Thursday, June 16, 2011

Telling a great scientific story is hard work

Even when you have exciting and important scientific results don't delude yourself that writing the paper or a grant application will be a breeze. This struggle to communicate a great story actually occurs in many areas of life, not just science. The sooner that we and students accept this the better off we will all be.

This past weekend I watched the movie Children of the Silk Road. This prompted an internet search for more background information.... An interesting article in The Times has the subheading "The bravery of George Hogg in leading a group of wartime Chinese children to safety from the Japanese has taken 22 years to reach the screen. Scriptwriter James MacManus recounts the saga."

Here are a few relevant extracts to illustrate my main point:

I got a call from Barry Spikings, the well-known Hollywood producer.... He was the first in a long cast of producers, agents and directors who fell in love with the Hogg story . . . but never got round to making the film. Spikings .... gave me the name of Linda Seifert. “The best script agent either side of the Atlantic,” he opined....                                                    If George Hogg is the true hero of the film then Linda should be its heroine. She did not believe that a journalist could begin to write a film but she did, and still does, believe that Hogg’s extraordinary story will make a great film. She gave me a pile of old scripts and a book on screen-writing. I presented a first draft three weeks later. The title was The Bitter Sea, from an old Chinese saying. 
Linda was a hard task-mistress. She made me write the script again and again. Each new draft came back with a demand for a rewrite. Finally the script was sent out and the rewrites began again as production companies paid for options and demanded their own version. Needless to say, nothing of my script - not even the original title - has survived four different writers and the many film companies that have developed the film over the years. What has survived is Hogg’s story...
So even if you have a great scientific story expect to work very hard to get the scientific audience that it deserves.
An earlier post with a similar point is Writing IS Hard Work.

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