Something I would never have expected when I started out in The Job That Mostly Involves Sighing: having a drama script rejected (or judged harshly, or basically receive anything other than total adulation) is way more painful than having my comedy writing shat on from a great height.
I suspect this is because comedy provokes, or at least aims to provoke, a visceral, physical reaction. You either laugh at it (or maybe smile thinly, whatever), or you don't. And if the writer has written something he really, truly, considers funny, then he has to accept that not everyone has the same sense of humour. So if someone reads one of my sitcom scripts and just plain doesn't like it, then... no harm done. No two people quite have the same sense of humour. You can't really take it personally.
Last year, I had a comedy script works its way up through the various levels of the BBC Comedy department, culminating in a meeting with the then-Head of Comedy Jon Plowman, which was, you know, fun, in its own way. He eventually turned the script down, on the grounds that 'ultimately, it didn't make him laugh', and as reasons to turn down comedy scripts go, that one would seem to be fair enough. Obviously, a small and bitter part of me was muttering 'wait, My Hero did make you laugh?', but it was an honest and straightforward kind of rejection, way preferable to the standard commissioning behavior of keeping you waiting for six months while they wonder if they want something more primary coloured.
Drama, however... well it's a strange thing. When producers, or commissioners, are reading a script, they're unlikely to react to the drama with the same intensity they would to a comedy script. They have to intellectualize it, try and picture the finished product, view it from the point of view of the 'average viewer', as if such a creature existed. And in order to help the producer or commissioner process the script intellectually, they need a toolkit. Hence the utter fracking tyranny of Robert McKee's 'Story'.
Not that books about scripts, and structure, and story, are automatically bad. I'm actually quite partial to 'Story', which does as good a job of explaining story 'beats' as any handbook I've come across, and I highly recommend Christopher Vogler's 'The Writer's Journey' if you have any interest in films as modern myth, Joseph Campbell, and all that Jungian-style archetypal larking about.
No, the problem comes when people who aren't writers pick up these books, and make the fairly basic error of assuming that any script that follows all the rules of 'Story', second act curtains, story beats and all, must be solid. It ticks all the boxes, follows the same rules as highly-produced Hollywood blockbusters, therefore must be watertight, Grade-A narrative product.
When I wrote a while ago about Stephen Moffat not using outlines, I left something out. Or rather, didn't update it appropriately. You see, a couple of days later, I was chatting with a couple of story editors employed by a large broadcasting company.
'Did you know', I said in the breathless tones Russell Brand must have had after discovering a secret directory of the home numbers of Britain's most respected comedic actors, 'Stephen Moffat doesn't use outlines!'. At which point the temperature dropped noticeably, and one of the script editors audibly harrumphed.
'Yes, well', said the other script editor 'Frankly you can tell'.
Only later did it occur to me that this was the equivalent of the work experience guy interrupting a record company meeting with exciting news about this whole 'downloading' thing, or perhaps one of the smaller mammals enthusiastically pointing out the increasingly bright light in the sky to his dinosaur mates.
I'm not entirely sure where I'm going with this, other than I'm sort of killing time at the moment while I wait for any of up to four different projects to either get the chop or move on to an interesting and exciting new stage, involving me being given amounts of money to make up stuff. And if the main one comes off, my new rule is that I'm going to attempt to work exclusively with people who, when given a choice between the average piece of weak-ass Saturday night television that ticks every box in the 'Story' checklist, but still manages to clunk along with leaden dialogue, two-dimensional characters and utterly predictable stories, or something like Blink, are capable of picking the latter.
ALSO: in other news, Brooker responds to Pegg re rahhhhhh zombies versus uuuurrrgghhh zombies.