Brian’s Journey

Jensen Ackles in an episode of Supernatural where he gets pulled back to 1944 always reminds me of Brian.

Jensen Ackles in an episode of Supernatural where he gets pulled back to 1944 always reminds me of Brian.

This week I’m working at the Canadian Film Centre with some truly awesome screenwriters – Ellen Vanstone , Noelle Carbone @noelcarbs and Tara Armstrong.

One of the things that has come up at this stage of this pilot script is character layers. Now thankfully, everyone agrees that Portia has a lot of layers and a lot going on both on the page and hopefully, someday on the screen. We even agreed that Annie’s backstory with her twin brothers, travelling father, fighting for a foothold in the London press provided a strongly layered character.

The character that seemed to have less going on, literally, was Brian Dawes.

Brian is just the prototypical nice guy in my books. He doesn’t have a lot of conflict and he doesn’t change much between book one and book three. He supports Portia (because it’s right), he does his job well (because he’s good) and he loves his parents (because you should). I remember when I was writing him that I wanted there to be one character who was totally normal, but I think he might be TOO normal.
Like, uninterestingly so.

So, I’m going to spend the rest of January thinking about Brian’s layers and the journey he should make over the course of the books/series:

  • What motivates him?
  • What stymies him?
  • What is his ultimate goal?
  • What scares him?
  • Where does he see himself in 10 years? 20 years?

My next blog post will answer some of those questions and more and hopefully, feed into this script!

Lessons from this screenwriting gig

the_double_dutch_fight__animated__by_jaycasey-d5ev2soIt 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.’
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

Googling myself

I have a timer in my calendar that prompts me to Google myself once a month, because I don’t like to miss reviews or when someone is talking about me or my books.

This time when I Googled my own name, I found nothing surprising, but Googling the titles of my books, I came out with an interesting finding.

Google: Jewel of the Thames, the title of my first book.

Google: Jewel of the Thames, the title of my first book.

When I clicked on that top link for the Pickering Library, I found that Jewel of the Thames is one of the books in their 2017 ‘Battle of the Books‘ competition.

Long-story short, I emailed the library and thanked them for including Jewel, and am now making arrangements to come by for a visit to these fine students who will be participating in the Battle of the Books.

The Pickering Library Battle of the Books page

The Pickering Library Battle of the Books page

Why Google yourself? This is why:

An important connection is made, the Library gets the thanks they deserve, and maybe some kids get a bit of a real-life thrill meeting a local author.

This is to say nothing of the value to your brand and your book sales. How often do you guys Google yourselves?

Just a check-in

jim-carrey-fast-typingI haven’t blogged in forever, but it’s for a good reason I swear!

Between the screenplay I’m writing, the festivals and events I’ve been speaking at and working on other writing projects, I’ve been swamped.

The good news is that all this TV development work I’ve been doing has produced some good ideas for the end of book four (which is about half-written).

How goes it in the rest of the writing world?

The end of an edition: Fierce Ink is no more

fierceAs many of you know, I have had a uniquely fantastic experience with my Canadian publishers, Fierce Ink Press.  Based out of Halifax and run by wonderful people who cared about me and my characters, I was determined that any Portia Adams book I ever wrote would be published first, here in Canada, by Fierce.

Sadly, the indie publishing industry is a harsh climate, and after a mere four years, Fierce Ink is closing up shop.

This means that starting very soon, this edition of the first three Portia books with their magnificent Emma Dolan covers will not be available at all while I seek a new publisher. 

If you want to buy this (now Limited) edition, I am supplying some local Toronto indie bookstores with copies or you can order them directly from me.

Even then, I’m sure the new publisher will want to edit the books, and will get new covers designed. My hope is that we can coordinate a new edition launch with book 4’s publication, but who knows what will happen.

I’m very sad for myself and for the Canadian publishing industry because Fierce produced some great books, and like I’ve always said, set a standard for how to treat authors that I’m not sure I will find anywhere else (at least according to every other author I’ve spoken to).

Hopefully the humans who worked at Fierce will be able to employ those skills I loved them for somewhere in the publishing network, but regardless, I wish them the very best, and thank them so much for bringing Portia into the world.

Writing a series bible

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.

But as I make decisions about characters and their respective arcs, I am adding to a document that will eventually become the series bible. 

As I do this I find that I am adding what might be described as ‘commandments’ that come from my own TV watching.

For example:

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?

The Magic Door

MagicDoorIn other news, I wrote an article for a fantastic Sherlockian magazine called The Magic Door and it’s featured on the front cover of their spring edition!

In the article, I highlight the themes that appeared in letters between Arthur Conan Doyle and his editor. The universality of the themes like writer’s block and arguments over editing made me feel even closer to ACD and I think make for an interesting piece.  Click on the graphic to read through the PDF version of the magazine.

 

Starting that pilot over

Animator_LOW-500x0Ok, so the feedback from the production company is that there were elements of my pilot outline that they really liked, but the mystery I chose (with Viscount Snowden and his wife) was not one of them.

So, back to the drawing board we go!

The ‘notes’ as they are called in TV-land are that the thing they love about Portia is her outsider status – as a Canadian in London, as a woman in a man’s field, that kind of thing. They would like the first case she takes on to be demonstrative of that lens.

What kind of cases would Portia be attracted to given her background?

What observations would she make because of her outsider lens?

What crime would seem important to her and the subjects because of their shared experiences?

I’ve also been thinking about my personal connection to Portia (thanks to my friend Kathryn for suggesting it) and the whole idea of ‘passing’ for white. Maybe I can incorporate that into the pilot as well.

So here I go again my friends, into the breach. See you on the other side.