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Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Now that we got through the first pass on our second script for Exposure, now comes the hard part. The script came in at 65 pages, which is about 10 pages too long. But the other problems were more serious. The A story felt too small -- more like a B story. The B story didn't have enough of a twist, and Colette wasn't proactive enough. The C story lacked in twists and turns. What you expect to happen, happened. And that's never good.


These are the sort of things you can catch at the treatment stage, but often slip past, because in a treatment you can substitute clever prose writing for story. These seemed so much better back in December when we first proposed them. I had some doubts about them in January when we were waiting for approval to go ahead. But I didn't fix them in the treatment.

Now, though, we're getting a handle on them. In the B story, my problems were (a) no surprises - we're just waiting for the other shoe to drop; (b) the story feels more like it belongs to the guest star; the heroine isn't moving the story along by her decisions and (c) we hadn't make clear enough why it all mattered to the heroine.

I'm speaking about these in abstract terms not because I'm being secretive about the plot, but because I'm examining the "tools" I'm using.

I think I've fixed the "telegraphing" problem. I'd sort of written the guest character as a creep all the way through, but you're supposed to find that out only halfway through. The problem was I'd left too many hints early on where the story was going to go. Some suspense is good, but not to the point where the audience is sure where you're going. So I went back and made sure I believed, as I rewrote the earlier scenes, that the guest character was a flawed but decent person. Now I've written her so she always comes across as decent -- it's only through the external evidence of her behavior that you realize she's a manipulative, psychopathic bitch.

The problem of the spotlight being on the guest star happened because she's a talker and my heroine is laconic. So I went back and made sure the blacks (the action writing) always told us what the heroine's reaction is.

And then, later on, I drew the moral: I made it plainer what is drawing our heroine to this crazy woman -- how, by being nice to this bad person, she's doing what she wishes someone would do for her.

As so often happens, it now no longer feels like we need more twists and turns. You can get drama from surprises -- your condemned prisoner is sprung! -- or from suspense -- your condemned prisoner is inexorably led up the scaffold and executed. The latter only works, though, so long as the story is deeply felt. Now that it's more deeply felt, it's working better, even without twists and turns.

Now on to the C story, while Lisa fixes the A story.


Great post. I'm sending it to a friend who is writing a tv pilot. I'm a novelist, but I watch a ton of television and I'm wondering if you can illuminate a tv craft point for me (to pass along so I don't have to struggle to express what I'm feeling when I read drafts of my friend's script). His pilot is exploring a unique lifestyle (out of respect for my friend I won't reveal it here, but for the sake of argument we'll say it's bus drivers). I think the first episode still needs to have it's own plot and I keep telling him that plot should in some way comment on and reveal the characters. His take on this, since it's a spec pilot (hopefully) for HBO or Showtime, is that he can do a purely character-driven epi that follows his lead through a day-in-the-life and leave a cliff-hanger emotional beat in the last act. All things being equal, I'm sure he could do that, but for agents and execs isn't that what they are reading for? I mean, it seems to me that every pilot I've ever seen (and I've also read a few pilot scripts that were picked up, but not many) the pilot sets up a unique problem for the episode which is "solved" by the end of the episode, even if that problem actually leads to a larger complication. They are like chapters in a book, pulling the thread of the character development forward with plot. Long post, sorry, but I'm dying to have something to refute my friend with...writers are neurotic little know-it-alls sometimes.... :)

By Blogger Hoff, at 2:42 AM  

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