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Home » Archives » January 2006 » Adding a Story to your House
[Previous entry: "Quit your job and move to Hollywood!"] [Next entry: "All Anyone is Talking About"]

01/23/2006: Adding a Story to your House

Well, I had a very pointless day killing time while my car was at the vet’s. She had a check-up and a grooming and had her claws trimmed and rotated. I waited and wandered the mean streets of Santa Monica, sipping a gingerbread latte and looking at my watch. But finally, I am home again, ready to talk some more about getting that darn spec script in shape for the ABC Fellowship.

After you pick the show you want to spec, you have to start thinking about the story you want to tell. There are some tricks to this. A common error is to build the story around a guest character. You may be thinking of something like this:

“Dr. House is thrown off his game when a brilliant new doctor arrives. She’s beautiful, belligerent… and she just may be better at his job than he is.”

It does sound exciting, I’ll admit. But it would be a terrible spec. Here’s why:

It’s a story about House reacting to something. Not acting, but reacting. This is already a problem. You want the show’s main character at the center of the story. Guest characters hog the spotlight.

Also, one of the main things you’re going to be judged on is how well you capture the voices of the characters. “Voice,” in this sense, refers to the distinctive rhythms and word choices, etc, that the writers of the show have given to a character, not to the actor’s actual voice. Readers want to know that you can write to voices that you didn’t create. With a guest character , the reader doesn’t have a standard against which to judge the writing. That can only work against you.

When I was a graduate student, I wrote three spec scripts for Star Trek: The Next Generation and sent them off to the show, hoping to get invited to pitch ideas to the show. All three of them were about Data. In the first one I wrote, Data was shaken by a visit from the captain of the first ship on which he’d served. In the second one, Data undertook a project that resulted in him feeling an emotion, which led to complications. In the third one, Data was left behind on a planet and had to fit in among the natives.

Based on one of these scripts, I was invited to pitch ideas to the show. It wasn’t the first one – too much guest character. It was the second one, in which Data was active. And what about the third one? It was as much of a failure as the first one. But for different reasons, which I will talk about in my next entry.

Today’s Lunch was breakfast: poached eggs, toast, and a mimosa!


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