Sunday, February 21, 2010

In Treatment

I finished my outline yesterday, and felt really good about it.

--Good balance between plot and emotion? CHECK!
--Pushing the characters forward without going fan-fic crazy? CHECK!
--Good balance between lightheartedness and heart-string-jerking? CHECK!

It's taken me a long time, but the whole thing seemed to flow.

So far, my process has been:

1. Watched a million episodes of the show I wanted to spec.
2. Found a fun, exciting, show-consistent concept.
3. Analyzed the show's story structure.
4. Decided which characters would carry the A, B, C, and D plots respectively.
5. Made mini-outlines for the A, B, C, and D plots.
6. Wrote in-depth treatments for the A, B, C, and D plots respectively.
7. Re-did each of the mini-outlines (beefing them up a lot and focusing especially on the A-story act outs).
8. Wove them together into an outline.
9. Made sure the full-episode outline was structurally consistent with the show, and there weren't any obvious plot holes.

And today I started writing the treatment...which, to me, means writing the spec's entire story out in prose. The first act came easily, and was almost exactly the same as the outline--though I did fill in some vague spots. All was OK with the second act, too. The events came in the same order, and I didn't find any major logistical issues.

But I just finished doing the same for the third act, and now I'm worried, because that bit of the treatment didn't go so well. Did I lose sight of my concept? Did I spend so much time making A BIG INTERESTING BEAUTIFUL LIVELY plot that I buried my hook? It feels like there's a ton of stuff going on, but none of it relates to my main hook, and I think it'll muffle the punch of Act 4 and 5.

For sure, some (Act 3 and likely 4) events have got to be shuffled around. And I'm going to go back to my notes on the show, to make sure I'm telling my story at exactly the same pace and with the same (diffusion of) focus as the show writers do. It's a constant pull-push, writing a spec. On the one hand, I ask: is this a good story? So I try to go crazy with the creativity to make it better. But on the other hand, the question that's more important is: will this script be a good example of the show? Could it go on TV and fit in perfectly to all that came before and will come after?

The line between creation and mimicry is so tough to find! But the whole point of a spec is to display one's skill at finding that balance. Maybe some people have more trouble infusing a piece with their own voice? I know I have the most trouble with the mimicry aspect of spec writing--everything I see and hear automatically goes through my little Sasha-Filter and comes out seeming completely different from how it went in. Which can be a good thing--but which also means it's essential for me to try especially hard to stick to my bible--the show itself. So, while I'll be trying to write the best story I can, it's smartest for me to always refer back to the show whenever I'm in doubt.

Honestly, in the midst of all this treatment trouble, I'm considering re-writing my outline to copying an episode's structure exactly (I've even already got a particular episode in mind). Why not? At least it would keep me on a very short leash.

Aw well--that'll likely be my next step. I can't wait to get to the fun dialogue/action/writerly stuff...but there's no way the spec can be any good if the structure's at all off. I'm more anxious to write a spec worth something than to just get one done--no matter if it's taking a couple weeks longer than expected.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

day 6704283495769 of my captivity

So, another day done outlining my TV spec. A great outline makes a great script, so the time and effort to make it perfect is sure to be worth it. And I've dug so deep into the characters I appreciate the show in a whole new way. Obviously, I respected it before, but DAMN this bitch has some authenticity.

But of course I'm anxious to start drafting! For God's sake, the dialogue fun I'll have once I finally get to, yanno, WRITE.

Soon enough. Early next week I'll probably be ready. Ready for a whole new batch of problems.

My outlining problems have been:

--going too small. I love melodrama, so any chance to put characters together EMOTING is like manna from heaven--I could live off the stuff and be happy. But they've got to do things, too, of course. And I've got to give these fascinating characters exciting plots in beautiful settings. If only they could just talk and sometimes kiss! But if all the scenes were those scenes, they'd have no horror there is no beauty and all that bull.

--going too big. At the same time, the stakes in this show are always social. So the FIRE/OVERDOSE/BLAH doesn't work. Even though they'd be perfect for SVU or othersuch non-subtle shit.

--too complex. Speaks for itself. I need to get a lot of bang for each buck--there's a limit to how many bucks I've got, though, and therefore I've got to accept somewhat limited bang.

It hasn't really been all THAT long, but it's so hard dealing with the writing-constipation/anticipation that comes from waiting and waiting and waiting to draft. Aaargh.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Push It

I'm doing another draft of my manuscript from last year. And I'm suspicious that the story I want to write is still beyond my skill to convey.

It's got 2+ protagonists, who are also each others' antagonists...4+ POVs...action sequences...and about a million sub-plots.

What do I do? I still believe in the story, but I just don't know if I can handle it. On the other hand, it feels like a cop-out to dump it.

What if I'm just not pushing myself hard enough? What if this is as hard as I can push?

Thursday, December 24, 2009

One: Loneliest Number

The biggest mistake I've made over the past year is: trying to work on ten projects all at once. It's so difficult to say no to a project that is new and exciting and WILL BE SO GREAT!

But the problem with dating around is that you never get the golden anniversary dinner. I've got a lot of great stuff 80% finished, but no final products and no money earned from writing.

So over the next year, I'm working on ONE thing at a time. I think it's going to do a lot for both my ability to meet my goals, and the quality of my work.

My proof is: by working on one story hardcore over the last few weeks, I've seen an improvement in both those things.

So my writing priority starting Jan. 1 is: my novel's third draft.

And, of course, researching the non-fiction. But that's not really writing, so it doesn't count, right?

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

talk about it

I've been researching a possible non-fiction project. Here's the process so far:

1. A loooong period of brainstorming, and bouncing various ideas off friends. Scratch that--not ideas, but questions. Which questions were my friends and acquaintances interested in? Which ones made their eyes light up?

2. Lots of note-taking sessions on non-fiction books (Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell was a huge help) and documentaries (16 and Pregnant on MTV is my personal fav) to guide me in terms of structure.

3. Mini eureka moment! An article in the newspaper connected with all the thinking I'd been doing. My thoughts coalesced into an actual thesis I wanted to study more--and one which could be easily translated into a solid structure.

4. Went online and searched for local resources about the topic--there were tons, but I got cold feet. Hit the books instead...of which my library had exactly two.

5. Working through the books at the moment, taking notes upon notes and feeling very much like I'm in Soc. 101. But is this the best way to research?

6. ?!

Damn, I know I need to talk to people in order to get real answers...but I also need a certain amount of background research in order to know which questions to ask.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


In order to find work/sell their product, the average (blank) writer needs:

For a TV writer:

2 specs of existing shows
2 pilots
1 manager
1 agent

For a screenwriter:

2 features
1 agent

For a novelist:

1-3 "trunked"/failed manuscripts
0-50 short story credits
1 sale-able manuscript
1 agent

For a playwright:

1 one-act/short play
1 play

Am I forgetting anything? Does anyone disagree? What does your To-Do list look like?

Monday, December 21, 2009

Why does House work?

How come House is such a good show?

It's about very boring yet arrogant people solving mysteries none of us layman could possibly hope to solve. And at the end the "bad guy" isn't punished or even psychoanalyzed, because the "bad guy" is a f*cking disease. No motive at all!

Even the doctors don't have motives for what they do--money doesn't seem to come into it, and nor does empathy.

So the plots are incomprehensible, the characters are unappealing cardboard, and the clothes suck. What's left?

Dialogue? Not anything special. Pretty workmanlike, really. Can you think of any memorable lines? I can't. I can think of the *way* Hugh Laurie says certain things, but not what he actually says.

Cinematography/special effects? They've pretty much dumped the "body chemical POV" so it couldn't be that. And as said before--the clothes suck.

Exoticism? Maybe the first fifty times we saw the hospital, but all these seasons later? No way.

Sex/drugs/rock-and-roll? From the show in which a NUN almost died from her IUD?! Uh-uh.

So what is it? Is it truly:

good/reliable structure + 1 charismatic lead = HIT?

None of this is a take-down of the show--I eat that sh*t up. I've run out of Houses to Hulu for God's sake. But it's a case of the "bumblebee flies anyway"--everyone SHOULD find House hideously boring or incomprehensible. I honestly want to know:

How can this show work?