How Does Michaela Coel Tell a Story?

Credit: Natalie Seery/HBO
These storytelling tips will help you focus on what matters...

I May Destroy You was the show that blew everyone away last year. People were buzzing about the funny, emotional, and unexpected twists and turns of Michaela Coel's opus. It was one of those pieces of entertainment that was so luscious and engrossing that it's incredibly hard to capture the impact in words. 

That kind of writing can and should intimidate people watching. It shows an intense display of care, craft, and characterization few shows have ever achieved.  

Coel is a talented polymath who fictionalized her own experience of sexual assault for I May Destroy You. Her debut sitcom, Chewing Gum, ran from 2015 to 2017 and won her a BAFTA for Best Comedy Actress. 

Coel recently sat down with Harper's Bazaar to talk about screenwriting, storytelling, and how she gets ideas out of her head and onto the page. 

Check out this video from Harper's Bazaar UK and let's talk after the jump. 

How Does Michaela Coel Tell a Story? 

Storytelling is largely a personal artform. You have to come by it the only way that works for you. So Coel acknowledges that while her journey may contain details that help you, it is not based on any rules. It's based on trying, failing, and continuing onward. 

At the top, I want to echo her sentiment that a good story is communicating something. 

Find out what's at the heart of your story, or its theme. What are your intentions, and how can you communicate them to the audience? What do you want people to see inside the story? Sure, a part of themselves—but what part of yourself are you sending their way? 

Another big-ticket item she said that I wholeheartedly agree with is the idea that writing a bunch of drafts is important. You will not nail it on the first go-around. You need to be disciplined enough to break and rebreak the idea until it is something you think actually does its job. 

It's okay to take your time finding something to say, but don't say nothing. 

For Coel, she gets her story concepts by looking back through memories. All ideas we create and come up with are based on our own biases and experiences, so we have to make sure what we put on the page either shares or challenges those biases. 

The writer's responsibility is to serve the story. The story's aims may be surprising or may take you somewhere you had no idea existed, but you have to follow it up. 

Challenge yourself to write something that makes a difference. Now, you can make a difference in one person or across society, but all that matters is that what you communicate affects the person watching or reading. 

When it comes to the topic of character or plot, Coel plays the middle of the field. For her, both evolve in tandem. The passion and pressure of storytelling are real, and writers' block is real, but she never questions where the story comes from. She is either chasing a plot and finding characters who fit into that world, or chasing a character she finds interesting and seeing the plot that evolves around them. 

When she gets stuck, she just writes a bunch and eventually works her way out of it. She even Googles "How to Write a TV Show," which means there's a small chance she reads our articles. 

In the end, it all comes down to putting your ideas on paper. 

So get to work!     

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Thanks buddy

May 8, 2021 at 7:27AM

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