Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Workplace Bully: Answering questions

I've finally had a chance to answer the outstanding questions from the previous post. Stephanie asked what kind of tone I want for this story; Sean asked a related question:

How do you want viewers to feel while watching this? Do you want them to really feel the experience of being bullied? If so, what does that feel like to you?

My feeling is that this whole project is going to be an exercise in tone. It’s got something going on that has no obvious reference points because I can’t think of anything that’s done it before. Here are a couple of things I’ve been thinking about while the Tone thread has been going on, though:

  • To me, bullying feels like it happens incrementally. It starts as small-scale, isolated incidents. The Bully is testing whether they can get away with their bullshit on this particular person. Those isolated incidents slowly begin to make you feel stressed and terrible about yourself; they gradually form a pattern of dysfunctional behaviour where you’re accepting being bullied because it’s just normal and the way things are.
  • You could think of Workplace Bully as a disaster movie – a social disaster movie, where the Bully is the iceberg and the Target is the Titanic, and we the audience can see the two of them moving slowly towards a collision.

The great thing about these thoughts on tone (slow, incremental) is that they feed into the way I want to present the story (bite-sized, episodic).

Related to this is Emma’s question about whether this will be hard to write, because I’ll inevitably be pushing something very personal out into the world. I’ve thought for a long time about how to answer this, and in the end my answer’s very simple: You’re totally right. I’m expecting there to be a lot of elements in this story that are highly personal to me. But I have no idea what they are, yet. Part of the fun of this is going to be discovering those truths while I’m in the process of writing it.


Joe, thanks for your comment and questions. You said:

Storytelling is about simplification. There's also a tendency for people to define themselves in simple terms - a gamer, a nerd, a victim of abuse. How are you going to ensure that the victim isn't just a victim?

A couple of short answers to this. First, the character traits that make someone a good target for bullying will help flesh her out. Secondly, I really think that the second half of the story (where she fights back) will has the potential to demonstrate enormous character growth and put her under some really interesting new types of stress (which gives me the opportunity to demonstrate new facets of her character).

I guess I’m saying that I will have to write this in order to demonstrate to myself that she’s not just a caricature, but I feel the potential for a well-rounded character is there.

You also asked how are people around her affected by the tension or stress she's under. Excellent, excellent question. I’m very excited by this. I think there’s a lot of scope to show the pressures that the bullying puts on her partner and her workmates, and look at how her behaviour changes. I think I’ll leave it there, but I will say this: people who are bullied run the real risk of becoming bullies themselves.

There are a couple more questions to answer, but I’ll leave it there. I’m going to spend a bit of today researching and outlining. If you’ve got more questions or comments, feel free.

FYI: I’ve been stoked by the feedback you’ve been giving me. I suspect there will only be a few more days of Workplace Bully as the New Thing, but we’ll see how it goes. I’m playing this by ear, and figure I’ll present the next New Thing when it feels right (rather than on some arbitrary schedule).


Karen said...

"people who are bullied run the real risk of becoming bullies themselves" [Wow... you just put one of my biggest worries about myself as a parent and doing the compliance manager thing (roles that I'm well aware I lack the social skills for) into words!]

I think you've already discussed the importance of not turning the bully into a stereotype or a caricature as well... perhaps this might be the key to creating empathy with the the bully too?

Also I wonder how the bully feel about his own behaviour... is he ashamed? (buttons he can't help pushing?)Does he enjoy it? Is he even aware he's doing it? Does he see it as a defense because his target is threatening to him in some way?

Steve Hickey said...

Those are interesting options for the bully's motivations, Karen. I'm doing some reading about them at the moment: they are both pitiful and monstrous.

Short answer: I'm not sure if the Bully is ashamed of his behaviour. I am pretty sure that 'shame' will be part of the story he goes through, though.