If you’ve never been to Ireland, bummer.
However, you’re in luck! A new show called DERRY GIRLS has arrived just in time to plop you right down in the middle of 90’s Ireland. Catholic school girls Erin, Clare, Michelle and Orla (Erin’s sister), plus James, Michelle’s cousin from Britain, attend a parochial high school for girls in Derry. Yes, that’s right. James is the only boy enrolled at the girls’ school because his life will be endangered, if, as a Brit, he attends the Catholic Boy’s school. If you are having difficulty following the logic here, please Google “Northern Ireland, the Troubles.”
Anyway, the girls’ teenaged concerns run the gamut from crushes, diets and annoying sisters reading their diaries, to people trying to blow up bridges.
If you’re writing a memoir or novel, don’t stop reading. The mini structure lesson to follow reveals how to drop your reader in the middle of a world, with the story already moving forward.
Here’s a breakdown of the action in the pilot episode.
We hear voiceover, where Erin Quinn, 16, announces that she lives in a place called Derry, or Londonderry, depending on your perspective. She has a complicated relationship with her town, because everyone there knows everything about her. We pull out to reveal it’s not voiceover at all. It’s Orla, Erin’s sister, reading her diary out loud. Erin, furious, says she wants to divorce her family.
INCITING INCIDENT While eating breakfast before the first day of school, we find out that someone tried to blow up the bridge and they might not be able to get to school. Erin’s mom basically says hell no, I’ve put up with you lot all summer, and you’re going.
Erin wants to wear her jean jacket, but her mother says no, she has to wear her school blazer. On the way to the bus, she meets up with her friends, and Clare is the only one wearing a jean jacket. Everyone else’s mom said no. Clare rips her jean jacket off (“I’m not being an individual on my own!”)
Clare wants all the girls to help her sponsor a poor kid named Kamal in Ethiopia. In solidarity, Clare has vowed to fast (no food) for the entire day. The girls go to a shop where they can’t afford anything. Outside Erin sees David, who is putting up a flyer for his “gig” that afternoon. He invites them. Erin, who has a huge crush on David, says yes! Orla reminds her, “But Erin, tonight’s Murder She Wrote. You never miss Murder She Wrote.”
Michelle, the rude one, approaches. “Hey Motherfuckers!” She has a guy with her, also dressed in school uniform, and she tells her friends that he’s her cousin and has to go to their school, where he’ll be the only boy. Michelle explains that his mom, Cathy, her aunt, went to London to have an abortion sixteen years ago, and couldn’t do it. James stops, stunned. “I didn’t know that.”
ACT I TURNING POINT The bus arrives. Michelle goes to the back of the bus and threatens a first year girl named Tina, telling her to get out of her seat. The girl refuses, says her sister is “Big Mandy.” Michelle and the rest of the girls retreat, clearly terrified of Mandy.
As they head to school, the bus is stopped and searched by soldiers with guns. Michelle thinks one of them is cute and hopes he’ll look for grenades in her underpants.
At school, they meet kiss-ass Jenny, the prefect, who says she’s already heard about them threatening Tina. Michelle says it was a joke, then flips Jenny off. Jenny says she’s going to report them.
At the welcome assembly, Jenny makes a speech about sunshine and light and how everyone is welcome. Sister Michael, the head nun, stands up and makes her speech. “Everything you just heard is a lie.” She advises all new girls to keep their guard up, and to watch their backs. She introduces James to the whole school and says, “I will not have a repeat of the Mr. Mullin affair.”
James can’t find a men’s toilet. He has to pee badly. Clare is starving.
Because Jenny reported them, the girls, plus “the wee Englishman” are called to Sister Michael’s office. Tina is there. Erin and the girls are freaking out. Will they be expelled?
In the nun’s office, Clare sells Michelle down the river, tells the nun that it’s all Michelle’s fault. The nun says, “We’ve all lost a little respect for you Clare.” Tina, the first year girl, is not intimidated by them. The gang gets detention. James is dying to go to the bathroom, Clare is near fainting from hunger, and Erin is going to miss David’s gig (see how it’s all falling apart?) LOW POINT
Old Sister Declan is in charge of detention. Erin’s little sister reads her diary. The old nun takes it, along with Michelle’s lipstick. The nun puts them both in her purse. The girls are outraged. That’s stealing! The nun reads Erin’s diary and falls asleep. Michelle sneaks forward to try to get her lipstick out of the purse, James pees in a bucket, Erin takes her diary back, and Clare eats the nun’s sandwich.
Erin starts climbing out the window to get to David’s gig when Sister Michael walks in and catches them all. She says, “Sweet suffering Jehovah.”
Back in Sister Michael’s office, all their parents turn up. Erin’s mother and father arrive and her dad says, “Did you girls kill that nice nun?” Another mother says, “Pissing on her dead body and making sandwiches?” Turns out that Sister Declan wasn’t sleeping, she died. Erin asks how old she was. Sister Michael says 98. Erin says that her death is self explanatory then. Sister Michael says the hospital is calling it heart failure, but that she’s going to carry out a full investigation.
Erin says, “We didn’t do anything. It’s not fair!”
The VO starts again. “Life isn’t fair. I am called a child of the crossfire. Violence is never the answer.” We see once again, that Erin’s sister is reading her diary out loud.
TAKE ACTION! Do you see how the writer doesn’t set anything up? She just drops us into the characters’ world with the story already moving forward? The bridge almost gets blown up. Will that stop them from going to school? Hell no. See how they all have specific goals that meet in the climax? Erin wants to get to David’s gig, Claire is trying not to eat, Michelle is determined to dominate the younger girls, James has to pee, and Erin’s sister just wants to read her diary? Do you see how all these threads build to the climactic scene with Sister Declan where she dies and they are busted by Sister Michael?
Check out DERRY GIRLS on YouTube.
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