Alison Garwood-Jones has started a new project called Willful (www.WillfulProject.com) “that tracks how artists work, thrive and survive,” and she was kind enough to interview me!
Check the series out on YouTube:
It will surprise no one that I am learning all kinds of things from this Adaptation Lab I’ve been on with the CFC and EOne for the past six months. I think they are making me a better writer in all my writing endeavours and I want to share some of that edification here.
- Scenes need to do more than one thing. They need to move the case forward of course, but they should also reveal things about your characters as they progress through their arc for the episode. Also, if you can subtly share things about your ‘world’ in a scene, for example, “Portia is overwhelmed by the bread line as it wound its way around the block,” puts you in the Great Depression better than explicitly saying it.
- Scenes should end with a question. I would extend that to chapters in books because ending a chapter with a question gives the reader a reason to ‘turn the page.’
- Bring up the themes again and again in new ways. Unlike books, I find writing for TV requires more themes that parallel each other through different characters in the show. So yes, Portia is an outsider, but her clients are outsiders as well, and there are lots of reminders of her ‘outsider-ness’ throughout the episode.
- Minimize the number of characters and differentiate their names. Unlike books where if you forget who someone is you can go back a few pages and remind yourself, once the episode starts, you’re rolling along and your audience doesn’t want to rewind. This isn’t a hard and fast rule, but I’ve received it as a note a few times.
One of the items on my list of things to deliver for this CFC/EOne Adaptation lab this summer is a bible for my TV series. I haven’t really talked about it yet because I’ve been focused on learning how to write for TV, and sharing with you, my lovely followers, the process of taking the Portia Adams Adventures and adapting it for the small screen.
As I do this I find that I am adding what might be described as ‘commandments’ that come from my own TV watching.
Thou shall balance victims between male and female.
This is one of my serious peeves (not a pet one at all). Most cop shows you watch these days feature a majority of victims of the female persuasion. That does not count towards the Bechdel test by the way, just including a gorgeous dead body on the floor is not an acceptable way to include women in your script.
Thou shall avoid stereotypical gender crimes.
Have you ever noticed that every accused husband featured on a program is a cheater? Or that every accused woman is revenging herself on said cheater? Or every good looking woman is too stupid to be careful in her choices? Not here. Not on this TV show. If it’s stereotypical, turn it on its head or drop it.
Thou shall include people of color in non-token rolls
This is especially hard when you’re writing a 1930s pulp fiction, but I am determined to represent the diversity that existed in London at the time. Asher Jenkins is one example of that diversity, but I want to open up the ally, victim and suspect lists to include all colors and backgrounds. I actually need to do this more in the books as well.
What do you guys think? Do you have some commandments to add to my TV bible?
Here are some of the tricks I keep in mind when writing a story that is part of a series:
- Always remember there is a larger story-arc and try to keep pushing it along at regular intervals.
- You have to give people a reason to read the next book. It doesn’t always have to be a cliff-hanger, but there has to be a reason to come back.
- You don’t have to retell the stories prior to the one your writing right now, but you may need your characters to ‘remember’ certain events if they are significant to the current story. A flashback or a quick memory written on the page can work.
- Remembering all your little details is really important as is all the foreshadowing you need to drop in so that by book 4 your reader smacks their head and goes “Ohhhhh!” – thanks for these two tips Amy from Inkcouragement!
What are some of your best tricks for writing a series?