I’ve been slacking on posting my most recent recaps here, so here they are! I think I’ll get back into the blogging groove soon, I feel it.
I’ve been slacking on posting my most recent recaps here, so here they are! I think I’ll get back into the blogging groove soon, I feel it.
I did another podcast this week with Black Girl Nerds, this time featuring author Daniel Jose Older, whose book, Half Resurrection Blues came out last week. He was very insightful and open about his writing process — offering many great pieces of advice — which I found very encouraging as a writer.
On finding your writing process:
“A lot of what being a writer is, is finding out what your process is and not doing somebody else’s.” He says that even when you’ve found your process, it can still change, depending on your life at the time and what’s necessary for you.
On the realities of being a writer:
“I believe really strongly in taking days off, even when you’re deep in the throes of trying to finish a project. You have to live. You have to be alive. And you have to pay your rent.”
On the advice to “write every day”:
“I’m a big advocate of not feeling like you have to write every day. If that’s your process, then awesome. But that’s not everybody’s. And what really happens with that advice is that people start feeling guilty, shameful, and they don’t write every day and they feel bad about it so they have a really unhealthy relationship to the blank page or the project or whatever. You can’t sit down at the writing desk feeling guilty already! You have to forgive yourself before you begin writing otherwise you’ll be cramped. You’ll just be mad at yourself — that’s not a good place to write from.”
You check out the full podcast here, where Daniel gives more amazing advice on being a writer, the ways in which we should and can use sci-fi/fantasy to discuss power and control especially with regard to racial and economic injustice, and the books and cultures that inspire his writing, but these two quotes above especially stuck with me.
Maybe it’s because I am a chronic procrastinator (most writers are — but I feel like I really take the cake), but I don’t think writing every day is my process. I certainly need to write more, and I need to overcome at least a basic level of sitting down and writing for more than an hour or so at a time (also, I need to make writing more than chronic outlining, though outlining definitely is my process), but it’s encouraging to know that writing every single day doesn’t have to be my process. Because there is a level of guilt or reluctance to sit down. And when you’re in that mindset that you’re “forcing” yourself to write, that often makes the words come harder, because you’re so distracted or you don’t want to be sitting in that chair (even if it’s a bungee chair from Target).
I need to write more, but if I don’t every single day, I’m not failing as a writer. It’s just not my process. I think I am getting closer to what my process is (it involves my shiny new iPad Mini), but it’s good to hear again (because I’ve of course heard it before) that your process doesn’t have to match what the books say or what anyone else’s process is. In the end, as long as you get the work done — and being reasonably happy and healthy during the process might also be nice — then that should be what matters. Your writing process just has to be for what you need, as a person, as a writer, for your genre. So I’m going to keep finding my process, but if I don’t work on my spec script today (I totally did, so HA!), I shouldn’t be harder on myself or feel guilty. That, as Daniel said, develops an unhealthy relationship with the blank page. Writing is hard enough and full of negative emotions based on how inferior you’re feeling, how your words aren’t flowing together, how plotting is SO HARD. When you are able to sit down and write, you shouldn’t be worried about if you didn’t write yesterday. You had other things to do (like pay rent, or get some much needed rest). And as they say, write forward. Work on bettering your writing and your process so that you WILL want to write everyday — no guilt necessary.
I’ll stop blathering, I feel like I’ve stopped making sense. Listen to the podcast, read Daniel’s book, ask me if I’m writing, but don’t expect guilt if I haven’t been. (You might get a little guilt.)(And I should’ve been writing recently at least.)
(Ok, I’m really done now.)
I don’t really do New Years Resolutions, but I’d love to finish something I write this year. My first challenge? Finishing a spec script. Tis the season for TV writing fellowship submission deadlines and I think I am going to take a crack at actually submitting something. So, right now, I am working on a spec script for the show Brooklyn Nine-Nine.
I’ve worked on a few specs before. I wrote a Castle spec a few years ago that got completed, but wasn’t good story wise and was way too short. I wrote a Parks and Rec spec that, upon reread, felt authentic to the show and actually had some jokes (!) but was missing a third act resolution and pieces of a plot point were done by the show itself after I’d stopped working on it. And earlier last year, I tried my hand at a Scandal spec. It seemed to be going well while writing it during a show hiatus, but once the show returned, a lot of little points I’d thought of were used on the show and plots/relationships/etc were more and more invalidated each new episode. I’ve also written a few short teaser-type scenes for a sit-com pilot and the first few pages of a drama pilot. Again, nothing I’ve completed.
Even though each script has gone unfinished or left something to be desired, I’ve felt stronger and stronger about my writing after each attempt. But it is time to finally finish something. The point of writing fellowships is to hone your craft, so hopefully, should I finish something and submit it, it is more about the potential within my script rather than how brilliant it actually is, but as with most writers, you want it to be brilliant from the get go.
I mostly write this so I am putting it out there. Connie should be working on her spec script. I’ve got an A story (recently developed, but I finally feel good about the direction it’s going), a nemesis for the main character (though I’m still working out obstacles), an emotional trajectory, a B-story involving Terry, Rosa, and Gina, and a vague idea for a C-story that maybe should tie into the A-story?
What I’ve noticed is that I am paralyzed by choice when it comes to writing fiction. There are so many paths a character could take, so many ways a character could be, which determines where the story goes. What if I choose wrong? If I pick between two ideas and one isn’t working, does that mean the other is better? Or should I break my brain trying to make idea number one work? I spend a lot of time stuck at the fork in the road and when I pick one, I keep wondering what’s down the other path. It’s definitely a struggle. And that’s all in the outlining. Once I’ve started, the characters start speaking and want to do different things than what I’ve planned, which affects where the story goes and thus all the little pieces I’ve thought of start to fall apart. Hence why I never finish anything. Even if I stop thinking about the road to the other side of the last fork in the road, a new one comes and I become overwhelmed with choice and the fear of missed moments of awesome. Also, there’s the giving up and the getting distracted, and the chronic procrastination, and ooh books! –ooh, new TV shows! –ooh, other ideas I should write! Typical writer problems.
So my goal for early 2015 is to finish this spec script. I bought an iPad around Christmas and it’s actually been helping me to be really productive. I’ve written about 7 pages of notes in Pages solely on my iPad while rewatching the show and on my commutes to work. And I bought Final Draft for iPad, which I think will be a really good way to write while on the go. So here’s to finishing this spec script. Hopefully the abundance of choice won’t be so paralyzing — I can just use those ideas in a second script. This post is to get my feelings out and for you readers to hold me accountable via comments, or Twitter, or wherever you see me lurking on the internet. Because if I’m on Twitter, I’m not writing. (But don’t take away my internet, research spurns ideas!)
Are any of you working on some works-in-progress that you’d like completed this year?
As a media studies major, one of the first things I learned in my television history class was that it started out as being simply televised plays* EDIT: or televised radio shows. TV scripts are called “teleplays” for a reason. A lot of early series are presented as one-act plays for the small screen, lots of anthology shows, where each episode was a different story. The most famous, perhaps, might be The Twilight Zone or Alfred Hitchcock Presents, both featuring mysterious, science-fiction, and horror/thriller type stories, but others were more explicit in their titles like Playhouse 90 (90 minute teleplays) and the Philco Television Playhouse. Both media are heavily focused on dialogue and character, with plot being often secondary. This article in The Atlantic on the trend of playwrights also writing for television and vice versa doesn’t talk as much about the history of early television plays as much as I would like, but it’s interesting the way things cycle back around.
♦ It’s been a minor struggle all of my life that the shows that I like don’t get major award recognition. This article over at the AV Club finally talks about this struggle. I watch “mid-reputable” television. I’m usually not interested in the prestige shows. The Mad Mens or the Homelands or the Boardwalk Empires. I gave Breaking Bad a shot, but I wasn’t as into it as everyone else. Recently, The Wire had a marathon on HBO, and I just didn’t feel like starting it. But the shows listed in this article: Sleepy Hollow (once I catch up and the show redeems itself), Jane the Virgin, Arrow, The Flash, etc (all genre shows you’ll notice) are more my jam. I spent my teens loving Charmed and Angel, Chuck, Pushing Daisies, Dollhouse and I still miss 30 Rock and need to find all the waffles to cope with the last season of Parks and Recreation. None of these shows were ever ratings darlings or big award winners. What do these shows get? They’re so often sidelined, “There’s less of a sense that TV buffs have to watch these shows to stay current,” and when they are nominated, it’s rare for them to get recognized a second time (I’m looking at you, Brooklyn Nine-Nine).
“Astute TV watchers may hope that Tatiana Maslany will get nominated for her work on Orphan Black, but they also know—or should, anyway—that it’s a longshot.”
— True, but it hurts, because she’s just as good — better even — than the usual players on the prestige dramas that always get nominated!
I think this line in the article is really important, as it reminds me that while the Emmy’s may not recognize my shows for awards, that it doesn’t really matter. “And if in the end we’re all more excited about a new episode of The Flash than The Affair, maybe that says something about what’s really the best that TV has to offer.” Because while there are plenty of shows that are ratings, awards, and critical hits, I think the middle-ground shows make people happier. You look forward to them more, they often have lighter or funnier storylines. (Isn’t it a wonder that the awards that typically don’t get nominated for Emmy and Golden Globe Awards are often winners of People’s Choice Awards?) And that feeling of joy and excitement to watch your show is more important than how many awards it gets or if the big wigs over at the New Yorker or the Times think it’s “art.”
Shameless plug: Here’s an article I wrote last year about New Emmy categories we need. It basically would get recognition for a lot of midlevel TV shows out there in the Dramedy, Procedural, and Scif-fi/Fantasy genres.
♦ Want to know when your shows are returning or premiering this winter? Here’s a full list thanks to THR. Make sure to input them into your calendars so you don’t miss mid-season premieres! I definitely suggest Agent Carter, which I enjoyed much more than I’ve ever enjoyed Agents of SHIELD.
♦ Finally, as I venture into my first writing project of the year (a post coming on that soon), I probably need an app like this presented by the AV Club, that doesn’t let you use the rest of your computer until you complete the goals you set. It’s easier to get around the time limit (by not writing) than the word count limit. Though I’m sure if I write WRITING IS SO HARD over and over, I’ll hit it in no time. I won’t even copy and paste.
EDIT: Maybe I will go through some old textbooks for more blog fodder…
A writers’ room of N.Y.’s own – Times Union
Check out this brief article on the lack of NYC writers’ rooms, despite more shows being shot here. I definitely wish there were more opportunities for tv writers in NYC, as that’s where I live. Hopefully we can get more here. Until I can write and produce my own NYC based (and set, because not enough NY set shows are actually shot in NY–those alleys, those fake trains…smh) hit TV series.
But it may spur more studios to at least consider locating their writers’ rooms here, and to hire a more diverse staff—writers who look and sound like New York, and like America.
In TV we have a saying that you get in as late as you can to a scene and leave as early as the moment allows. It’s like going to the worst party in the world. You just spend as little time as possible there. […] A book requires you to think differently.
As someone interested in both TV writing and fiction, this is an interesting article on the differences between both from a writer’s perspective by British TV writer and author Jeff Povey.
Tonight is the #Scandal season finale! I haven’t been recapping Scandal lately (busyness–I often don’t get home to watch it live, then had things to do Friday morning, no writing time–and my recap style fit more when the show was a tad bit more serial) but doesn’t mean I’m not still watching it. I’ll watch the finale as soon as I get home late tonight, but ahead of the episode, the internet is giving us loads of Scandal content to get us through the day.
These two links, both from Vulture, are different takes on Shonda Rhimes’ Scandal monologues. One is a monologue generator that I haven’t gotten to play with yet (but Shonda Rhimes has:
and the other is breakdowns of 4 monologues from this season, by Joe Morton, Bellamy Young, Kate Burton, and Jeff Perry. These are fun games but also very useful for me.
Earlier this year I was writing a Scandal spec script for a TV writing class I was taking. I got pretty far, but Scandal fatigue and adding other things to my writing interests put it on hold for a while. But something I was struggling with was figuring out how and where and who to give a brilliant Scandal monologue to. It’s hard work. The obvious choice would be Joe Morton’s character Eli, but he wasn’t quite giving me one. And I was so focused on trying to give him one (because he is my favorite character on the show) that I ruled out everyone else and I think I was suffering for that.
He could still get the monologue, but now I have a new idea! Use the Vulture Scandal Monologue generator! Obviously not to take whatever I get when I play, but I think the generator breaks down the monologues from the show in ways that would be beneficial to me looking at my spec and including one. It starts off with themes and goes from there. Once I break down the theme of my episode (another aspect I was struggling with–Shonda is very theme heavy in her episodes and it’s always good to know what yours is, but I haven’t broken down the theme to go with the plot of my episode), I can use this generator to get a monologue for it.
Sometimes you have to know how to use the fun of the internet to actually do work and understand things that were giving you trouble. I can’t wait to try it. If you use it, comment with your monologue!
I think another brilliant thing I just came up with could be to use all those Buzzfeed quizzes to learn more about your characters, just take them in their voice and use the end result as a way to understand your characters more. Or maybe your character wouldn’t take a Buzzfeed quiz. That’s telling too!
TV is all about dialogue. You have to be more concise and judicial about it, but TV is maybe second to plays (or so I hear) when it comes to the importance of dialogue in the medium. This is a great article to take a look at to look at how your dialogue is being presented in your work, no matter the medium or genre.
From fellow blogger, Amanda. Basically these things hold us aspiring writers back: thinking you’re all that, whining instead of writing, and thinking our writing will be a reader’s saving grace after a long day of slush.
Keep working at your talent and be realistic about your skills and you just might beat the odds.
Make the character prove his point. Once your character’s identity has been challenged, make him or her prove that the challenge is incorrect.
This idea might help me with my Scandal spec. I’ve been struggling with giving Olivia more to do. She has some role in the major plots of the episode, sure, but a lot of that is easily delegated. I’m struggling with her wanting something, more than “to clear his name” or whatever the case may be. But this helps.
I’ve been trying to find a way to explore Olivia’s relationship with both Fitz and her dad and by using this idea, I can have one refer/label her relationship with the other, then have her rebel against the idea. Haven’t figured out which way yet.
Shonda used this herself, when she had Cyrus question Fitz’ “balls.” Fitz went off and proved himself and went back to Cyrus asking, “How presidential are my balls now, Cy?” The audience loved it, but it also gave Fitz something to do, something to want in that episode. I need to use it with this one.
More spec updates soon! Once I stop distracting myself with other blog thoughts (new blog coming soon lol).
via How to Raise the Stakes by Challenging a Character’s Identity [Read to Write Stories]
Ok. It’s not nearly as bad as that (there’s a vague idea of a plot and characters are interacting blah blah blah), but it’s somewhere in the vicinity. Every time I think I have a handle on my outline, I write to a later scene and everything before comes into question.
Recently I heard the quote that “The first draft is just you telling the story to yourself,” so, in addition to the mentors and teachers telling me to continue to write forward, I’m at the moment resisting every urge to scrap everything I’ve done and just make notes of things that will need to change. That’s the hardest part for me, resisting the urge to start over, but I’m gonna try to just vomit draft this plot and then go back… We’ll see how it goes!
This year, I’m taking my love of TV and desire to write for it a step further. I am currently an intern at the Gotham Writers Workshop here in New York and we get to take a free writing class. I decided, of course, to take their TV Writing class–10 weeks of learning how to write TV. So far, many of the basics have been covered (for students who had no idea what a script looked like/was formatted like, had never written a script before), but I’m sure I’ll learn some new things that I haven’t learned from extensive reading and googling about how to write for TV.
As you may know, when learning about TV writing, you start off by writing a spec script–a script based on an existing TV show– because 1. you’ll need to be in the habit of writing someone else’s story, you don’t all start off with pilots like Shonda Rhimes and 2. because it’s better to learn and mess up on someone else’s work than on your own creative baby. (This does not apply to real babies. It might often be worse to mess up someone else’s kid when you’re babysitting, so this is a very situational piece of advice.)
If you’ve read this blog before, you may be able to guess that I chose Scandal as the show I would spec. It’s a complicated show, but it’s kind of perfect in terms of the factors that decide what kind of specs you should write. They should be 1. Shows that you know and like well, 2. shows past season 1 but not too aged, 3. shows in the genre you’d want to write in. So I’m attempting a Scandal spec. Yikes!
The first rough thing about Scandal, in comparison maybe to other shows, is how many characters there are. Scandal has 10 main characters this season (as in listed in the main credits every week) and several important recurring characters (like Liv’s dad, whose been in every episode this season, yet isn’t a main character). So one of our first assignments was to create character sheets for each other characters. It was so much work because of how many characters there are and how little, in some instances, we’ve gotten about them.
Right now, I’m working on my first 7 pages or so. But in order to figure out what happens in those 7 pages, I wanted to have a better idea of what was happening in the rest of the episode. So I turned to Dan Harmon‘s plot circles, because I think they’re a great structural way to look at episodes and plots. Here’s a link. Then, when googling, someone turned Harmon’s circle into a wave, which really helped me visualize the story and act breaks and rises and falls in momentum.
Here’s a picture of what I’ve got so far.
It’s nice to be able to visualize when act breaks should happen and what should happen in them. Basically, “breaking the story.” It’s tough, but it’s also kinda fun and is further cementing the idea that this is what I would want to do in life. Hopefully my first 7 pages aren’t terrible, according to the instructor. (But if he thinks so, I’ll just ask my fellow Gladiators, you might be able to help me make it even better. My instructor certainly doesn’t watch Scandal.)
Now I just gotta continue breaking the story, adding points to the subplots and think of ways to Olivia more active. Most of my ideas so far have her reacting to other characters, which is fine for their storylines, but she needs to have more agency in the plot, because she’s the main character. So hopefully I can think of more for her to do.
I’ll try to keep you updated! Any ideas, let me know! (Just remember that ideas are not copyrightable, so I wouldn’t get in trouble for stealing them and making boatloads of money off of them. ;-))
What type of creator may I feel the pull to become?
Perfecter. Synthesizer. Innovator.
Which type of creator are you?
I think I am Synthesizer.
I like to look at different genres (usually speculative in nature) and find ways to combine them with things they haven’t been combined with before. I’ve thought a lot about fairy tales and updating them to different eras (an idea that I had and haven’t really been able to get right is the fairy tale Bluebeard set during the Harlem Renaissance with Cyborg wives– a lot, but there’s something I really like about those combination of things that one day I want to get right).
I like fairy tales and myths and legends and, as much discussed on this blog, diversity in the media is hard to come by. So why not take those tales and adapt them to Harlem or make the main character black? I think that’s a great way to synthesize things that weren’t connected before and discover new stories (or at least a new lens through which to look at an old story–which is all any writer is trying to do).
Not the dialogue itself, but the pressure that dialogue creates between two characters who can’t get what they need from each other.
Pretty quick article on screenwriting dialogue. Useful thoughts.
I haven’t seen any of Ava DuVernay’s work yet, but I loved this keynote address and think it’s useful for anyone who is a media creator/artist. (She’s also directing an upcoming episode of Scandal, episode 308, so I’ll get to see a bit of her style then.)
All of the things that we try to do while trying to move forward in the industry is time not working on your screenplay [insert what your art is & what you’re supposed to be doing to work on it]. All the time you’re focusing– trying to grab– ‘I need this, I need this, I don’t have this–‘, you’re being desperate, you’re not doing. All that stuff is not active, it’s not moving you forward. All of the so called ‘action’ is hinging on someone doing something for you. Does that make sense? […]
The only thing that moves you forward is your work. […]
If you channel your desperation towards things you have, it’s passion. If you channel it towards things you don’t have, it’s desperation. It’s stagnation. […]
My whole thing, what I want is to be making films as a senior citizen. When I look at senior citizens making films, they’re only white guys. There’s no black, female Woody Allen. Or Mike Nichols. Like Clint Eastwood? Just imagine a bad ass black woman, walking like Clint, ‘I don’t care! I’m gonna say whatever I wanna say!” You’re old as hell, you’ve made a gang of films, say what you wanna say! I wanna be her. Old and making films. American women making films, black women making films into old age, actively and consistently. I wanna be Werner Herzog, I have so many films, I don’t know their names. I wanna be that. […] I just want consistency and longevity.
Watch the whole thing, you may get a nugget of something.
I had the lonely child’s habit of making up stories and holding conversations with imaginary persons, and I think from the very start my literary ambitions were mixed up with the feeling of being isolated and undervalued. I knew that I had a facility with words and a power of facing unpleasant facts, and I felt that this created a sort of private world in which I could get my own back for my failure in everyday life.
I can definitely relate. I am and always have been a loner. I always went somewhere with a book and preferred to imagine things alone to being in the (to me) wild company of others. I did have an imaginary friend named Sharley Parkins who I would, apparently, blame whenever I got into trouble. She eventually went to jail, so yeah, she was a bit of a troublemaker. I need to work on her story, now that I think about it.
The rest of the article may prove interesting to some, but it goes into his thoughts on his political works, which is of no interest to me at the moment, but may prove interesting you.
I am still figuring out why I write and how I will pursue it.
“But when you bring someone back, you want to make sure it’s not just a cookie-cutter, by-the-numbers version of the original sketch, where you have the exact same gag with different names. It was very, very difficult for us to figure out how to do it. [The concept] really goes back to the difference between the cultures of an inner city school and a more privileged school in the suburbs.”
I really like reading people break down their craft, especially (tv) writers, and especially comedians because I always get so lost in the funny that I forget and then later remember that there is such an intricate science to comedy. Sometimes I’ll hear a joke and then think about how it was constructed (something is said, then the turn or element of surprise at the end) but I’ve never been good at setting up a joke or constructing one myself. I think that if I think about it enough, when the time comes to write one, I’ll have picked up the basics by osmosis and it will become innate.
So reading this is fun for me, to learn how this duo comes up with one of their more popular sketches. It also offers insight into how this particular group works and the way their writing dynamic seems to play out.
MG Media: How much pride do you take in the fact that your casts are much more racially diverse than most other shows?
Shonda: I don’t take pride in it at all. I think it’s sad, and weird, and strange that it’s still a thing, nine years after we did “Grey’s,” that it’s still a thing. It’s creepy to me that it’s still an issue, that there aren’t enough people of color on television. Why is that still happening? It’s 2013. Somebody else needs to get their act together. And oh, by the way it works. Ratings-wise, it works. People like to see it. I don’t understand why people don’t understand that the world of TV should look like the world outside of TV.
No seriously. It’s 2013. Why is it a thing to have a racially diverse show and why is Shonda the only really doing it? Other shows that seem like they have diverse casts kind of still have the token minority who support the lead. They don’t really have leading qualities or episodes of their own. And Shonda is right, her shows are super hits for ABC, and yet no one else has thought that perhaps her casting has helped her get her shows where they are. It’s not everything, but it certainly helps widen your audience.
“If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”
The quote I referenced a few posts ago in its proper context and properly cited.
Aisha Muharrar, a writer for NBC-TV’s Parks and Recreation, understands our nostalgic longing for programs that reflected us in authentic characters and situations that brought laughs without compromising our dignity. “I loved watching The Cosby Show, Living Single, Fresh Prince and Family Matters when I was a kid. But so did all my white friends. They were just good shows we all enjoyed. The answer is to make it the norm again so two shows don’t have to be the representation for all of black culture.”
Well it seems that I’ve accidentally abandoned this blog for a bit, mostly because I am sort of focusing on other aspects of figuring out my life (photography whee!), and working, and being the lazy bones that I am when NOT working. And I’m not really back. (Maybe I am though?)
Anyway, I just saw this slideshow article on MadameNoire about African-American TV Writers, in a brief moment of “there were others like me once, how do I become like them?” The article is here. The list is (unfortunately) short and just the fact that the list names writers who worked in the 60s and 70s (who of course paved the way) means that there need to be more names on the list for current writers (why aren’t there more black tv writers these days?!). Though I must say, Yvette Lee Bowser (who exec produced Living Single) is not on this list, so clearly there are other names missing. =/
But it’s still interesting to see the names of well-known and lesser-known black tv writers; whose ranks I would love to someday join–should I ever get my life together.
Bye for now!
In order to think of spec ideas, one tends to turn to recent events in the news to spur an idea. I’m not always good at that. But a show that I would love to spec (I’ve been trying and have yet to get it right) is Parks and Recreation and I think they’ve been fantastic, especially this season, at taking current events and adapting them to Pawnee.
Just from this season:
These are just a few examples in which Parks is able to take a major news story or a recent trend (as with the movie chain idea) and adapt it to life in Pawnee. I really like this idea and keep searching for ways to take media stories and move them to Pawnee.
Side note: I wrote this post yesterday but scheduled it for today. I’m working my way towards blogging more!