For the longest time, fictional people had better character arcs than I…
I try not to binge-watch, but I devoured Girlboss in the space to two nights, and it left me with thoughts about how characters grow… and how I’ve grown.
For a little while, I cut trailers, and that’s an amazing trailer – technically full of ‘spoilers’, but who gives a damn. Plus, it typifies what this long ramble will go into…
In books / TV / movies etc, there’s the idea that characters have an arc. They go on a journey, whether it be emotionally or literally, hit peaks and troughs, and return changed.
That’s Joseph Campbell 101. Hero With a Thousand Faces boiled down into a sentence. I’ve lived my writing career by those words, but haven’t really thought about how that parallels with my own life.
Actually, that’s not true…
One time, on mushrooms (which is never how the best stories start…), I drew this insane map of my life. Choices and diversions, connections and interconnections, everything I did wrong and right. Mostly wrong. I’ve made a lot of mistakes.
If I recall correctly, it started in primary school with me not telling a girl I liked her.
Mushroom-me seemed to think that was my first shot at true love.
Mushroom-me is an idiot.
Then there were the gifts given to me by the fates when I was a teenager, meetings at the BBC and Channel 4 when I was still in high school. Lying about my age, getting to run around on sets and in studios, around Television Centre. I was offered jobs at BBC’s sports division, Channel 4 News, and sacked them off because I wanted to go work in drama or comedy.
When I did start working in comedy, I wanted to pivot to drama. When I worked in drama I wanted to pivot back to comedy. Then I wanted to make music videos, then commercials, then drama again. I was all over the damn place, and it’s no wonder that so many of my friends that were more focused (see again: Girlboss) are executives and producers and touring the world with their bands – and I’m sat here in the Fortress of SoLeetude.
On the surface, that sounds like I’m depressed about it all, doesn’t it? Read that last paragraph back with a wry tone, and you’ll get the intended vibe.
I can’t get depressed – one of the small fortunes of my crappy wiring, and bad code – closest I can get is bored with a hint of malaise, but I can’t get, on a chemical level, get depressed.
What I realised, thinking back to all that, was that it was only last year when I began my journey through the Campbellian story circle. That is to say, by writing and publishing, that’s when I became focused, and started (for all intents and purposes) on my character arc.
And that leads back to Girlboss, because the arc was so delightful and heartbreaking, Britt Robertson’s performance so nuanced, (and the soundtrack so great – but that’s a total aside,) that after the credits on the final episode rolled it got me mulling the parallels in how often I screwed up in all my various attempts to forge a path, a career, find love and so on.
Plus, she was playing a character so self-involved, so broken, it was hard not to see the similarities to be honest. Because for the longest time, I wasn’t a great person.
Consumed by being brought up told I had a high IQ, that I could do anything I set my mind to, plus the realisation that my intellect is visual based – that if I see something, I can do it, essentially play it back and replicate perfectly – not to mention being praised constantly, not just through childhood, but through adolescence and into adult life. That all set me on the wrong path.
For one thing, it meant I got fired a lot.
I joke about it, but it’s truer than you know. Executives will enjoy being told their wrong for only so long. And they certainly don’t like some know-it-all kid telling them he can see the bigger and better picture, let alone that the secretions of his bowels have more creative thoughts than they do…
(That actually happened. Don’t look at me like that.)
I self-sabotaged time and time again. I was sabotaged a few times too, but certainly fewer than the failings of my own making. But as much as I was self-aware of being a dick, of having this inflated ego, somehow I saw it as a perk – and for the longest time, new employers loved it… until they didn’t.
Which leads us to the inciting incident.
Last year I still had one foot in the world of film, albeit for an ad agency. They had four freelancers on their books, but the others were neurotypicals who could only handle one job at a time – whereas I’m built to multitask.
At one point, I was working on 18 different commercials in one week.
They all went off without a hitch.
Old-me would be gesturing for a high five right about now.
The sabotage in that instance came from their side.
But it was exactly the thing I needed to kickstart a new, more enlightened me.
There was a panic as I stepped into the office. A client in peril. We had a week to make 15″ spots for 22 sets of shoes for a mid-level brand, who didn’t want to spend more than $50k on their campaign, and I convinced them back-to-back micro shoots over the course of three days was the most efficient use of their money. Plus, I threw in a photographer for print ads in to sweeten the pot.
I was right, obviously.
That version of me was always right…
So I produced the shoot, got the models, the studio and locations, the photographer, the art director and so on all lined up. I took the reigns on the video side to save them $10k on hiring in a director and director of photography and camera gear and lighting – because I have all those skills and things.
(Like I said, I learn by watching, and I’ve been on hundred upon hundreds of shoots of all budgets, and have all this useless know-how-to-shoot-things-pretty information bouncing around my skull.)
The shoot was perfect. We got done early. I saved the client an additional $10k, which the ad agency swallowed up, because that’s what they’re made to do. Advertising / Creative / Digital agencies are created by non-creative people to devour money via the creative gifts of others.
It was one day before the launch.
I was at some awards show in London when I got the call.
The account manager was panicking.
We had shot the wrong shoes.
Not only had the brand sent us the wrong shoes – the account manager hadn’t noticed they all had labels on them, and the labels displayed the correct names – it could have all been avoided.
It wasn’t my screw up, so I told them as such and laughed in their face.
And was promptly blacklisted from their books.
Not that I realised I was blacklisted at the time – it took a couple of months with no calls from them, one of the friends at the agency blocking me on social media at the behest of her boss, and the other freelancers suddenly taking over the jobs I had set up at massive brands – then I finally cottoned on.
(He was smart, but in some ways, he was also an idiot…)
Should have been upset, right?
And yet I was oddly serene about the whole thing. I mean, I’m generally serene, got a damn smile etched on my lips, in what my sister calls “Resting Beach Face”, because my natural expression is me looking so cockily chill.
But something had changed with this latest iteration of being kicked to the curb.
My ego had, somehow, been shed in the process.
I didn’t realise it at the time, of course.
Because when you get an egodectomy, you suddenly become a hell of a lot self aware.
It was when the first ‘fan’ emails started coming in that it began to dawn.
(Note: old-me would have never been hesitant, let alone humble enough to encapsulate ‘fan’ in apostrophes. But I am truly anxious about using the word…)
And then reviews started popping up, almost all four and five stars.
Old me would have scoffed and gone “Well, obviously it deserves five stars”. But I was literally in tears, grateful and overwhelmed that people liked what I had been doing. Hell, I started getting chills when I got a review – an experience I’ve wryly blogged about previously.
That all came with the shedding of the ego.
I don’t ‘know’ I’m good – let alone the best – at what I do any more.
And that’s the best thing that could have ever happened to me.
I get genuinely surprised at the narrative twists and turns that I come up with. The character moments all mean so much more, I’m actually connected to them, because there isn’t a wall of artifice and arrogance between me and them. Dare I say it (and this is obviously counter-intuitive given what I’m trying to express), but my writing has become better for losing the cocky overconfidence that has marred decades of my life. There’s an honesty to it, at least behind the scenes, that I wouldn’t have been able to find before.
So when I say how grateful I am to have you guys on board, to have you as readers, some as new friends, all as fellow adventurers on this literary odyssey… I hope now you understand that this comes from a place of genuine humility.
It’s more than obvious that this doesn’t come off in writing – friends that knew who I was, rather than who I am, think I’m just the same old egotistical jackass. I thanked everyone who nominated Touch Sensitive when got it published with Kindle Press, and meant every word. But when I see people they still ask me “So, did you mean that… or are you just being a condescending prick?”
And I mean it.
Because I’ve finally experienced the inciting incident that turns my world on its head.
After so many false starts, a myriad refusals of the call, a plethora of meetings with goddesses, my arc has finally begun.
And it’s only taken 30-some years… So much for that intellect the other guy lauded so much, huh?