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.

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?

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.

 

A target for the pilot

IMG_3144I’ve taken Rami’s good advice to create a whole new mystery as the central plot in this TV pilot. I’ve picked Philip Snowden, 1st Viscount and member of the privy council as my mark, specifically that his life is being threatened due to his stance against government relief during the Great Depression.

Stay tuned for more spoilers!

My 3 words for 2015

Encouraged by my friend Chris Brogan, these are the three words that will keep me motivated for the rest of 2015:

Strong: This is both a physical and mental mantra. I want to strengthen my body over the next year so that back pain is minimized and core strength is maximized. I’m doing this by working out with a trainer and dedicating 3-days a week to the gym. Mentally I need to stay strong to stave off the ‘easy-money’ in favour of my creative goals. Since I left my full-time job at the CBC I’ve been fortunate enough to get lots of digital contracts to fill up my time. Problem is I left the CBC to focus on writing books, and that can’t be done if I’m filling up my time with digital contracts. I have to stay strong and allow myself to make less money to focus on my creations.

Opportunistic: I think this word can have negative connotations but the way I think about it is not negative. There is luck and then there is the luck you make. I’ve been pretty good in 2015 at taking advantage of timing and luck and I want to continue to do that – jump on the moving train even if you aren’t positive where it will end up – it’s the leap that is important.

Big: This is a word that can trigger me negative or motivate me positive. I’m a smallish (physically) person, with big dreams that can seem small when compared to the rest of the world’s accomplishments. But like a wise elf once said: “Even the smallest person can change the course of the future.” I will dream big, I will make big moves and I will see myself as bigger than I am.

What are your 3 words for 2015?

Interview on CBC’s Fresh Air

I got to sit down with with host CBC Mary Ito to chat about some Canadian book series to get your kids hooked on this summer:

The books and links I mentioned:

Books for 3 – 6 year-olds
Gabby by Joyce Grant
Giraffe Meets Bird by Rebecca Bender
Franklin by Paulette Bourgeois and Brenda Clark
Discovering Words by Neepin Auger
Scaredy Squirrel by Melanie Watt
Books for 6 – 12 year-olds
Scott Pilgrim by Bryan Lee O’Malley
Neil Flambe by Kevin Sylvester
The Seven Series by various
I am Canada series by various
Books for 13 and up
Jewel of the Thames by Angela Misri
The Agency by Y.S. Lee
Bookweird by Paul Glennon
The Madgeburg Trilogy by Kat Kruger
Transcendent by Leslie Livingston