This is one of those stories I’ve wanted to do forever. I’ve done unreliable narration with Life on Mars before, actually in a very naughty way (unreliable third person, you cad!), but I’ve desperately wanted to do a medium-sized story where we’re given a very limited viewpoint that’s not necessarily giving us the right information.
Sam’s perfect for this, of course. He’s an unreliable narrator in the show. I think all of my LoM pieces are just echoes of the show, really – concentrations on one particular aspect. My early pieces were all homages to specific series 1 episodes --- I didn’t realise until about the sixth one, but continued in that vein. And then I purposely responded to all of the series 2 episodes with short snippets.
So. The genesis of this was me wanting to write unreliable narration forever and watching Bruce McDonald’s Claire’s Hat, which is brilliant and if you’re not in due South/6 degrees fandom, or don’t know anything about Canadian cinema, don’t let it concern you. Basically it’s McDonald’s meta-response-film on the failure of his mid-sized budget flick Picture Claire. It’s funny and bitter and has so many untruths in it, it’s hard to know what the real story is.
Originally, ‘Common Failings’ was going to be a lot less reliable. The aspects of (un)believability were going to be more in deliberation than Sam just being absolutely fucking clueless. But I realised early on that it wouldn’t quite have the bouncy happy ending I’ve so agonisingly needed to write for the past month. You have to believe most of the facts as written, in this one. It’s just Sam’s interpretation that’s completely wrong. I couldn’t quite push it to the levels I intended when I started. This cut down on a couple of the meta comments I wanted to make, but this doesn’t really bother me. I can save them for another day.
As always, I started with dialogue - the buddy cop conversation. As almost always, I didn’t write in chronological order. I wrote some scenes long before others. I had an outline for what I wanted to happen, but it changed a hell of a lot during the writing process.
For the sake of full disclosure, the ‘senile’ joke is from the Doug Anthony Allstars, and the ‘falling in love’ musings are riffing off comments made by Bruce in Claire’s Hat. This line; I settle myself into the arduous task of a search akin with an archaeological dig, is a tongue in cheek reference to Matt and Ash’s new show, Bone Kickers. The idea of the transfer is from due South (One of these days, I really need to write a post about how I’m influenced by due South and dS fandom with my LoM stuff, even though I tend not to frollic in that world anymore.) Apart from that, there’s just my usual ripping off of every great writer I’ve ever come into contact with.
Finding Sam’s voice was probably the hardest thing in all of this. I’ve written Sam first person before – twice before? – well, I’ve done it - but he’s never quite sounded perfectly right to me. The problem with Sam is that he can start to sound overwhelmingly like Gene, on occasion (regional dialects, fun for all, woo!) He has a tendency to use big words, but often they’re buzz words. He’s got this very dry sense of humour that was more alluded to in the first series, capitalised on by fan writers, and then built upon in the second series. Getting Sam in dialogue is okay, because he’s bouncing off of someone – usually Gene. You can see/hear the contrast.
Getting him in internal monologue takes a lot longer. At first I thought he sounded too much like me. I spent a lot of time reading the transcripts to try and get him. Doing so, I realised that he actually does sound a lot like me - a different accent speaking in the same pattern. It’s just one of the many things we have in common. (Anal, neurotic, pretentious, egomaniacal, obsessive, preferring fantasy to reality… the list goes on. Overidentification much?) I’m still not sure I’ve got him perfectly right, but I think he’s close enough for now.
The title is part of a quote from Thomas Sowell, which goes, “One of the common failings among honourable people is a failure to appreciate how thoroughly dishonourable some other people can be, and how dangerous it is to trust them.” It’s a fantastic line and completely reflects the story. Naturally, the ‘honourable people’ mentioned are the audience.
Yes! This is another character driven plot. And this time, finally, a happy one. A straightforward A-B narrative (but with an itty bitty twist --- and I am probably the only writer in the world who’s happy to have written the simplest possible story.) There’s a mention of how difficult this will be for Sam and Gene (let’s all sing it; "plausibility"), but absolutely no doom and gloom forecast. I even have Sam mentioning love. That’s about as sappy as you’re ever going to get from me.