Monday, November 24, 2014
Wake Up and Smell the Character Development
I don't know what the f#*% I'm doing.
Seriously, when this realization hit me, it was bad. An absolute whopper. A hundred times worse than every writer on the planet feels on any given day.
Allow me to explain --
My rude awakening was about how I've been approaching the writing of a new original TV pilot. Up until now, I've been coming up with ideas - imaginative worlds, cool conflicts, plot twists and cliffhangers. I've filled pages and pages in my brainstorming journal with discoveries and stakes that spill forth as the concept takes shape - "And then this happens, until so-and-so realizes they're the same person! Oh SNAP!"
And it would be around this time that I would ask myself, "Now who are these characters and what do they want?"
Wrong, Teresa. Wrong.
I recently attended an event at the WGA with Jason Katims, creator Friday Night Lights, Parenthood, and About A Boy. The evening opened with a series of clips from his shows, including a hospital scene from Friday Night Lights.
Fans of the show will recognize it just from this screenshot, I'm sure.)
Within minutes, I was in tears. Free flowing, can't-stop-even-when-the-lights-come-up tears. I didn't know the show's logline or underlying theme or anything, but I was hooked. In a heartbeat, I loved these characters, connected with them, felt they were alive, organic, and real, and I wanted to see more.
That's good writing.
I should be creating incredible characters and letting the world unfold in my mind around them. Develop a character I connect with first and then develop the conflicts, relationships, and story engine that will send that character on a compelling journey that I want to watch for 4 seasons and a movie.
It's all about character, stupid. It's television.
I've seen true fandom at Comic-Con - t-shirts, cosplay, action figures. Would anyone create fan art of the characters I've created in my 7 original pilots? Big fat NO.
Sigh...you live, you learn.
That's why this pilot rewrite I'm working on is a page one rewrite. The first iteration was an action-packed script with plot twists and oh-no moments, but the characters didn't sing. In fact, they could barely hum a tune. They were just pawns in my plot game.
So I'm taking my concept and turning it inside out. Starting with the characters and rebuilding the story from there. And so far so good! I'm liking it much more and I think the concept is stronger. More importantly, I'm enjoying the writing process more. It feels less like managing a chess game and more like telling a story.
I guess you really can teach an old dog new tricks. Writing is a never ending journey of learning. Thank goodness I found this breakthrough.