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Home » Archives » July 2007 » Wearing Tom Stoppard's Shirt
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07/01/2007: Wearing Tom Stoppard's Shirt

So the ABC/Disney submission process is over for another year. Your script is in the mail. That makes today the day you start your next project, right?

When you were writing a spec script for an existing show, I encouraged you to watch as many episodes of the show as you could find. I also suggested that you watch a little bit of the show before a writing session as a way to refresh the "voice" of the show. Well, you can do a similar thing even if you're not writing a TV spec script. You can even do it if you're writing a short story or a play.

What I'm suggesting is that you find stories or plays that have the tone and complexity you want yours to have, and use them to make your story or play better. Want your story to feel like it comes from the pages of The New Yorker? Go get a bunch of issues of The New Yorker and study those stories.

It's okay; I'm not talking about plagiarism -- not even plagiarism of style -- I'm talking about doing research. No one would expect you to sew a shirt, even an imaginative free-form re-imagining of the concept of a shirt, without at least examining some examples, and perhaps even trying one on and walking around in it. Look at the structure of the stories you like the best, look at how the tone is established, look at how a story can grab a reader with the first sentence, and at how neatly it does or doesn't tie things up at the end. If it's been a long time since you've written something that isn't in script format, you'll have to make decisions about tense and POV, too. Reading other writers' stories is a good way to understand the effect those choices have.

If you're going to write a play, making an effort to read and study examples is even more crucial, since few of us already have a stack of plays on our bedside table for leisure reading. The script of a play is probably less familiar to you as a document than a short story or a film script is, so give it some study before you start plotting out what you're going to do with yours.

I'm still not sure I'm embracing this new model in which TV writing aspirants can use stories and plays as their writing samples, but if you've decided to do it, take the time to learn what it looks like when it's done well, and think about what makes the good ones good.

Lunch: an amazing Indian lunch at a humble Indian restaurant/grocery in Glendale called, I believe, "India Sweets and Spices". Mixed vegetables, raita, something wonderful made with "snake gourd and potatoes," pickles, rice, chapati, samosas... wow.


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