and that there God's Way by Ruby (Burwell) Angerwas an audience out there.  A church that always had a good supply of Gospel tracts, telling real life stories of conversion and discussing points of Scripture.

Whether it was the example of their church or my grandfather’s love of language and human observation, writing from life and belief came naturally to his children.  They recognized his ability and treasured it.  I have a notebook in which my Aunt Ada carefully transcribed in longhand her father’s poems and gave to him as a gift.  My mother spent the evening before her wedding transcribing his Christmas song in words and music in preparation for Christmas Song by Charles H Burwellprinting.  But maybe the greatest gift they gave him was in their own writing. They  remembered the grammar that their mother had taught them and kept the “swing and rhyme” that he showed them.