Home Contact Biography Works Media News

Jane Recommends
Who Hates Whom / Bob Harris

Who Hates Whom: Well-Armed Fanatics, Intractable Conflicts, and Various Things Blowing Up A Woefully Incomplete Guide by Bob Harris

"The geopolitical equivalent of scorecards that get hawked at ball games. Only Bob could make a user’s guide to our increasingly hostile world this absorbing, this breezy, and—ultimately—this hopeful."
~ Ken Jennings, author of Brainiac


Jane in Print
Serenity Found: More Unauthorized Essays on Joss Whedon's Firefly Universe, edited by Jane Espenson

Flirting with Pride and Prejudice: Fresh Perspectives on the Original Chick-Lit Masterpiece, edited by Jennifer Crusie and including Jane Espenson's short story, "Georgiana"

Finding Serenity: Anti-Heroes, Lost Shepherds and Space Hookers in Joss Whedon's Firefly, edited by Jane Espenson and Glenn Yeffeth

Jane in DVD

Jane in DVD

Now Available:
+Battlestar Galactica Season 3
+Dinosaurs Seasons 3 & 4
+Gilmore Girls Season 4
+Buffy: The Chosen Collection
+Tru Calling
+Angel: Limited Edition Collectors Set

Jane in Progress


Wednesday, June 27th
Sweat, Not Letting Them See You Doing It

Anyone out there want a couple quick ways to spruce up a script right before you submit it to something? Here are two things you can do quickly that might actually make a noticeable difference.

First, sweeten up those stage directions. They're your one chance to talk directly to the reader in your own voice, so make sure they're confident, visual, and evocative without going over-the-top. After you've worked on a script for a while, you've probably stopped even reading your own stage directions when you reread. Resist that, and give 'em a good looking-at. If anything feels familiar or flat or hesitant, work on it.

FLAT: "John enters. He looks terrible."
JUST RIGHT: "John enters, looking like a thousand flavors of crap."
TOO MUCH: "John enters, bearing the cares of his ancestors on his shoulders like a heavy yoke."

Second, tighten up your dialog. Look for extra sentences that you can pull out, and even just words. If a character says "I haven't seen her," consider changing it to "Haven't seen her." It's such a tiny change, but it keeps your lines from looking like the hyper-correct text in learn-to-read books.

That's it. A simple pass through your script with those two goals in mind can do wonders. The main point here is confidence. Both of these changes will suggest a relaxed, confident writer, and if you can project that, you're ahead of the game.

Lunch: juice, banana, cookie

Jane on 06.27.07 @ 06:11 PM PST [link]

Tuesday, June 26th
Organized Worry

We're getting down to the wire here, gentle ABC/Disney applicants, so it's time to start thinking about all those last-minute details. Here's a little checklist:

1. Reread the application details. Do you understand the rules of when the material has to be mailed? Do you have all the required parts of the application ready to go?

2. Have someone else proofread everything you're sending for typos and missing words.

3. Check your presentation. Does everything look clean and professional? Nice dark print? Good strong brads?

4. Reread that script. Your subconscious mind knows which parts are bothering you. Listen to it. Don't just keep rereading the bits that you like. Instead, look at the pages that your eyes want to rush over. Don't be afraid to tackle a large change at the last minute, either. Just make a new file and try something drastic if you want. If it doesn't work, you've still got the other version.

5. Mail it, don't look back, and start writing your next thing. Something with your own original characters. The best way not to worry about the thing you just wrote is to worry about the thing after that.

Lunch: chicken dumpling soup and a spinach-bagel

Jane on 06.26.07 @ 06:40 PM PST [link]

Monday, June 25th
So Happy Not Actually to be Getting Sued

Well, for those of you keeping score, I made it to Dallas and back home again. Many thanks to the kind people of Equality Now and all the Browncoats who were so great to me there!

I returned to find an intriguing piece of mail from reader John in Albany. It's a great piece of mail, too, printed on thick creamy stationary with the kind of law firm letterhead that makes your pulse speed up because it looks like you're getting sued.

John has (with a writing partner) written a spec half-hour comedy pilot. And he has filmed it. Whoa. He asks: "...are there any real advantages to actually shooting/making the TV pilot?" He adds, "I've even heard that this is detrimental because the 'idea' is always much better than the execution."

My first instinct is to point at that last sentence and say, "yup." One of the things I love about scripts - all scripts - is that they are creatures of perfect potential, always well-acted and well-produced in the reader's brain. If I set something on an "abandoned pier lying still between the dark sky and darker sea" then that's what the reader sees, not a redressed hotel loading-dock being splashed from off-screen by my friends who own buckets. Unless you have lots of money and some pretty advanced skills, it's going to be very hard to make an amateur production good enough to come up to the level of the production that the reader's brain is able to muster. And quality acting is, of course, even more crucial and hard to find than friends with buckets.

So, in general, I think it's going to be easier, cheaper and more effective to try to use a script to break into the business than a produced sample. However, we live in strange times. If you have managed to put together something great, John in Albany, well, then let's see how far you can ride it. Maybe you can submit it to film festivals, or slap it up on YouTube, or have friends link to it on their blogs… If it's great and people find it, you might create a sensation and be treated like one of those film school phenoms who make a stir now and then. You might have just created a new way to go about this whole crazy endeavor. It's a long shot, but since you've apparently already shot it... why not?! This is a business that is about creativity, and applying creativity to your way in might not always be a bad thing.

Lunch: heirloom tomatoes and burrata from the "nice side" of the Universal Cafeteria. Mm. Love those heirloom tomatoes.

Jane on 06.25.07 @ 04:26 PM PST [link]

Saturday, June 23rd
Tryin' to get there

Update from LAX! I'm trying to get to the book signing, gentle readers, but my airplane broke. I won't be landing in Texas until *after* the scheduled start of the signing... so adjust accordingly! Thank you!
Jane on 06.23.07 @ 12:18 PM PST [link]

Friday, June 22nd

Special for the gentle readers of Texas: I will be signing copies of "Finding Serenity" tomorrow night in Arlington at the Border's Books. I'm doing this in conjunction with the Can't Stop the Serenity Event being put together by the amazing people of Equality Now. Please stop by the store and say Hi!
Jane on 06.22.07 @ 06:03 PM PST [link]

There's Nothing Prettier than Otter Harvesting Season

A.C. in West Hollywood writes in with a question about the supporting documents that you have to turn in along with your writing sample when you apply to the ABC/Disney fellowship. He's talking about the resume, bio and "statement of interest".

My advice is to be pretty straight-forward with things like this. Your writing sample is going to do most of the work. It's probably a pretty rare case when the other documents tip the scale, so don't overwork them. It's safer to come across as pleasantly competent than it is to seem desperate. So I'd recommend against putting your resume in sonnet-form or writing your statement of interest from House's point of view. Don't out-clever yourself.

The bio might help you if you have a really fascinating personal background. Did you grow up on an otter farm? Mention that. But if your story is fairly typical, I would recommend not trying to hype it up. The worst thing that can happen is to sound false.

The place to put some passion is your statement of interest. If you're going through all of this work to assemble an application then you really do have a passion for some aspect of television writing. Be honest with yourself and with them and say what it is. What do you love about television? Why do you think it's the kind of work you're suited for? Most of all, be positive. Don't say that TV stinks and you're hoping to save it.

Got extra time? Don't waste it on the bio. Use it to take another pass through that spec. That's the real golden ticket.

Lunch: Philly cheese steak

Jane on 06.22.07 @ 03:26 PM PST [link]

Thursday, June 21st
I Guess He Really Can't Drive

Okay, apparently I just can't leave this alone. I'm all hung up on this "I thought you said you could..." set-up. And it occurs to me that this is a really good exercise. Take a set-up and think of all the punches that you can to follow it. They don't have to be outright jokes, but should at least have some attitude to them. This is a pretty good simulation of what you do in a comedy writer's room, actually. On Ellen we were often all working in our offices simultaneously on the same jokes, generating lists that looked a lot like this:

I thought you said you could drive!
Yeah? Well, I thought shut up!


I thought you said you could drive!
It's two pedals! I assumed I could!


I thought you said you could drive!
I also said this was my real hair, so you knew I couldn't be trusted!


I thought you said you could drive!
We were talking about golf!

And so on forever. I'm not saying these are great, just that they exist. And that there are always more. Give it a try with another set-up. Something like "Are you wearing that?" or "Is this ketchup?" Go 'head, come up with as many as you can. And set the bar low. This exercise is about quantity, not quality.

And here's the big secret. This isn't really just about finding jokes. This is about finding possible attitudes for your characters. I mean, look at what the list above really represents. The first choice is petulent, the second is sort of absurdist, the third is flippant and the fourth is confrontational. Would I have considered all those colors if I'd approached the scene another way? I don't think so.

I knew jokes revealed character. Maybe they can also create it. Hmm...

Lunch: more bread and cheese and apples

Jane on 06.21.07 @ 07:31 PM PST [link]

Wednesday, June 20th
Sick Humor

I'm home sick today, gentle readers. I have myself a bit of a cold. But I don't stop working for you just because I'm full of New Daytime Tylenol for Chest Congestion. In fact, I've been applying myself to that little problem of clam rehabilitation from yesterday. Here, then, might be a slightly fresher pay-off for that "I thought you said you..." set-up. Let's see how this hits you:

I thought you said you could drive!

Really? That's interesting. Because I thought you said you could avoid getting us chased down a poorly-maintained access-road by a crazed interstate trucker!

(Imagine it all read with a sense of escalating panic, optimally, by the cast of Moonlighting.) Now, I haven't invented something new here. Jokes of this structure are around already, but since the punchline involves a restatement of the plot, it's going to look different in each new incarnation, which will help it feel fresher. And a lot of the joy of this one is going to lie in the wording of the plot-recap. Length, awkwardness and over-precision will probably work to your advantage in this kind of joke.

The point of all of this? Keep looking. Just because you're certain you've exhausted every way to pay off a set-up, doesn't mean there isn't one more that just hasn't occurred to you yet.

Lunch: Sourdough bread, cheddar cheese, sweet pickles

Jane on 06.20.07 @ 10:02 PM PST [link]

Tuesday, June 19th
Warning: This Post Contains an Unavoidable Swear

Friend of the blog Erin has just pointed out a category of clam (an overused joke) that I hadn't noticed before. She sites examples like:

"I thought you said you could cook!"
"I didn't say I was a good cook."

Try Googling the phrase "I didn't say I was a good" and see what comes up -- it's quite a harvest. This is clearly an overused joke form, although, honestly, it's barely a joke. Friend of the blog Erin asks if this is a clam that can be rehabilitated.

I don't think so. There was a brief period where it got a second wind, when the second line was changed to the amusingly blunt, "I lied." But now that has grown hoary with age as well.

If you want to say that someone is bad at something, I suggest that you avoid the "I thought you said..." set-up altogether and go at the joke in a different way.

But, for the sake of fun, let's imagine that for some reason the thing you want to preserve is the notion of something being misheard or misunderstood. It looks to me as though there are at least three joke forms that use this. We've already looked at the first one, in which the humorous element is that the person is asserting and then denying some ability with a claim that they've been misunderstood.

Here is the second one, which is about actually mishearing the original assertion.

A Catholic learns what his daughter has been up to: "Did you say prostitute? Thank god, I thought you said Protestant."

In a clever variation on this form, it wasn't the words, but the grammar, that was misheard:

Mickey Mouse explains the grounds for his divorce from Minnie: "I didn't say she was crazy. I said she was fuckin' Goofy."

Then there is the final category, in which the original statement was misunderstood because the hearer either made a very logical assumption about the point of the original statement:

"I thought you said your dog does not bite!"
"That is not my dog."


"But I thought you said your husband had a vasectomy."
"He did. That's why I have to take every precaution."

Or the hearer failed to make the most logical assumption:

"I thought I asked you to take those penguins to the zoo!"
"I did, but I had some money left, so we're going to the movies."

I think these last two examples -- the vasectomy one and the zoo one -- are the jokes I've come across that best use the misunderstanding framework. And you know why they work best? Because they're character-based. They look like language-tricks, like the "Goofy" one, but they're actually jokes about assumptions, not mishearings. Anyone can mishear. But when you assume you reveal your character. Both the cheating-woman in the vasectomy joke, and the van-driver in the second joke, made an assumption that reveals their character.

Now, obviously, these are jokes that I've pulled off the rack. You can't put them in a script; you have to make up ones of your own. But once you understand the mechanism, that part's easy.

As you're going through your script, look at the jokes. If they don't reveal character, if they're jokey-jokes that anyone could say, look for alternatives. Write something that tells us about the characters.

Lunch: stuffed jalapenos at Jack in the Box

Jane on 06.19.07 @ 05:28 PM PST [link]

Monday, June 18th
Gray Matters

You know one of the amazing things about Battlestar Galactica? There is no one character who always manages to do the right thing. There are characters who try, but they don't always succeed. And the right path isn't always obvious, and outcomes are unpredictable. Even the bad guy is really only disastrously selfish, not evil. Even the robots are human. This gives the writers lots of opportunities to write the very best kind of fights. The kind where both sides are right.

On the surface, this might seem like a lessening of conflict, but it really isn't. It's more like a-- like a realification of it. Both sides in a real conflict are always working from a place of incomplete knowledge, simply because none of us knows the future. And we all hold opinions based on our own subtle list of priorities which may not be at all the same as the person we're arguing with. Even the good guys can differ -- do you do the right thing, or the smart thing? Real fights are complex and painful and wonderful. If you've got a fight in your script, try putting some wrong on the right side and some right on the wrong side. Let both sides shine. It's an antidote to unseemly moustache-twirling and unbearable saintliness.

Human nature can be glorious and it can be very very dark. I direct you to this for some words from Joss on humanity, its failings and its potential. Please check it out. It's important stuff. (Thanks to reader Samantha for calling my attention to this.)

Lunch: salad with warm chicken pieces

Jane on 06.18.07 @ 04:36 PM PST [link]

Sunday, June 17th
Overseeing Your Underpinnings

When you came up with the central idea of your spec script, you probably described it to others very succinctly. "House treats an ailing psychiatrist who only allows treatment if she can psychoanalyze House in return." Or "Michael and Jim spend a day that feels as if they've traded lives." You probably had a tidy little one sentence hook like that.

But then you started work. You broke the story into scenes, figured out act breaks and an arc and a progression of events and a conclusion. You developed a B-story and braided the two stories together so that they influenced or commented on each other. You made sure all the regular characters had some way to participate in the story. You found interesting character moments that taught us something new about the characters without contradicting what we already know. You found dramatic moments and emotional pay-offs.

Now that you've got all that done and you might even have a completed draft, you should check to see if that original spark of an idea that made you want to write the script is still there. Is it still clear that this patient is engineering moments with House in order to analyze him? Is the Jim-and-Michael life-trade thing still in the script or is it just reading like Jim's having a bad day while Michael has a good one? It's very easy for the original notion to get muddied while you're working. It's like an underlying image that's been traced through so many layers of paper that it's rendered indistinct.

Sharpen it up. (Or, if a better concept has emerged during the writing, sharpen that one up.) This is a good time to quiz your test readers. Ask them what the basic idea of the story was and see if they got it. You want people to read your script and not just see a bunch of stuff that happens. You want them to see a story that hangs together as a whole, and that little one-sentence notion is the stapler that makes that happen.

Lunch: Burger King's Whopper Jr. Burger King features tomatoes a lot more than McDonald's does. Interesting.

Jane on 06.17.07 @ 05:45 PM PST [link]

Thursday, June 14th
Getting Sick in the Elevator in your Cabin

When I was first working in sitcoms, I was told about an aging comedy writer who was still working as a freelancer. I was told that he would come into an office and sit down and say, "I got two stories. One, your main guy gets sick and he's a pain in the ass about it. The other is, everyone's trapped in a cabin and they have a big fight. Which one do you want?"

I was told that he still occasionally got a sale. I suspect the whole thing was an urban legend.

But those two stories are interesting to contemplate. Why were these the two stories that our fictional man took all over town? And why, for god's sake, would they still sell?

I don't think I have to tell you what makes these stories bad, at least in their most traditional form. They're familiar. And they're predictable. As soon as someone sneezes and says "I'm not getting sick. I'm NOT!," we know they're getting sick. And when they promise to be the best patient ever, we know we're really in for it. Similarly, we've probably all winced more than once when someone on a television show lets a rooftop door fall closed behind them. Frankly, I'm always surprised when it doesn't lock them up there. (Note that I'm assuming rooftops, and elevators, as cabin-equivalents.)

The stories are also too universal. We've all been forced to talk to someone we didn't want to talk to. We've all been sick and we've all had to tend to a sick person. There's nothing about the situation that's really specific to any one character. In my Frasier spec, I thought hard about what he valued so that I could find a story that poked him where it hurt most. I ended up pricking his professional pride. I found a problem that hurt that character more than it might hurt someone else. But feeling trapped, and feeling sick -- those just are not specific.

So why would anyone ever do anything like either of these ideas? Why would they ever sell? Because, at the core, the idea is right. Exactly right. Stress people and they get vulnerable. And vulnerable people open up, which is great stuff. Sickness stresses us. Being forced into prolonged contact with another person stresses us.

Remember Archie and Meathead trapped in the basement? It's a classic All in the Family episode with moments I remember vividly. I also have very fond memories of Lou Grant and Joe Rossi trapped in -- I believe -- an actual cabin on Lou Grant. Again, there are moments that hit me very hard in that episode.

So, avoid cabins and elevators and rooftops in your spec. And don't tell the "I'll be a great patient" story, either. Find a situation more specific to your character to act as their stressor. But once you find it, use it like those writers did. Get to the vulnerability. Get to the revelations. Get to the emotions.

If any part of the story of the old freelancer is true, I buy that he still made a sale now and then. The way he got to the moment when a character opens up may have been hacky, but if he wrote those moments with sensitivity and insight, well, maybe it was worth it.

Lunch: corn bisque

Jane on 06.14.07 @ 05:25 PM PST [link]

Tuesday, June 12th
Soon-Lee was Klinger's Wife

Sometimes a joke sticks in my mind, and I don't even know what it's doing in there, taking up room. The following three-line exchange is from After-MASH, the very failed sitcom sequel to M*A*S*H. This is from memory:

(admiring Soon-Lee's dress)
You know, that's something I really admire about the Orient, the clothing -- it gives the women such a look of demure grace.

This is from the "Junior Sophisticate" department at Macy's.

They're good too.

It's not great. It's a very standard sit-com joke run, in fact. The first line tees up the joke. It might even have teed it up higher, with talk of silks and fans -- my memory is sketchy on this point. It's a pretty obvious set-up. Then Soon-Lee's line undercuts it, and then there's the second little punchline, which is also of a sort I'm sure you've seen before.

The thing that has always stuck in my mind so clearly is Soon-Lee's line. Although I can't find any evidence of this online, I'm almost certain that I'm correctly remembering the phrase "Junior Sophisticate." To me, it makes the joke. It's funny because it's so precise and so correct. It's exactly the kind of name that department stores use, and it's amusing that she would have remembered it and trotted it out so proudly.

To me, the joke is elevated above itself by that phrase. I'm still not sure it's worth valuable brain-space, but if she'd said "Junior's department" it wouldn't have been as good. And if she'd just said "This is from Macy's," it would be terrible. It's a nice counter-example to the "shorter is funnier" rule of thumb.

A lot of time in sitcom rooms is spent finding the perfect words for jokes like this one. Make sure you do the same thing with your specs. Get out the thesaurus, check with friends, whatever. Don't feel weird about spending time on some tiny bit of phrasing, because if you get it just right, it can stick in someone's head for years.

Lunch: veggie sandwich, no mayo, despite the fact that the woman making it kept trying to give me a turkey sandwich with mayo

Jane on 06.12.07 @ 03:25 PM PST [link]

Monday, June 11th
Doing by Saying

You know that old "show, don't tell" rule? Well, it can applied in a very specific way that can make jokes stronger and funnier. Look at this joke:

He's the finest man I've ever met.

He's a degenerate liar!

Yeah, that's what I said.

Bleah. It's just so... bald and defensive and familiar. It feels like an old radio joke. But don't you think it's better with this small change?

He's the finest man I've ever met.

He's a degenerate liar!

Who will burn in hell forever and ever, praise God.

Doesn't that feel better? Instead of telling us that he's got a certain opinion, our Guy is demonstrating that opinion by actively condemning.

Here's another example. Remember this from the movie Pretty Woman?

Mr. Lewis? How's it going so far?

Pretty well, I think. I think we need some major sucking up.

Very well, sir. You're... not only handsome, but a powerful man. I could see the second you walked in here, you were someone to reckon with...


Yes, sir?

Not me. Her.

If Hollister had just said "Yes, sir, I'll see that you get a good flattering" or something, it wouldn't have been as funny as him actually doing it. Instead of telling us, he's showing us.

There are some actions: flattering, condemning, promising, etc, that you do by speaking. Even though they're not as active as diving through a window as a bomb goes off, they're still active, they're still a kind of doing. If you let your characters go ahead and do them, instead of just talking about what they think, you haven't just made a better joke. You've also made a stronger, more active character.

Sometimes rules are actually good.

Lunch: fancy brunch at the Hotel Bel-Air. Sushi, egg tart, strawberry shortcake. Veddy veddy nice.

Jane on 06.11.07 @ 01:51 PM PST [link]

Friday, June 8th
Second Thoughts

When you decided to try to launch a writing career, you were faced with the question of what to do first. Unfortunately, once that's settled, there's a question that can be even trickier. What to do second?

Patrick in L.A. writes in with this question, which is also relevant to Zach, whose letter I answered a while back, and I'm sure, to a lot of the rest of you. You've got that first spec -- one for a produced show, so you can submit it to ABC/Disney. Now you've got to decide what to do next. Another spec for a real show? Maybe a comedy to balance out that drama, or vice versa? Or a spec pilot? Or a spec feature? Or a spec short film?

The truth is, it hardly matters. Because ultimately, you will probably end up having at least one of each of these. So all you're really worrying about here is the order. Don't waste time worrying about that. Just pick one and do it, and then do the other one. Specs for existing shows aren't as valuable now as they used to be, but I still think there's probably value in having one for a dramatic show and -- perhaps, why not -- for a comedy if your instincts lie in that direction. But you're clearly going to need other material, too. So even as you're writing that "House," keep an active file of feature-or-pilot ideas, too. And, of course, no one is keeping you from working on two projects at once -- that can be a good way to stave off writing fatigue, in fact, having a way to change gears by switching to work on the other project.

So stop sweating, Nation, about which one to write next. In the long run, the order isn't going to matter. Except in your autobiography. (Which you should write last.)

Lunch: Doritos, doughnut, coke. I know, I know.

Jane on 06.08.07 @ 01:56 PM PST [link]

Thursday, June 7th

Robin in Kansas writes to ask about my opinion on writing with a partner. She points out that I recently had a shared writing credit on Battlestar Galactica (with the delightful Anne Cofell Saunders), which suggests that I have experience in this regard. I have shared writing credits at other times in the past, as well, with Alex Herschlag on Andy Barker, PI, and with Doug Petrie on Buffy, as well as others.

But here is the secret truth. If you are a solo writer, (which is to say you aren't employed with a partner as a single writing entity), you will probably never be asked to collaborate with another writer in the sense of actually sitting down to tackle the writing of a scene together. All the times in which I've shared a credit have either involved a splitting of the script ("you take acts one and two, I'll take three and four"), or they've been a case of either taking over a script after a draft has been completed or having your own script taken over, because of other demands on the time of the initial writer.

This means, of course, that the decision as to whether or not you are a solo writer, or a part of duo, is an important one. It defines how your writing days are spent, probably for the entirely of your career. So think hard about which kind of day you enjoy: a day of fighting and compromise or a day of lonely responsibility. They're both very satisfying, of course.

So, if you've just acquired a partner, and you find yourself dreading your sessions -- even if you're liking the product you produce... think long and hard about whether this is how you want to spend your career. Similarly, if the long hours of solitude as a solo writer make you want to scream... well, there is an alternative.

Lunch: left-over edamame and cucumber salad from a Japanese dinner

Jane on 06.07.07 @ 06:28 PM PST [link]

Tuesday, June 5th
Spring Cleaning

Some letters require only a brief reply, not enough to build a whole entry around so let's take care of some of them all at once!

For Melanie in Chicago: I don't think the new Dr. Who would make a good spec for the ABC/Disney fellowship. I think we should assume (to be on the safe side), that they only want US-produced shows.

For Brandi in Seattle: It looks like How I Met Your Mother has been renewed for another season. Looks to me that that makes it an eligible spec for ABC/Disney. Go for it!

For Jason in Calgary: I'm not really familiar with the sorts of informal-pitching-at-a-TV-festival that you're going to be doing. Wish I was. My only advice is keep it brief, enthusiastic and end with a loud "And that's our show!" to keep yourself from kind of dribbling off. I have no idea what kind of leave-behind you might want to prepare or what kind of reception you might get. But brevity is the soul of profit, so use that.

For Nic in Germany: Hi again. She wants to know if her Grey's Anatomy spec has to include all twelve main characters. This is a great time to consult the produced episodes. If they always have the whole dozen, then you'd better find a way to do it, too.

And finally, Taylor in L.A. actually wrote a spec entry for this very blog. Nicely done! Thank you!

Lunch: veggie sandwich -- loads of avocado. Nice.

Jane on 06.05.07 @ 12:19 PM PST [link]

Sunday, June 3rd
And Then You Get Apples in Your Can of Worms

Some series require you to make a "buy". To suspend your disbelief in a major way right at the outset. Is that a flying nun? A talking car? Are those supposed to be teenagers?

Some spec writers are tempted to put an innovative spin on their script by bringing this presupposed, but possibly problematic, element to the forefront. Don't do it. For example, if the implied documentary crew is featured on camera in your spec for The Office, you've probably taken a wrong turn. The documentary frame for the show might look like a tempting bit of low-hanging fruit, but if you pull it, the whole orchard unravels.

AND IN OTHER NEWS: I have it on very good authority that "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" is indeed eligible -- and very welcome -- as a spec for the ABC/Disney Fellowship.

Lunch: stuffed jalapenos and Dr. Pepper from Jack in the Box

Jane on 06.03.07 @ 07:06 PM PST [link]

Friday, June 1st
Pulling Up Stakes

We all know how boring it is to listen to someone else's dream. But if you'll indulge me, I think you'll find there's a fine writing lesson at the end of it.

Last night I dreamed I was running late, trying to get to a concert that was set to start at 2PM -- one of those early afternoon hard-rockin' events. I wasn't terribly concerned because there was still time and it wasn't a band I really cared about. I was finally on my way when I realized I didn't have the tickets. But again, I wasn't that invested, so it was okay. I ran back to the hotel room, got the tickets and discovered that time was getting short, but not impossible. And as I ran from the hotel I remembered that concerts often start late, and discovered that the concert hall was surprisingly close and easy to get to. I ducked in a back door of the hall to find that I'd stumbled into the band's dressing room. I got to meet them, but I had to feign excitement because I didn't really know anything about the group. Then I was shown to my front row seat with time to spare.

You know how some people think spicy food causes wild dreams? Well, I had tofu last night, and apparently bland food causes this.

The problem with the dream is that there are no STAKES and no TENSION. There were no negative stakes in terms of a bad consequence if I was late. And there were no positive stakes in terms of whoo, getting to meet the band! As you're putting together your plot always keep the stakes in mind. What's the bad thing that could happen? What's the good thing? And the closer you get to fulfilling or frustrating those stakes, the more tension there is. In my dream, not only were there no consequences to being late, but it was always about ten minutes to two, a very boring time indeed. No tension.

Another reason to keep an eye on the stakes is that it's one of the first thing that people who read scripts as part of their jobs are taught to look for. When I worked on sitcoms, at which executives give their notes right after the table read, this was by far the most common note: give us bigger stakes.

It is also a common request of vampire slayers.

Lunch: salad bar

Jane on 06.01.07 @ 11:57 AM PST [link]


Get Blog Updates Via Email

Enter your Email

Preview | Powered by FeedBlitz


Walt Disney Writing Fellowship Program
UC Berkeley
Jane recommends you also visit BobHarris.com



June 2007

Valid XHTML 1.0!

Powered By Greymatter
Greymatter Forums

Home | News | Works | Biography | Frequently Asked Questions

Site design Copyright © PM Carlson
This is a fan site owned and operated entirely by PM Carlson with the cooperation and assistance of Jane Espenson. This site is not affiliated in any way with Mutant Enemy, 20th Century Fox or ABC.