.

  • Written by Craig Batty, Professor of Creative Writing, University of Technology Sydney
Susie Porter as Marie and Kate Jenkinson as Allie in Wentworth. The show's drama revolves around a women's prison. Fremantle Media Australia/Xinger Xanger Photograph

Why do we tell stories, and how are they crafted? In this series, we unpick the work of the writer on both page and screen.

One of the major considerations when creating an ongoing television series is its “story world”, made up by its place, people, themes, style and tone. Central to this world is the setting, known in television writing as the “hub” or “precinct”, which serves the need for constant generation of characters and storylines.

Well-known examples of a hub or precinct include Ramsay Street (Neighbours), Sun Hill Police Station (The Bill), the White House (West Wing) and the eponymous Happy Valley.

With its high turnover of criminals, and the pressure-cooker effect of locking up many characters within the same walls, a prison is a particularly useful story hub for a TV drama series. The Melbourne-set and produced series Wentworth, now in its seventh season on Foxtel in Australia, is a good example of how this can work.

Wentworth reimagines cult show Prisoner, bringing together cold killers, pretty criminals and correctional officers – some of them also corrupt – in the one space. With a series of “top dogs” ruling the roost - from fiery mum Bea Smith (Danielle Cormack) to vigilante leader Kaz Proctor (Tammy Macintosh) – personalities clash, friendships and relationships evolve, and death threats, set-ups and escape attempts are frequently made.

TV series are often called “returning series”, usually because the setting plays such a vital role in structuring the story. Each week we come back to the same village, hospital, police station or school to see how the characters react to new challenges.

For prison dramas such as Wentworth, mostly the characters do not so much return as remain. Confined within cells, rec rooms, canteens and exercise yards, characters find themselves creating their own dramas, defining their own hierarchies, and of course dreaming up ways to get out (legally or otherwise).

Writers can introduce new characters at any time – for any crime – and mainstay characters can be dispatched with little narrative contrivance, because the prisoners’ lack of control over their own movement is a given.

Kate Jenkinson, Leah Purcell and Susie Porter in Wentworth. The enclosed space of a women’s prison is ripe with potential for new characters and conflict. Sarah Enticknap

Many TV series creators have explored the possibilities of detention as a story hub, generating shows such as Porridge (1974-77), Prison Break (2005-17) and most recently Orange is the New Black (2013-present). Mostly shot in a few indoor spaces, prison stories are cheaper to produce than many other scripted television series.

Characters in Wentworth have much at stake in each encounter. From eating breakfast to exercising in the yard, they may lose their freedom, social position, familial ties and even their lives. The prison corridor can readily become a place for compassion or conflict, solidarity or rioting.

Queueing to use the public telephone, where we typically see teary connections with loved ones, can easily slip into hierarchical games among the inmates, and sometimes violence. Because of the setting, the extreme stakes and emotional power of melodrama are never far from the surface.

Female-focused storytelling

Wentworth’s story hub is distinctive, because it brims with women. Wentworth Correctional Centre is a (fictional) social space constructed primarily by and for women. This allows for a variety of female identities and experiences to be played out.

As part of a global movement to better represent women on screens (and behind the scenes), including Screen Australia’s Gender Matters program, this show is very timely. Not only does it increase representation of women on screen, it also demands a greater breadth of female characters simply because all of the inmates – and the majority of the staff – identify as female. Women are Governors and “Top Dogs”, the brutalised and the perpetrators.

All of these character types, backgrounds and motivations come together within the powerful female world of Wentworth. In the first season, the prison functions as a magnetic narrative force, drawing the characters towards their incarcerated state. The causes of their custodial sentences are dramatised via flashbacks, so we see their various positions in society before they become levelled as prisoners.

Danielle Cormack as Bea in Wentworth. The first season of the show looks at how the characters ended up in prison. Fremantle Media/Foxtel

In later seasons, the prison functions as a kind of decentralising force as the narrative follows selected characters trying to establish new lives on parole. For example, Liz Birdsworth (Celia Ireland) is released to a halfway house, where she must deal with violence and theft; and inmate Franky’s (Nicole da Silva) attempt to establish a legal career after her release is told over two seasons.

The sheer number of female characters also demands diversity: there are women of various ages, ethnicities, social classes, body shapes, genders, religions and sexualities. This creates a world in which social norms, power dynamics and gender categories can be disrupted and challenged.

With a cast largely made up of female characters, Wentworth represents a diversity of women. Freemantle Media/Foxtel

Many of the central characters in Wentworth are lesbian or bisexual. When Franky and her psychologist Bridget develop a strong relationship in season three, for example, the forbidden couple became a fan favourite tagged “Fridget”.

The frequency of representing taboo and marginalised sexualities is a major contributing factor in the enduring appeal of women-in-prison stories.

But the prison of this television series is still an imaginary world, where characters and stories are played for the tastes and thrills of mainstream audiences, rather than to compassionately illuminate the experiences of the 43,000 Australians who live in our prisons. Although Wentworth features more major Indigenous characters than the average Australian television series (the current season features two Indigenous Australian main characters in an ensemble of ten), it still fails to adequately represent or address the horrifically high rate of Indigenous incarceration here.

Wentworth has been praised elsewhere as “a striking example of how to make strongly dramatic, addictive TV using a confined setting”, in a series that is “dark, tense and fully female-centric”.

Inbuilt with drama, rivalries, collusions, hierarchies and forced interactions between characters, Wentworth epitomises how a TV series is not just haphazardly set somewhere, but rather how its precinct can be pivotal in supplying all the necessary elements of drama.

By placing women at the centre of the narrative, Wentworth’s female-centric world also creates opportunities for real industry change.

The authors do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Authors: Craig Batty, Professor of Creative Writing, University of Technology Sydney

Read more http://theconversation.com/inside-the-story-writing-the-powerful-female-world-of-wentworth-119878

'Making up games is more important than you think': why Bluey is a font of parenting wisdom

Bluey is not just a TV success story - it also contains important parenting wisdom. IMDBBluey is a ground-breaking Australian children’s television series and the most downloaded show in ABC iV...

Koa Whittingham, Psychologist and Research Fellow, The University of Queensland - avatar Koa Whittingham, Psychologist and Research Fellow, The University of Queensland

Teeth 'time capsule' reveals that 2 million years ago, early humans breastfed for up to 6 years

The teeth in these _Australopithecus africanus_ skulls contain important evidence about the nutrition of these individuals as they grew up. Renaud Joannes-Boyau, Author providedHumans’ distant ...

Renaud Joannes-Boyau, Senior research fellow, Southern Cross University - avatar Renaud Joannes-Boyau, Senior research fellow, Southern Cross University

Four Corners’ forced labour exposé shows why you might be wearing slave-made clothes

Target, Cotton On, Jeanswest, Dangerfield, IKEA and H&M are among the brands in Australia sourcing cotton from Xinjiang. www.shutterstock.comWith China’s western-most province of Xinjiang be...

Yvette Selim, Interim Deputy Director, Anti-Slavery Australia, University of Technology Sydney - avatar Yvette Selim, Interim Deputy Director, Anti-Slavery Australia, University of Technology Sydney

Hand sanitisers in public won't wipe out the flu but they might help reduce its spread

It's quicker to use hand sanitiser than soap and water, which means people might be more likely to use it. ShutterstockThis year’s flu season is off to an early start, with 144,000 confirmed ca...

Trent Yarwood, Infectious Diseases Physician, Senior Lecturer, James Cook University and, The University of Queensland - avatar Trent Yarwood, Infectious Diseases Physician, Senior Lecturer, James Cook University and, The University of Queensland

Wind and solar cut rather than boost Australia's wholesale electricity prices

Power failure. It's gas, not wind, that's pushing up electricity prices. ShutterstockWholesale prices in the National Electricity Market have climbed significantly in recent years. The increase has co...

Zsuzsanna Csereklyei, Lecturer in Economics, RMIT University - avatar Zsuzsanna Csereklyei, Lecturer in Economics, RMIT University

Reading and writing assistance increases the chance of getting a Disability Support Pension

One in eight disability support claims rejected are because the applicant is unable to supply the requested information. ShutterstockThe 2019 Australian Conference of Economists is taking place in Mel...

Nary Hong, PhD candidate in Economics, UNSW - avatar Nary Hong, PhD candidate in Economics, UNSW

Meet the endangered Bunyip bird living in Australia's rice paddies

Endangered species are living happily in rice fields. Bitterns in Rice/Matt Herring, Author providedThe debate around the Murray-Darling Basin is often sharply polarised: irrigation is destroying the...

Matt Herring, PhD Candidate, Charles Darwin University - avatar Matt Herring, PhD Candidate, Charles Darwin University

Regional cities beware – fast rail might lead to disadvantaged dormitories, not booming economies

Many commuters already travel from regional cities to work in capital cities like Melbourne so what impacts will fast rail have? Alpha/Flickr, CC BY-NCGovernments are looking to fast rail services to ...

Todd Denham, PhD Candidate, School of Global, Urban & Social Studies, RMIT University - avatar Todd Denham, PhD Candidate, School of Global, Urban & Social Studies, RMIT University

Curious Kids: can people live in space?

People do live outside Earth – on the International Space Station! But humans have had to find a way to make the conditions there more like what we’re used to at home. Flickr/NASA's Marsh...

Jonti Horner, Professor (Astrophysics), University of Southern Queensland - avatar Jonti Horner, Professor (Astrophysics), University of Southern Queensland

Extremist mobs? How China's propaganda machine tried to control the message in the Hong Kong protests

When protesters took to the streets in Hong Kong, China's state media had several tactics for how to describe it: some outlets ignored it, while others railed against 'extremists'. Jerome Favre/AAPAs ...

Joyce Y.M. Nip, Senior lecturer, Department of Media and Communications; Department of Chinese Studies, University of Sydney - avatar Joyce Y.M. Nip, Senior lecturer, Department of Media and Communications; Department of Chinese Studies, University of Sydney

Top Beach Outfit Ideas Inspired by Fashion It Girls

Whether you are going on a beach vacation or just spending a lazy afternoon lying on the beach and listening to the waves crash the shore, the only thing that could make a carefree summer day even b...

Brigitte Evans - avatar Brigitte Evans

Southeast Asia was crowded with archaic human groups long before we turned up

The ancestral population of modern humans appears to have split as it moved across Asia. ShutterstockAround 55,000-50,000 years ago, a population of modern humans left Africa and started on the long t...

João Teixeira, Research associate, University of Adelaide - avatar João Teixeira, Research associate, University of Adelaide

Curious Kids: did the velociraptors have feathers?

Was velociraptor a feathered friend? Here's one artist's impression. ShutterstockCurious Kids is a series for children. If you have a question you’d like an expert to answer, send it to curious...

Caitlin Syme, PhD in Vertebrate Palaeontology, The University of Queensland - avatar Caitlin Syme, PhD in Vertebrate Palaeontology, The University of Queensland

Voice evidence in trials: can a criminal suspect be identified just by the sound of his voice?

Prosecutors should be required to consult forensic linguistic experts on cases involving voice evidence, rather than solely relying on 'ad hoc' experts. ShutterstockA few months ago, I received a call...

Ahmar Mahboob, Associate Professor of Linguistics, University of Sydney - avatar Ahmar Mahboob, Associate Professor of Linguistics, University of Sydney

1 in 10 patients are infected in hospital, and it's not always with what you think

Drips and other medical devices were potential sources of infection. But no-one expected to find hospital-acquired pneumonia and urinary tract infections. from www.shutterstock.comMost people expect h...

Philip Russo, Associate Professor, Director Cabrini Monash University Department of Nursing Research, Monash University - avatar Philip Russo, Associate Professor, Director Cabrini Monash University Department of Nursing Research, Monash University

It's a bad year for flu, but it's too early to call it the worst ever – 5 charts on the 2019 season so far

The impact of the flu on a population can be measured by looking at figures including cases, hospitalisations and deaths. From shutterstock.comFrom early this year it’s been apparent the 2019 Au...

Ian Barr, Deputy Director, WHO Collaborating Centre for Reference and Research on Influenza - avatar Ian Barr, Deputy Director, WHO Collaborating Centre for Reference and Research on Influenza

The long history of gender violence in Australia, and why it matters today

In 2015, the Australian federal government proclaimed that violence against women had become a national crisis. Despite widespread social and economic advances in the status of women since the 1970s, ...

Alana Piper, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, University of Technology Sydney - avatar Alana Piper, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, University of Technology Sydney

Explainer: what Western civilisation owes to Islamic cultures

Sculpture of ninth-century Persian scholar Al-Khwarizmi in Khiva, Uzbekistan. Latin discovery of Al-Khwarizmi's work introduced the numerals 0-9, one of many ways in which Islamic cultures have contri...

Constant Mews, Director, Centre for Religious Studies, Monash University - avatar Constant Mews, Director, Centre for Religious Studies, Monash University

Making deer fair game for unlicensed hunting is the right step for New South Wales

The fate of deer carcasses is a crucial consideration in monitoring the success of future culling. Emma Spencer, Author providedThe New South Wales government last week revealed plans to ease shooting...

Thomas Newsome, Lecturer, University of Sydney - avatar Thomas Newsome, Lecturer, University of Sydney

How to choose a Weber Q Barbeque

There are several barbeque brands in the Aussie market today, and it can be quite challenging to find the right one for you. Weber Q is a reliable, barbeque brand that comes in a wide variety of products to choose from. This article investigates th...

News Company - avatar News Company

6 Reasons Why Fresh Content Benefits Your Brand and SEO

When it comes to content marketing, most guides focus on the part where your content needs to be relevant, well-written and well-formatted, all of which are true. However, while all of them speak about quality, most of them forget to mention just...

Diana Smith - avatar Diana Smith

LifeStyle

The Gas Fireplace VS the Wood Fireplace

It’s that time of year again when the weather has turned chilly, everybody is putting out their ...

How to Revolutionize Your Beauty Experience

Being concerned with beauty and cosmetics used to mean frequent visits to the salon and sitting in...

8 Cool Yet Romantic Things to do in Australia

Australia is a wonderful place for vacationing this summer and you can beat the heat as they have ...

How to Banish Dark Circles without the Need for Cucumber Slices

Dark circles can be downright annoying, especially when you are getting enough sleep. So, what cau...