Monday, November 24, 2014

Wake Up and Smell the Character Development

After years of calling myself an aspiring TV writer, pounding out 7 original pilots and 5 spec scripts of existing shows, I recently had what can only be described as a rude awakening --

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!"

Then I would create a whole series proposal that includes season arcs and mythology tracking. Story beats would be thrown onto my board, reorganized, and rewritten until an outline was finally formed. Then I would start writing the pilot script.

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.

And I realized that everything I've been doing - the plotting and the organizing - doesn't mean anything if I don't have characters who captivate and excite - like every single character in a Jason Katims show does. I've been trying to birth characters inside these meticulously planned worlds, when I should have been doing it the other way around.

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. 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.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Hump Day Update: Reverse Catch-Up Edition

So what have I been doing for months that's kept me from updating this blog? Let's go in reverse order --

  • I finally released HEARTBORN, my first collection of short stories! Buy it for just 99 cents at OR join my mailing list to hear dates for my FREE book download promo plus other news from my life & career:

    Special shout out to Haley Keim who designed the awesome book cover for HEARTBORN. I'm so grateful for her genius!

    HEARTBORN is filled with early writing for me. My words feel raw & unpolished while reaching deep for the truth of one's heart. Like I mentioned at the beginning of the year when I set this goal for myself, my objective in releasing my stories it is not to make money or bolster my self-image - it's to gather feedback that will help me become a better writer. So pick up a copy at, read it, and tell me what you think!

    Also, 100% percent of my profits from the sale of this first collection will be donated to Break the Cycle, a national nonprofit working to provide comprehensive dating abuse prevention programs exclusively to young people. So if you decide to purchase the ebook instead of waiting for my free promotional period, know that your 99 cents is helping to support a great cause!

  • I got into the CBS Writers Mentoring Program! A huge honor from the network that gave me my first big break when they bought a pitch from me & my executive producer in 2011. And sweet, sweet validation that saved me from the "I'm gonna quit" funk I was in all summer.

    The first part of the program is writing a new script with the guidance of my mentors. Over the summer, I spent weeks - WEEKS, I say! - working on a new pilot idea, only to toss it out completely after my first meeting with my CBS mentors. They were so right in their assessment that the current execution just doesn't work. Sigh - that one's going back into the oven for now...

    So instead I'm in the thick of rewriting the pilot I wrote last year. A page one rewrite. A monumental task, but worth it so far - I hate my pilot much, much less than I did before. Fingers crossed...

  • Did a play reading for a new Boni Alvarez masterpiece. Someone put one of Boni's plays on a mainstage, dangit! He's a genius!

  • Still volunteering for Break the Cycle. Everyone has the right to a safe and healthy relationship!

  • Went to my first Lakers game. They lost. :(

  • Discovered the Serial Podcast. Like everyone else, I AM OBSESSED!

  • Started a new day job doing marketing for an MIT friend's tech startup, which led me to finally join LinkedIn!

  • Shot new episodes of Grey's Anatomy and Criminal Minds and my second guest star on Richie Rich, which just got bought by Netflix!

  • Helped out as Associate Producer of the East West Players' One Night Only fundraiser in August. Golden fundraising fun!

  • And finally, I wrapped up my involvement with WriteGirl, to which I say:

    Long story.
Color yourself caught up on my life! More blog posts to come...