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09/04/2006: The Spiner of the Story
Well, well, well. I was doing some housecleaning today, and lookee at what I found. Some of my old spec scripts. My Frasier, my Larry Sanders, and the best of my three Star Trek:TNG scripts. The Trek spec is dated January 15, 1991. Yikes! Can that be right? Holy cow.
Looking through the Trek (titled "Ruling Passions"), I was both gratified and horrified. The dialogue is pretty good, with some humor that made me chuckle, although the lines are way too long. And the ideas are solid -- the concept of the episode works. But the script is so darn talky!!
Which leads us to the main problem. (Drumroll...) Nothing happens! The A story is about Data the android being given a guided tour through a set of emotion-building exercises by a hologram of the man who created him. Fun, but full of theorizing about emotions and neural pathways and the role of irrationality in evolution. A story this internal and analytical needs to be put together with an action-packed B story to provide the thrills and chills.
The B story is about Captain Picard and the other bridge officers trying to extract a stranded Vulcan scientist from a small battle-damaged research vessel. They talk, and puzzle, and futz around with this and that, until they finally succeed in beaming the entire small ship into the cargo bay, where it is revealed that it was in fact a disguised Romulan warship! Pretty exciting no? Pretty exciting yes, except that this happens on page 43!! In the middle of an act! The only surprising event in the whole story, and I didn't even get an act break out of it.
This happened because I did not adequately outline my story. I didn't have a developed sense, yet, of how many pages it would take to cover the events I had picked. So I wrote things too long in the front part of the script, and rushed them in the back part, and simply popped the act breaks in where the page numbers dictated them. Oh, I blush to think of it.
This would all have been avoided if I had studied produced episodes with more care. I should've converted produced episodes back into an approximation of their original outlines. Then I could have made sure my outline had the same amount of "event," spread out over the same number of scenes.
The bright side is, this script was good enough that I got that magic phone call from Trek that started my career. So as bad as this spec was, structurally, there must've been plenty that were worse. Which leaves you, gentle readers, with two options: work hard to perfect your specs, or gamble on the incompetence of others.
Or both. There's nothing wrong with doing both!
Lunch: A BLT from Johnny Rockets and a chocolate coke. (For our Croatian readers, that's a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich, a traditional and beloved combination. It's like meat-salad on toast!)