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


Monday, July 30th
Taking a Look at Your Appendix

I talk a lot about how important it is to learn from the examples provided by produced scripts. In fact, I think studying their structure is a much better way to learn structure than learning a bunch of rules is. It's like learning a language for the first time. No one ever shows a baby a list of rules and then asks them to produce grammatical sentences based on them. Instead, babies are given lots of example sentences and, when they make their own, they do so based on what they've heard. The rules don't predate the language, they're extracted from the language later.

However, there are a few things that are included in produced scripts that you won't want to put in your spec: cast lists and set lists, primarily. And, every now and then, you will come across a produced script with an appendix. This is almost always done in a very specific situation. Sometimes you will need, say, a news broadcast to run in the background under a scene, or a speech that rambles on behind your main characters as they talk. All of this dialogue needs to be written for the purposes of production, of course, even though it is not the main auditory focus of the scene. Often, it gets written out and attached to the back of the script as an appendix, or on pages labeled "additional dialogue." (By the way, writing stuff like this is a kind of secret joy for me, since it's a chance to be a writing chameleon, emulating newscaster-speak or politician-speak for paragraphs on end.)

You don't need to do this for a spec. Ever. You can simply indicate that the broadcast plays on, or the speaker drones on, without giving the content until perhaps a specific line catches a main character's attention. If the speech is important, of course, you can use dual dialogue to get it into the main body of the script, although this should be used sparingly.

Just like a real appendix, a script appendix just isn't that necessary, and should be cut out.

Lunch: chilled cucumber salad, Vietnamese summer rolls

Jane on 07.30.07 @ 04:48 PM PST [link]

Friday, July 27th

I used to work at a company that named things. It was a wonderful job. I'd show up for work and be told: "beer that tastes like vanilla! Go!" Or "anti-depressant!" Or "computer chip!" Or "laundry pre-soak agent!" And then I'd sit down and start making lists of names -- lists of hundred of names -- that would fit that product.

Often, the first step was to think metaphorically. You can't make a list of hundreds of names for a laundry detergent that just tell you literally that it eats grease. So do I and there's just not that much to say about it. So instead you think figuratively. The naming company owned hundreds of books on gems and sailing ships and animals and weather and planets, so that you could find the perfect abstract way to suggest that a car was fast, a drink was exhilarating, or a wipe was soothing.

I've written before about how I use this same method when I need to name a script. I often will try to come up with some concrete symbol for what's going on at the heart of the story. If it can relate to both the A and B stories, well, even better. "Harsh Light of Day," one of my Buffy episodes, did this, relating to the actual sunlight that was important in the action story, and, figuratively, to a cold realization that was important in the emotional story. My Battlestar episode "The Passage," was already named when I was assigned to it, I believe, but I love that title, since it relates literally to a specific hazardous mission and figuratively to a death that results from it.

Even if you can't find anything literal in the script that connects to the name, a figurative title can often still work, cutting right to the most important concept of the episode. My newest Battlestar episode title works in this way, but I don't think we're making those public yet. Let's imagine though, that you're writing an episode about regaining an old friendship. I'm not talking about calling it "Mending Fences," since that's so familiar that it's lost any charge as an actual evocative image. But you could call it "Vital Repairs," or something in that area.

The best thing about finding a title like this, if you can, is that it can actually improve the writing. I like to come up with a title before I write the episode. In fact, I like to come up with it before I write the outline. If I've really managed to come up with something that captures the vital core of the episode, there's nothing that can possibly help me more than to have a constant reminder of that. Every time I open or save the document, I see the name. If you do this, and you keep it in mind as you write, it can act like a handrail that'll keep you heading right down the middle of the story. Play around with it. Sometimes a literal title works best, or a figurative one feels labored, but finding a title that constantly reminds you of your main goal is precious.

Lunch: leftover chicken piccata from Maria's. Can't get enough. It's so lemony!

Jane on 07.27.07 @ 01:25 PM PST [link]

Thursday, July 26th
Clean Script, Clear Heart, Can't Lose

Nuts! Nuts and bolts! That is, I'm hoping, primarily what you're here for. Nuts-and-bolts advice about writing scripts. Stuff like this:

If you simply have to give a character a very long chunk of dialogue -- if there's simply no way to shorten it, try breaking it up with parentheticals and stage directions so that it doesn't sit on the page as one big block.

I mention the nutsy and bolty nature of this advice because I'm looking at a lot of blogmail here that I simply don't know how to answer. I'm afraid I can't get you Battlestar scripts or suggest what you can do to get your Battlestar specs to the Battlestar show runners or take your ideas for episodes to my bosses or any of the similar things that I know would be very helpful, but are simply, as we used to say in grad school, "beyond the scope of this work."

It's probably time to review the basic premise of the exercise that is getting work as a television writer. Again, my expertise is in the writing, not the getting hired, but here is what I've observed. There are two primary ways in. One is by getting recognition through a contest or a fellowship, or by doing well in film school, that kind of thing. Leading with your script and letting your body be pulled after. The other is by moving to Los Angeles and getting work as a production assistant, then a writers' assistant, and simply working your way into the writers' room where you can make friends who will read you. This is leading with your body and pulling the scripts behind you. Both ways require that you, at some point, get someone -- someone from the ABC/Disney Fellowship, a professor, a boss… someone to read your spec script.

That's really where my part starts. Not by reading your script. But by making sure that when you hand that script over to that someone - whether at the start or the end of the process - it's perfect. Clean, spare, elegant, confident, funny where it's supposed to be, mature and reflective of your sensibility. Sound fun? I think so!

Lunch: roast chicken, broccoli, corn

Jane on 07.26.07 @ 02:17 PM PST [link]

Monday, July 23rd
ABC/Disney Debriefing

On Friday night, Gentle Readers, I got a chance to sit down and chat with the current crop of ABC/Disney Fellows along with some of their execs and other Fellowship alums. Great people, great fun, and very interesting.

I can report that eight of the ten current television fellows have been placed onto writing staffs. That's enormous, particularly given the current trend toward smaller writings staffs. I'm extremely impressed at the job the people running the fellowship are doing, not just in training the Fellows, but also in acting as effective liaisons between the Fellows and the shows.

I can also report that a surprisingly large number of Fellows are comedy writers and have been placed onto comedy shows. Hmm. Maybe that pendulum is finally swinging.

Finally, I have a suggestion for those of you who submitted scripts to the program, hoping to be part of the next batch of Fellows. Be ready with a second script, Gentle Readers, in case they call and ask you for one. This happened to me when I got into the program. I was borderline, and they asked for another script. Apparently, this is still part of the procedure. So dig out your second-string scripts, everybody, and start getting them in shape!

Lunch: A "Cuban sandwich" and what I expected to be a piece of rum-soaked custard filled cake but which turned out to be a whole entire cake. Plus, I don't really like cake. It was ill-advised.

Jane on 07.23.07 @ 07:48 PM PST [link]

Saturday, July 21st
In Which I Become an Area of Expertise

Whoa. This humble blog has been praised by the amazing John Hodgman. Holy crap! I'm absolutely beside myself. If you follow this link, you'll be taken to his blog entry which then links back here. Theoretically, you might never get out of the loop, so bring an apple.

Please linger on his side of the looking glass while you're over there. Hodgman has a sense of humor that manages to be both dry and twisty (like uncooked ramen). I highly recommend his book "The Areas of My Expertise" and I consistently giggle with glee when he appears on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

In fact, there was a joke he made during his most recent Daily Show appearance that I've been wanting to discuss with all of you, Gentle Readers, and this is the perfect time. He was displaying a chart that purported to show an increase in the number of leprosy cases in the U.S. The joke went like this:

"As you can see, over the last seven years the average number of fingers per American hand has dropped off, while the number of fingers that have dropped off has risen dramatically."

Wow. That joke is so well constructed that I want to live in it during the rainy season.

Here's why it works. The phrase "dropped off" is one we use automatically when discussing charts. As a joke writer, you should immediately look for humor in the literal interpretation of any metaphorical language. In this case, the beautiful collision of the subject matter and the way we naturally talk about charts produced the joke. It's identical in this way to this joke from my Buffy episode, "Harsh Light of Day," in which Anya is trying to talk Xander into sleeping with her.

I think it's the secret to getting you out of my mind. Putting you behind me. Behind me figuratively. I'm thinking face-to-face for the event itself.

Often, you find this kind of joke as you're typing. You write the words "dropped off" or "behind me," and it suddenly hits you that those words, taken literally, are colliding with your subject matter in an interesting way. Your first impulse might be to change the wording to avoid muddying what you're talking about. But before you do, play around with it for a while and see if the ironic clash of language can be turned into a joke.

A close relative of this kind of joke, by the way, is this classic one from the Simpsons in which Bart finds himself in the audience for a performance he doesn't enjoy:

I didn't think it was physically possible, but this both sucks and blows.

The starting place, again, is taking figurative language and considering its literal meaning. My buddy John Hodgman and I recommend it. Hee!

Lunch: cup o' noodles, pie

Jane on 07.21.07 @ 01:54 PM PST [link]

Thursday, July 19th
Have Some More Clamonade

Clams! Fresh hot clams! Well, not all that fresh, actually. I have it on good authority that no fewer than three of the new pilots for Fall series use "That went well" as a punchline. Nooooo! Have I accomplished nothing?!

I also hereby call clam on these mollusks:

"I could tell you, but then I'd have to kill you."


(sing-song) "Awkward!"


"I said, 'good day, Sir!'"

Really, people, even in real life, don't use these! They're past their expiration date and they will make you ill. An excellent rule of thumb is "if you've read it, don't write it; if you've heard it, don't say it." Adapt it, sure. Or make fun of it if you want -- use it ironically. But don't expect a genuine laugh.

Notice that there are also dramatic dialogue clams, which aren't really clams, just overused lines. Usually these are lines that characters on screen say so often that they've become a sloppy shorthand for actual writing.

I'm talking about lines like "Don't make me do something I'll regret," "I guess my reputation precedes me," and "Did you really think it would be that easy to get rid of me?" They're dangerously easy to write because you've heard them before. There's nothing wrong with the sentiments, exactly, it's just that the words have become calcified into these empty shapes.

And just because wealthy characters are meeting at a high-toned party, it doesn't mean that they have to have the following exchange:

Jeffrey! Finally we meet! Audrey's told us so much about you!

Ha Ha. Only good things, I hope.


Note that the "I said 'good day!'" clam I list above was very funny the first time it was used (Seinfeld, I believe), because it was actually functioning as a parody of dramatic lines like these. Now, it's entering its double clamage as it is itself growing hoary within its own function as a parody. Haven't heard it? Keep your ears open. I have a feeling it's not done with us yet.

So be careful, as these lines have a nasty tendency to type themselves when you're not looking.

Lunch: fajitas, made with surprisingly excellent steak

Jane on 07.19.07 @ 05:19 PM PST [link]

Wednesday, July 18th
Stumbling Toward Greatness

Gentle Reader Dan in Philadelphia writes in with an excellent question (two of them, actually, but we'll just tackle one of them today). Dan asks:

"How do you write dialogue for a stuttering mumbling character, such as Matt Saracen from Friday Night Lights? Do you write all the pauses and repeats or do you indicate it in parenthesis?

(stumbling over his words)
I don't want you to go.

Does it change if you are writing for a character who always stumbles as opposed to a character who's just doing it once?"

Ooh. I love this kind of nuts-and-bolts question. Thank you, Dan!

This is, in fact, a rare instance in which I would suggest that a spec script should look somewhat different than a script that's been written by the show's actual writing staff. I bet you anything that Matt's lines in produced scripts are written without any repeats or stumbles. But your task isn't to supply words to an actor. Your task, as the writer of a spec, is to demonstrate that you can capture a character's voice. That voice, in this case, involves false starts and backtracks.

So I'd put 'em in, but lightly. If you put in as many of these as the actor does, I think it would get cumbersome and tiring to read. (And I probably wouldn't write in literal stutters of this t-t-t-type.) But lay some verbal effects in lightly, here and there, especially when the character is stressed. If you want to call attention to it in a specific spot in the story, I wouldn't do it with a parenthetical, but with a stage direction that calls attention to what you're already doing with the dialogue. For example:

Matt's nerves make his normal stumbling speech even more obvious, as he finally raises his eyes and looks at Julie:

I... I don't-- I don't want you to go.

And as to whether it makes a difference whether a stutter is habitual with a character or a one-time thing, absolutely! If a character is normally a smooth-talker, and you've got them stumbling, you've got even more free reign to write in the curlicues when they happen:

But-- I mean-- Wasn't-- Isn't the patient... with... you?

Using false starts and hesitations like this is a great way to convey emotion. Nervousness, agitation, gradually dawning awareness... you can get them across very elegantly this way. You're really letting the reader use their imaginary ears to "hear" your script, which is the point of the exercise. If you relegate the hesitations to a parenthetical, you don't get this effect at all.

Writing realistic speech of this kind is one of my favorite things. Give it a try and notice how your script starts to have a sound.

Lunch: veggie sandwich. How can avocados be vegetables? They're so good.

Jane on 07.18.07 @ 12:56 PM PST [link]

Tuesday, July 17th
Someone Put Shorts on the Internet!

I knew it would happen. I don't like it, but I knew it would happen. Andy in Los Angeles writes to let me know that he attended a recent "breaking in" seminar at the Writers' Guild and that agents and execs there said that Internet short films were becoming popular samples in place of spec scripts.

Andy directs me to his short, which is excellent, so I'm going to direct you to it, too, Gentle Readers. It's called "24: The Interns" and you can find it at "funnyordie.com". Those of you contemplating this option should check it out. The bar is set pretty high.

You can probably already guess why this is a trend that I dread, since I've already nosed around the edge of this topic in a previous post. In my opinion, watching a finished product like this makes it hard for me to tease out the contribution made by the script. It also can be so easily derailed by poor acting, editing or cinematography.

If this appeals to you anyway, give it a try if you have the resources; film school students, go for it. But please don't panic if you don't. I still believe that the best way to tell if someone can write a script is to read their scripts, and I suspect most show runners ultimately feel the same way. If you're an introvert like me, most happy in a quiet room with your fingers on a keyboard, there is still plenty of room for you in the spec-script-writin' game.

Lunch: Cup o' Noodles (try the Salsa Picante Chicken flavor.) I buy mine from the little corner store here on the Universal Studios lot. They've got the bar code scanner set wrong so that every time I buy it, the computer says it costs over forty-nine thousand dollars. But so far they have never actually demanded the money.

Jane on 07.17.07 @ 12:37 PM PST [link]

Saturday, July 14th
The Brothers, Coming Through

There's another good option in town, Gentle Readers! I'm hearing good things, from several sources, about the new configuration of the
Warner Bros. Television Writers Workshop. I used to hesitate to recommend this program since it charged money from its participants, but check out the details now - the only cost seems to be the application fee. Well, that just became much more appealing, didn't it? The deadline is coming up: August 15, so you've got a little time to scrape together an application and I recommend that you do so.

They require at least one spec script "based on a primetime network or cable comedy [or drama] series that aired new episodes during the 2006 - 2007 television season". They also allow you to submit multiple samples and to submit both comedies and dramas. Nice. (By the way, note that, according to that description, a show like The Sopranos, which was ineligible for ABC/Disney, is still kosher for WB.)

The obvious question has already been asked of me, by the way. Amanda in Ithaca wants to know if she can submit the same script to Warner Bros. that she already submitted to ABC/Disney. Well, I hate to go on the record with this in case I'm wrong, but I don't see anything in the rules of either program to disallow this or that would make a submission or an acceptance to either program a disqualifying factor for the other program. If it was me, I would probably use the same script -- whatever I feel is my strongest sample.

The Warner Bros. program is, clearly, more limited than the ABC/Disney Fellowship. It's shorter in duration, in intensity, and it doesn't provide a stipend. But it still can provide experience, contacts and bragging rights.

So get to work! Even if you're going to regift your ABC script, that extra time should be used to polish, tinker and tweak! The nice thing about perfection is that you never quite get there.

Lunch: left over Chicken Piccata from Maria's

Jane on 07.14.07 @ 02:03 PM PST [link]

Friday, July 13th
Can You Find the Hidden Star Trek Reference in This Post?

Adam in West Hollywood has a good question for the blog. He wants to know if his portfolio of sample scripts should be designed to show focus, or diversity. In other words, should you write a bunch of the thing you're most drawn to, or should you spread the love around with a comedy script, a drama script, an action script, etc?

Well, I'm a huge fan of infinite diversity in all its infinite combinations. My personal recommendation would be to write everything, and then let an agent or manager provide input on how they can best market you -- if they know of a demand for action writers, they'll be able to steer you in that direction.

Flexibility is a plus. For example, you might really feel you were born to write multi-camera comedy. But there's so little of that right now that you'd find your options pretty limited if you only wrote that. So try new things. You might just discover new talents, too. I was startled to find I could write scenes that were interesting despite being jokeless. If I hadn't been pushed to try something new, I might never have known.

However, remember that passion for what you're writing is part of what makes it good. If you hate romantic comedies or action movies or low-brow comedies, you probably won't be successful writing them. Since most of us probably watch and enjoy a whole range of different kinds of shows or movies, even someone with a pretty fierce dislike of a specific tone or genre can probably still find a pretty big stretch of the buffet to get their fingers into.

Lunch: tangerine, donut

P.S. Adam also asks a Buffy-related question about Xander. Sorry, Adam, I don't have an answer for that one!

Jane on 07.13.07 @ 11:09 AM PST [link]

Wednesday, July 11th
Setting the Setting on your Scene Setting

When you're actually at the point of converting your detailed outline into a script, you will be faced by choices you'd probably never considered. For example, which of these do you prefer?

Joe joins Adam, who is waiting impatiently for him at a table.


It's rush hour and there are two or three CLERKS behind the counter, maybe a half-dozen CUSTOMERS in line, waiting more or less patiently. Joe enters and moves through the crowd to join Adam who's waiting for him at a table.


We're close on a BELL. It JANGLES wildly.

Shows that the bell was fixed to the door of...

...Where Joe, who has just entered, lets the door fall closed behind him. He makes his way through the madding crowd to Adam, who's already waiting for him at a table.

Notice that these aren't just about different degrees of granularity of description. There's information in option one that isn't in two or three, and info in two that isn't in the other ones, etc. And, believe it or not, none of these is strictly preferable. It's just a matter of what you need to emphasize to the reader. If the meat of the scene is in the emotional conversation, go with option one. If you're trying to convey a stylish tone, use option three. If that line of customers is going to be important, use option two.

Chances are, you'll instinctively write this stuff so that it serves your purpose. Just remember that there are options and that they're there to serve your script, not to tie you down.

Lunch: Lamb, potatoes, Caesar salad, cucumber salad, date bar

Jane on 07.11.07 @ 03:53 PM PST [link]

Sunday, July 8th
Holding the Reader's Hand

We all know how important act breaks are, right? The dramatic moments at the end of acts are not just there as little tricks to make the audience return after the commercials, they legitimately turn the story in a new direction.

When you're writing an act break, don't just think about the last action that happens, or the last line of dialogue. Think hard about the last words that appear on the script page right before "END OF ACT WHATEVER." You should use these words to help the reader know exactly where they're supposed to be mentally, what they're supposed to focus on.

For example, let's imagine that a character has just swept out of the room, leaving another character there alone. You could just say that, start typing "END OF...," and trust that any attentive reader will know all that is implied by that action. Or, you can nail it down with something like:

Harriet stares after John, hoping his anger isn't about to get them both into deeper trouble.

Sure, an attentive reader knows that's what she's hoping, but you never can be sure exactly how attentive your reader is. A little check-in sentence like this makes sure everyone is following along.

It also has a novelistic feel, telegraphing what's about to happen in a way that prose writers get to do a lot, but that's more limited in the stripped-down world of script-writing.

Be careful not to try to sneak stuff into this sentence that a reader couldn't actually know, of course, but if this is done right it can be very helpful in letting a reader know they're reacting as you intend them to react.

Lunch: some kind of scramble at a Canadian Denny's. It was something like the "Homestead Scramble" or the "Heartland Scramble." Nine letters, started with 'h' and ended with pancakes.

Jane on 07.08.07 @ 06:22 PM PST [link]

Thursday, July 5th
Why No Murphy Brown? Did I Really Not Have a Murphy Brown?

Greetings from Vancouver. Ever since I've arrived, I've noticed a fair number of people walking tiny Yorkie pups. Cute as heck. Vancouver, I re-christen thee New Yorkie City.

I was walking along today, trying to avoid stepping on puppies, and thinking about productivity. I was wondering how many specs I should be expecting all of you aspiring writers to produce in a year. Here is how I reconstruct my own spec-writing years:

In the two years leading up to the Disney Fellowship, I wrote three Star Trek: The Next Generations and a Northern Exposure and two Seinfelds.

During my year in the fellowship, I wrote a Coach, a Larry Sanders, a Roseanne and a Frasier.

After that, I starting having produced samples, so I had less need of new specs, especially since my spec Roseanne was still doing well for me, but I added a spec Friends and an NYPD Blue.

Now, in the current climate, you're being encouraged to write original pieces rather than specs for existing shows. Those take longer, since you have to do all the work of creating the world and the people in it. So let's say, hmm, if I was writing four specs a year, you need only aim at writing three. (Although I think you can do better.)

I've always said that one of the advantages of writing a spec, compared to writing a script while employed for a show, is that you can take all the time you need to get it perfect. This doesn't mean that it has to take a lot of time to get it perfect! Break your story carefully, write it with confidence, polish it, get notes from others, rewrite it, then start on another one. You can always go back later and reread the first one again and take another pass at it, but your goal should be to have a variety of completed scripts that you are proud of, and ready to hand over at a moment's notice. You never know when that golden opportunity will arrive in the form of a person with a script-shaped hole in their needs. Be ready.

Lunch: catering truck lunch from the Vancouver sets of Battlestar Galatica. Tamale pie with tortillas and homemade salsas and sweet-potato fries and ketchup-flavored potato chips. Perfect.

Jane on 07.05.07 @ 10:14 PM PST [link]

Wednesday, July 4th
Viva Bautista

Though Friend-of-the-blog Kate, I have received this very good question from Gentle Reader Katie in Los Angeles. She says:

"I've been working on a Dexter spec. I came up with a b-story that I really like, that is thematically linked with Dexter's a-story in a lovely, subtle way. The problem is that the b-story focuses on Det. Angel Bautista, who is sort of a third-tier character on the show. My instinct was to give the b-story to Dexter's sister Deb or Sergeant Doakes because they are more prominent on the show. However, the story is working so well I hesitate to throw it out for purely analytical reasons. What do you think are the possible benefits/pitfalls to featuring prominently a character that usually plays more of a supporting role on the show?"

Well, the pitfall is obvious: the person who ends up reading the script might not know the character. I recommend that you beef up the stage directions when the character first appears, to remind readers who it is you're talking about. That should do it.

And, as if the teeny pitfall wasn't enough encouragement, there is also a large benefit to what you're doing, Katie. Bringing a background character to the foreground can be a really good way of making your spec different from others in the stack, and, more importantly, of demonstrating the skill of character-deepening, which is highly valued. In fact, I know a show runner who made it his policy to focus his spec scripts, back when he needed them, on under-utilized characters on purpose, in order to demonstrate this exact skill.

It's easy to fall back on what we've seen established characters do before. Sometimes you might be patting yourself on the back for having "nailed" a character, when all you've done is recreate something they've already done. If you can give them new "colors," new behaviors, attitudes, actions that we haven't seen before but that seem right given what we have seen, you've done something really important that provides a good indication of what you'd be able to do on a writing staff. Good work.

Lunch: spaghetti with vegetarian chili on top

Jane on 07.04.07 @ 01:03 PM PST [link]

Tuesday, July 3rd
Then Again, It Might Mean "Summerian Frost"

I have in hand a wonderful letter from Gentle Reader Branko in Croatia. Thank you, Branko! He reports that since he last wrote, he has broken into the ranks of working television writers with a gig writing teleplays for the Croatian sitcom Cimmer Fraj. Whoo! That's about the coolest thing I've ever heard of. By the way, I've tried in vain to obtain a translation of "Cimmer Fraj". Nothin'. Perhaps it's a proper name? It looks like it might mean "Stawberry Summer," but I suspect I'm wrong.

Branko points out that non-US citizens aren't eligible for the ABC/Disney Fellowship. Oh -- I hadn't even realized that. That's unfortunate. But he suggests an interesting alternative as a way into the business: radio plays. Interesting. Branko, tell us more!

"BBC is a huge monster that requires constant feeding with scripts. Radio 3, Radio 4 and Radio 7 produce a significant number of radio plays. While it's not an enormous leap in the right direction it's still a step. It's a nice way to tell an exec -- 'yup, I can write good dialogue. Or at least folks at the BBC think so.' You'll notice a spark in her eyes. When you're an unproduced writer, BBC sounds damn good. Almost as good as BBQ."

Ha! That's a pretty good joke, especially for someone who doesn't speak English as a first language. So, those of you who live in places where the BBC is more accessible than ABC should definitely look into this option.

Lunch: The Battlestar staff took a trip off-campus to a Mexican restaurant for chips and salsa and guacamole and margaritas. Wonderful.

Jane on 07.03.07 @ 03:04 PM PST [link]

Monday, July 2nd
Listing Your House with Entry 21

You might have seen this list before, but they keep adding onto it, so it's worth looking at it again periodically. Also, it will probably make you laugh, and possibly make you blush with recognition. (I know I did.) This is, of course, the list maintained by Strange Horizons, an online speculative fiction magazine: Stories We've Seen Too Often

Notice that while lots of the entries are specific to speculative fiction (which I still informally call sci-fi), others apply across genre. Also, most of them can be applied to scripts as easily as they can to prose fiction.

The authors of the list are careful to point out that some of the entries actually apply to famously successful stories, or that they could work if executed with extreme skill, or that they might work well if they weren't the only point of the story. It's with this in mind that I point out their entry 21:

21. Person A tells a story to person B (or to a room full of people) about person C.

--1. In the end, it turns out that person B is really person C (or from the same organization).
--2. In the end, it turns out that person A is really person C (or has the same goals).
--3. In the end, there's some other ironic but predictable twist that would cast the whole story in a different light if the reader hadn't guessed the ending early on.

Recognize this? It's "Three Stories," that episode of House that I adore. In one of the best hours of television ever, House (person A) tells a room full of people (B) about person C, who turns out to be House himself. Entry 21! Entry 21! Run away!

So why does it work? First off, care is taken to make sure that the audience doesn't get ahead of the story. House talks about more than one patient, which keeps us from anticipating the reveal. Also, the reveal is neither the end of the episode nor the point of the episode. The device is merely an entertaining way into a story about House's past that could have been told without it. In other words, it fits Entry 21, but avoids all the pitfalls that earned Entry 21 a place on the list.

So don't read this as a list of "bad stories." Rather, I'd call them, um, tempting stories. There's a reason these stories have such appeal to authors that they find themselves drawn to them over and over. These stories probably say something deep about our psyches. Certainly, taken together, they seem to speak to our need to use writing to work through our personal frustrations. The trick is to separate yourself from other writers by going deeper, probably by telling stories that aren't on the list, but, just possibly by taking one that is here and saying something new and special with it, like a good chef revitalizing an overused ingredient. (Personally, entries 23 and 30 don't smell too bad to me.)

Don't get me wrong. It's best to avoid these, even if only because your reader might have read the list, but as always, if you simply know you've got something brilliant, trust that before you trust any rule.

Lunch: "Spaghetti Fresca" called in to the studio from a local restaurant... loaded with fresh cherry tomatoes and spinach. I tried to get it served with an actual Fresca, but it didn't happen.

Jane on 07.02.07 @ 02:23 PM PST [link]

Sunday, July 1st
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.

Jane on 07.01.07 @ 11:05 PM 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



July 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.