There’s a drama series on BBC1 at the moment called Rellik and it’s hit the deck in spectacular fashion. Far from being a scandi noir offering, as the title might suggest, it’s simply ‘killer’ backwards, which makes you groan before you even get to the opening scene. Or in this case the final scene. You can just hear a gaggle of execs, carbon copies from the brilliant spoof comedy W1A, gathered round a table and coming up with a brilliant idea - let’s tell the story backwards, no one’s ever done it! No, and for a bloody good reason. If the story ain’t worth telling start to finish, it sure won’t be made better by telling it in reverse.
But telling a story back to front kills it dead not simply because you know how it ends long before you commit to it. Something pretty obvious happens to the writing if every detail is mapped out in advance - which presumably the writers of Rellik did before they put pen to paper. Following a detailed, but heavily detailed, plan doesn’t allow the writer to add anything original or surprising or memorable as they trundle their way back to the beginning. It has to follow the route they’ve laid out or it falls to bits.
Stephen King reckons that he doesn’t work from a plan for fear of ruining the book. He says it’s like writing the story twice - first the storyline, then filling the words in - and second time around he’s fed up with it. I’m pretty sure he knows roughly where he’s taking us before he starts but he likes the story to have a life of its own, in some measure to write itself. This allows for all kinds of off the wall stuff to bring the story to life, to make it slightly rough around the edges.
And that’s what storytelling should be - especially television dramas - they should be rough around the edges in order to gain traction from an audience. Like Doctor Foster does, same channel, different writer, no gimmicks. You just don’t know what the main character is going to do next. With Rellik it doesn’t matter - they did it yesterday anyway - and with the writers’ other offering - ‘Liar’ on ITV it doesn’t matter either. The lead actress gave away in interview that the doctor’s the liar, so who cares.
Douglas Watkinson's crime thrillers, The Nathan Hawk Mystery series are available on Amazon in eBook and Paperback now.