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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

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Thursday, November 30th
Leveling With You

When I was in school, pretending to learn things about Cognitive Science, we spent some time talking about "basic level" concepts. "Furniture" is superordinate. "Coffee table" is subordinate. "Table" is basic level. It's not an arbitrary division, by the way. The basic level is that level of categorization that meshes with human experience in such a way that it intuitively has a special status. Basic level items are generally given short, simple names, for example, because they're so central to human experience that they need easy-to-grip handles. Shoe, chair, dog, bird, cloud... these are all "basic level" concepts.

So what does this have to do with comedy writing? Well, the basic level isn't funny. There. I said it. Deal with it, basic level.

Remember Spinal Tap? Remember what "St. Hubbins" was the patron saint of? "Quality footwear," that's right. Not shoes. Superordinate. And, at the other end of the very same spectrum, remember this Buffy line? "I'm not exactly quaking in my stylish yet affordable boots"? Subordinate. The too-general is funny. The too-specific is funny. But, sorry, Goldilocks, just right is not funny.

This can provide you with a quick and easy shortcut to humor, even if you're not terribly comfortable with joke-writing. And remember to dig around at both ends of the spectrum.

Lunch: a burrito

Jane on 11.30.06 @ 12:23 AM PST [link]

Tuesday, November 28th
Why John Lennon Remains Interesting

Imagine you're faced with writing a scene in which a character needs to be, say, resentful. (Or bored. Or very tired. But let's go with resentful for now.) You might well be concerned that the scene will be weighed down with a sullen, quiet, humorless presence, unlikely to engage the other characters. This could well be true, unless you realize that "resentful" tells you how the character *feels* but it doesn't limit you in terms of how the character *acts on* how he feels. Instead of making the resentment manifest itself in uncommunicative grunts, you might end up with a more active, more fun scene if the character adopts an attitude of forced joviality to hide his resentment. Or maybe he starts spouting flippant sarcastic jokes that attack his enemies while he hides behind the wall of "I'm only joking". Or perhaps he misdirects his resentment in the form of cruelty toward an innocent third party. All of these are a heck of a lot more interesting than slouching and grumbling.

It's really worth taking some time, as you're mapping out a scene, to think not just about the emotion, but about how it manifests. Anger can emerge as humor. Self-doubt as clinging affection. Fear as overblown bravado. Boredom? Well, we all know that's often expressed with minor random destructiveness. And tired doesn't have to mean sleepy, it can mean jittery and punchy -- so much more fun!

The scene is almost always much more interesting when these more varied expressions of emotion are present. You can pick a reaction that makes the character more active, for one thing, and for another, the character is made more complex. Also, the characters around him are forced to be more intuitive, and even story possibilities open up, since there are now hidden motivations, and possible moments of quiet revelation and other interesting things.

Maybe there's something deep here about what makes some people interesting to us in real life: not that they *feel* anything any differently than other people, but that they just *wear* their feelings in ways that surprise us and challenge us?

Lunch: Again with the Vietnamese food. A pork sandwich on toasted French bread.

Jane on 11.28.06 @ 06:05 PM PST [link]

Monday, November 27th
Punching People With Words

So, tonight, I stumbled upon a rerun episode of "Scrubs" on Comedy Central while waiting for The Daily Show to start. And I saw a lovely example of a neat trick that can be a real help when you're writing a spec script. It's the ol' unanswered question trick. And it's based on the notion that you don't need to explicitly give the audience any information that they can figure out on their own, because audiences like to figure things out. And, even more importantly, that they secretly like to be kept waiting.

It's such a simple trick. If the story's been building up to a big question like "Are you leaving me?," "Will you marry me?," or "Are you a vampire?," you can have a character finally get up the nerve to ask it, and while the audience is waiting, breath all bated, pulse all poundy, you cut away to some B-story scene. Then come back to the character who asked the question, behaving in a way that tells you what the answer was: they're crying, dancing, or lying bloodless in an alley. There's something totally compelling about never having to hear the actual answer. This is *even though* it seems as though you're violating one of the basic principals of screenwriting by moving a big moment off-screen.

The truth, is, of course, that the big moment, in this case, is not the action, but the reaction. And it's made all the more powerful because we join it in progress, and because we aren't given it when we're braced for it, but somewhat later. It's like that trick where someone pretends to punch another person, then pulls the punch, and then sucker-punches 'em real fast as soon as they relax. Neat, huh?

Lunch: Tamales at "Mexicali." Get this, they were totally over-salted. That never happens. Weird.

Jane on 11.27.06 @ 08:38 PM PST [link]

Sunday, November 26th

Hello, Gentle Readers! I've been shamefully absent recently, as a fierce writing schedule and the holiday left me unable to blog. But I have returned. And I've got a good one for you today.

I was talking with a producer of feature films the other day who was raving about a script she had just read. She commented, with some surprise, on the fact that she wasn't just enjoying the movie that the script could become, but that she was actually enjoying the script in and of itself. Scripts, she pointed out, aren't usually the most satisfying form of written literature.

But they can be. A spec script is the only kind of script in the whole world that is ultimately intended for a READER, not a VIEWER. If you can make it read like a short story, with a sense of flow, of narrative verve, you're going to positively delight your readers. One way to do this is to try to give the script a sense of a conventional flow of sentences, allowing them to bridge over the different tiny units that make up a script. Here's what I'm talking about. Let's suppose you're writing the last action line in a scene. Try adding a little bridge into the next scene. Like this. (Keep in mind that these entries aren't good at depicting script format.)


She closes the book, looking troubled. And then suddenly we're in...



See how that worked? You can also do something similar to lead from action into dialogue. Like this:

Davis SMACKS the club into his hand as he says:

You're a very unlucky man


Another good place to do this kind of thing could be at the end of an act:

And before we're even sure what we're seeing, we:



You can still obey all the conventions of script writing, while sort of laying standard sentence structures on top to produce sentences that would almost read uninterrupted if all the choppy script formatting stuff were taken away.

You don't have to do this all the time. You don't want the script to read as if you're so new to the script form that you're simply over-elaborating. Just throw this technique in here and there to give the script some readability.

For some reason, this technique also seems to convey confidence. There's something about it that suggests the writer is loose and relaxed. That also will impress a reader. Which is a very good thing.

Lunch: A piece of homemade pumpkin pie. Mmmm.

Jane on 11.26.06 @ 11:52 AM PST [link]

Monday, November 20th
Muddy Mouthprints

Speaking of "Band Candy"... we were, right? Speaking of "Band Candy," there's a line in that script that illustrates a tricky little mistake that you can avoid if you're careful. I was writing a line about how the strange occurrences around town had the "Hellmouth's fingerprints all over them," when I realized that the line was nonsensical in an interesting way... the fingerprints of a mouth? Wouldn't those be "mouthprints"? So I threw in some line with the word "mouthprint" in it -- not as a real joke, but just as a bit of whimsical wording.

The problem with the line is, of course, that in an episode filled with characters wrapping their lips around delicious melty chocolate bars, the word "mouthprint" SOUNDS LIKE it's related to that. Which it isn't. The result is confusion, muddiness.

Believe it or not, this situation comes up all the time. You have someone, quite incidentally, order a hamburger right next to a joke about how a man is devouring a girl with his eyes as if she were steak. A character makes a drug reference in a drug store. A character named "Mr. Fox" orders chicken, and you meant nothing by it. A joke about a "Southern Belle" occurs right before someone rings a bell.

The effect is similar to having one character call another one a "big baby" while an actual large baby is visible in the background of the scene. The audience is gonna try to connect the two things. They're going to get confused and distracted. Throw out the baby and the bathwater it rode in on.

So be really clear with yourself about which connections you want, and which you don't, and then be ruthless in making sure that you don't have any strange overlaps like this. Change the joke, change a name, move a scene to a different location. Clarity is your friend.

Lunch: More Vietnamese food! Pho and fizzy lemonade.

Jane on 11.20.06 @ 05:58 PM PST [link]

Sunday, November 19th
Taking a Header

Such a delightful letter just arrived from Alex in Texas! He tells me he watched my "Band Candy" episode of Buffy when he was eleven. Surely a typo. Eleven?! Is that even possible? I'll just be shuffling off to my hip replacement surgery now.

Anyway, Alex (who writes his letter in script format, hilariously), asks a number of good questions. I'm going to address one of them here. He has clearly followed my advice and procured himself a number of actual produced scripts, which has him wondering if his spec script should include the Cast List and Set List pages that you find in produced scripts. Nope. It should not. Just a title page and then into the script, please. If you're writing a spec pilot you will occasionally find someone who includes a page with an evocative quote to introduce the series, as you might include at the beginning of a novel, but I would tend to discourage this too. It smells pretentious to me.

The only thing non-standard that I might actually encourage is to include your last name as part of the header that runs across the top of every page. So it would look something like this:

Fabulous Girls - "Pilot" - Espenson [page #]

I suggest this just because you're writing specs to get your name out there, so why not give everyone the maximal chance to see your name?

Thanks for the letter, Alex! It made me laugh! Great work! I wish I had advice about agents, contests, etc, but all I can do is suggest persistence and research and wish you good luck! There must be someone out there with a lovely and complete list of spec script contests, but I'm afraid it isn't me. And the agent sitch -- well, I can only say I hope it opens up again soon, because getting agents to read new writers right now is difficult. And yet... every year I go to a new job, and there is usually a writer there who is reporting to their very first job. So it happens. It can happen for you.

Lunch: Vietnamese food -- rice noodles with pork and shrimp and that devastating sweet sauce. Fizzy lemonade.

Jane on 11.19.06 @ 01:28 PM PST [link]

Saturday, November 18th
Hot Bean Burrito Bottle!

Oh my. I have been busy. I've been on set, my friends, watching the shooting of Andy Barker, PI. Fun! Hanging out with Andy Richter? I'll say it again -- fun. This is going to be a great show, people.

And I picked up a neat tip. When it's very late and very cold, and they bring the hot foil-wrapped burritos around... get an extra one just to tuck against your belly under your coat. It's like a hot water bottle only with beans. Delightful!

By the way, those of you who live in Southern California, or who happen to find yourselves in an area where a show or movie is being shot, might enjoy doing a little work as an extra.

****CORRECTION: This is not an invite to be an extra on Andy Barker -- this is just a mention of the idea of extra-hood in general. Yikes -- I should, like, read these things before I post them, huh? *******

Before I got started writing, I signed up with an agency in San Francisco that supplied extras for movies shooting locally. You can completely not see me in "The Doors" for example. I'm also entirely not visible in a television movie about Patty Hearst. It's fun to get a bit of exposure to the filming process, if you haven't had a chance to see it in person before. And it might give you a bit of the sense of what it's like for the writer/producers, watching a scene as it's shot and trying to figure out, on the fly, how to make it work better.

Which brings me to this. You know that little moment in your script that sort of *bumps* you every time you read it, because there's something a little off about it, but the moment before it's so good and the moment after it's so good, and you can't really figure out another way to get from one to the other? Well, imagine watching it being filmed, watching that bumpy moment over and over again, watching actors trying to make it work, discussing it with the director... bleahh. Fix it now! Even though you're writing spec scripts, I think it's still helpful to imagine *every moment* of your script getting loving attention from a whole lot of professionals. At the very least, doing this can raise your subconscious concerns about your script to the conscious level, where you can fret about them!

Lunch: chicken meatballs, salad and steamed veggies, wheeled out onto the golf course where we were shooting. Fun!

Jane on 11.18.06 @ 05:49 PM PST [link]

/duplicate entry deleted/

Jane on 11.18.06 @ 05:48 PM PST [link]

Wednesday, November 15th
Bite three = more cheesecake! Bite four = too much cheesecake!

Having friends who are willing and able to give you notes on your scripts is a hugely valuable thing. Especially if they're good at it. But there is a certain note that you should be very careful of. The "more like this" note. Sometimes someone will say "I love it every time Character A insults Character B. Put in more of that." Or "All your action stuff is so great. I wish there was more."

It's really tempting, of course, to go chasing that praise and to add more of the thing they like. And sometimes it's a good idea. But lots of times, the reason they love the insults, or the action, or whatever, so much is because there's exactly the right amount of it.

It's like cheesecake. You don't know you've had enough until you've had too much.

This is one reason to keep some fresh eyes in your stable of friends-who-can-give-notes. If you've plumped up some part of the script in response to requests, the people who requested more aren't going to be likely to read the rewrite and say, "Oh. You were right. Now there's too much." They've got a bit of ego invested in the note now. So a fresh reader is going to be really helpful. "Gahh!" they may say, "Too much cheesecake!"

Lunch: a tuna sandwich from the gas station. It sounds bad, I know, but it's a really good gas station.

Jane on 11.15.06 @ 10:05 PM PST [link]

Tuesday, November 14th
A Clean, Well-Lighted Place is Totally Overrated

Hi all! I just got an interesting question in a letter from Lilia in Houston! She asks about my writing space: What's on my desk? And do I listen to music, eat, take breaks etc? Well, this is a fine opportunity to talk about how there's no magic formula.

My main laptop computer has died, so now I'm using my old back-up laptop, which doesn't have a wireless card. So I'm umbilically tethered to a dealy in the corner. I am now -- and always -- lying on my back on the floor in the corner of my living room, head propped up against an ottoman, computer on my raised knees, typing while I built a neat wall of blankets and candy wrappers around me. This, as you might guess, is not ideal. Ideally, I would be wireless, which would mean I could do exactly the same thing, but from over there, on the sofa. Notice that I do not have a desk at home. I like writing when it feels... I guess... like lolling on a bed, writing in a diary or something. Like doing something fun. Offices and desks feel like work. If I feel the urge to be really structured, I will go to the library and work there in the Reference Room, with the long tables and the hushed clicking of all other laptops. (I have a desk at work, of course, but I do the vast majority of my writing elsewhere, almost always at home.)

I take frequent breaks to trundle around on the internet or eat Doritos or watch an episode of The Office, but I never keep the TV or music on once I actually start typing. Voices distract me completely. Sometimes I write early in the morning, sometimes I stay up late writing... I have no real pattern.

So forget all that stuff about having to have a writing schedule, or the discipline to work for long stretches of time, or even about having a comfortable and well-ordered working environment. All you know about the people who make those statements is that *they* require those things. If you're happy writing on the bus, or writing everything in notebooks before you type it, or writing while blasting rockabilly on your ipod, or writing with small children rampaging around you... do it! If sitting at a desk looking at a neat row of sharpened pencils sets your teeth on edge, go slump in an armchair. Don't worry about your posture -- your mom's not there!

And, as long as I'm answering a question from a letter, I should let you all know that not every letter that I receive gets an answer here. This usually means that I don't know the answer, and can't begin to know how to address the question -- although I'm always delighted to have received the question. (I keep the letters I can't answer, by the way, in case I get some kind of insight later.) Sometimes I don't know the answer because the question is about a topic I've never given enough thought to, and sometimes it's because the question is beyond the scope of the blog. I try to limit myself to topics that relate to the writing of spec scripts. So bigger questions about getting agents, finding contests, finding work... these are simply things I don't feel qualified to answer other than pointing at my own past and squeaking helpfully that the Disney (ABC) Writing Fellowship got me started. My expertise, I'm not afraid to tell you, ends at the edge of the page.

So keep writing to me... and if you don't see an answer appear here -- well, I guess it's kind of like winning "stump the band."

Lunch: a BLT on toasted rye and a lemonade at Bob's Big Boy. I don't think rye is the traditional bread for a BLT, but it was very nice together.

Jane on 11.14.06 @ 08:10 PM PST [link]

Sunday, November 12th
Fun? Really? Oh, yeah...

Yowza! ANOTHER "I wish I'd written that" situation. This time, it comes from Friend-of-the-Blog Maggie, who posts this wonderful entry about jumpstarting the creative process. This list is so good I'm going to go do all of these things at once -- you'll find me asleep on a train. Seriously, check it out.

And while you're there, look at some other entries too. Maggie does a great job of reminding us (well, me, certainly) that the writing process is *fun*, that there's a reason we have picked this. This is a staggeringly important thing to keep in mind.

And it brings me to something else. I've been banging my head against a certain scene in my pilot. It was just too long, featured incidental characters whom we aren't really invested in, and was so packed full of pipe that it simply couldn't get much shorter. And of course, attempting to shorten it just meant that I took out all the jokes and character moments, which made all the pipe that much pipier... oh, it was awful. And suddenly, yesterday... brainstorm. The scene disappeared. The same information is now delivered by some of our regular characters in a fast-moving series of intercuts between two separate scenes about emotional manipulation, instead of just about information-imparting. Ahhh. That feels better.

Whenever a scene fights you to that extent, when it simply refuses to get written, take a step back and make sure there isn't something you can do to get rid of the scene. EVERY scene should have a reason to exist beyond moving the story. And once you find that reason, it won't just be easier to write -- it'll be fun to write.

Lunch: Leftovers from a delightful meal I called in from Acapulco (the chain restaurant) last night... enchiladas and beans and rice. Mm.
Jane on 11.12.06 @ 12:19 PM PST [link]

Saturday, November 11th
Spoiler warning: The Office

Okay. So now I look a bit silly. I posted an entry, not too long ago, about how it would be shmuck-baity, and therefore bad, to write a spec episode of The Office in which the threat was the closure of the Scranton branch. I made this claim, I believe, on the basis that "taint gonna happen." And yet, and yet... that was the initial threat in the last episode of the show itself.

This leaves me with two points to make in my own defense:

1. This particular threat was actually removed fairly early in the episode, as the story moved on to what it was really about, which was, as it should be, the characters. The A-story was about Michael's genuine loyalty to his team, which totally trumped his douchiness in this episode. And the B-story was about whether or not Jim and Pam would be re-united.


2. As I have also pointed out recently, the writers of a show can do things that the writer of a spec cannot. This was one of those episodes that shakes up a show, that changes the status quo. This is a very difficult, and generally discouraged, thing to attempt in a spec of an existing show.

So now I'm only feeling a little bit silly. And totally psyched about Jim and Pam.

Lunch: two hard-boiled eggs, cheese and crackers

Jane on 11.11.06 @ 10:22 PM PST [link]

Thursday, November 9th
The Worst Advice So Far!

So I'm finally watching the pilot of "Friday Night Lights." Fantastic. There's some lovely writing in there. There's a lot of that thing where you're being forced to make inferences about who people are and how they're connected without ever being told anything overt, and there's just enough info so you can get a handle on it without it ever feeling engineered. And overlapping dialogue, I'm always such a sucker for that and never feel like I use it enough. And strong regional voices and funny moments that never feel jokey. I finally had to turn it off. I'll go back to it later, but right now it's beating up my self-esteem. Sometimes watching something really good is inspiring. Sometimes it's paralytic, because you end up staring at your own words and muttering, "Why aren't you better?"

So, reasoning from this experience, you know what you might find fun and inspirational? Read something bad. Something really bad. It doesn't have to be in script format -- in fact it's likely not to be. Look for something abominable -- there's loads of it on the web. Read someone's first try at Simon and Simon fanfic or whatever. Find something really bad and truly roll around it in.

What you're going to notice are all the things that you do really well. The things you do so well that you don't even think about them anymore. The mistakes you don't make -- totally on-the-nose dialog, stories with no events in them, characters who are clearly awkward stand-ins for the author of the story. If you're writing spec scripts, you aren't sitting at a keyboard for the first time, pushing the notion of fiction around in your brain like an interesting new insect. You've either learned, or have always instinctively known, things about writing that others don't (yet) have access to. It can be very encouraging to remind yourself of all the things you know, all the weapons you have in your arsenal, to look back at the road you've traveled to get here.

By the way, it's possible this is terrible advice. Most teachers point to the inspirational power of great works, not to the power of "at least I didn't write that." But sometimes terrible advice might be just what you need!

Lunch: fake veggie pork sausage and fake eggs. I need to buy some real food.

Jane on 11.09.06 @ 12:11 PM PST [link]

Tuesday, November 7th
Want = Pain

Let's suppose you're creating a lead character for your spec pilot. You know you want to give him something to want (a possession, a person, a goal, an accomplishment, a state of mind..). And you know you also want to give him some kind of vulnerability to make him lovable, and to make the audience worry about him.

Well, once you've given him that thing to want -- hey! -- you've got vulnerability built in! The fear of not getting it, of getting it and losing it, of not being worthy of it, of having it stolen, of realizing it's not a worthy goal, of realizing it doesn't exist, all these are really cool vulnerabilities. And, most importantly, you get to play with what the character has to endure or to risk to go after that thing that they want. Every desire brings vulnerability with it.

So when you're building that character, don't just think about the thing they want, but think about how wanting that thing makes them vulnerable. A great example of this is the main character in Ugly Betty. Betty wants a career in publishing, and to get it she's willing to put herself into a world where she's open to ridicule every day. Totally vulnerable, totally lovable. Come to think of it, it's the same formula that makes American Idol such a juggernaut: kids enduring insults and talent limitations in pursuit of a dream! The pain is part of the wanting. The pain IS the wanting.

Now, not every character is as transparent as Betty or Clay Aiken. What House wants is more complicated, since I don't think he knows what it is that he really wants (peace in the form of loving acceptance, I'd say, but I'm a big softie). But, anyway, the Betty model is a pretty darn useful one.

Lunch: chili with artichoke hearts topped with avocado

Jane on 11.07.06 @ 02:17 PM PST [link]

Monday, November 6th

Let's talk about act breaks again! Whee! I love this kind of analysis, don't you? It's amazing, all the little things that go into giving a show its own "feel."

I've talked before about how you want to break the act at the moment of maximum tension and danger. I love breaking an act in the middle of a scene. Someone has a gun (or a romantic ultimatum) to our hero's head and before she can do anything about it -- BAM -- there's a car commercial! The audience dives for their remote to skip the commercial, and rejoins the action where it left off, all shaky with concern.

However, some shows don't do this. There is an argument that breaking a scene in the middle gives the show a "soap opera" feel. Or that the audience feels manipulated. Or perhaps there's just a tradition that has evolved over the years of a show -- Gilmore Girls, for example, doesn't like to break an act this way, although I never heard a reason given. It simply didn't feel like the show. (Now that I really think about it, though, there may be a very good reason for not doing this on Gilmore Girls. The show is very much about the way things play out... the attenuation of awkward moments, the gradual realization, instead of the sudden chilling slam. To artificially punctuate those long scenes with an act break really might work against the mood of the show.)

If you're writing a spec of an existing show, this is another reason to study your produced example scripts and do whatever they do. If you're writing a spec pilot, you get to decide for yourself about the kinds of act breaks you want to write. Just make sure that you don't end an act on a moment of satisfied resolution. The scene can be over, but make sure the tension is still up in the air -- after all, someone can issue that romantic ultimatum and then exit, leaving our hero alone to contemplate it as we...


Lunch: fondue and broccoli at The Grove (big L.A. shopping destination -- I bought jackets.)

Jane on 11.06.06 @ 11:34 AM PST [link]

Saturday, November 4th
sdrawkcaB gnitirW

Remember that scene in that episode of Seinfeld where Jerry and George sat down to write their pilot? They started with the first scene and tried to figure out the first line... it was a disaster. This is not only because they had no idea and no outline and were fictional characters. It's also possible they were starting at the wrong end.

Often, there is a scene in a script that is the reason for the whole script to exist. And it's often toward the end. If you're having a hard time plotting out your spec, you might find it helpful to work on the story by stepping through it backwards from that crucial scene. What would have had to have happened right before it? And right before that?

It's harder to get off course when you're headed back to your home than when you're headed away from it. (By the way, I recommend getting one of those little GPS deals to have in your car. I got one for my birthday and I adore it. But that's really unrelated to script writing.)

Lunch: soy and flax chips and strawberry lemonade all from Trader Joe's. Theoretically healthy and very tasty!

Jane on 11.04.06 @ 09:56 PM PST [link]

Thursday, November 2nd
Giving with One Hand, Taking with the Same Hand

Hey, Gentle Readers, our little blog-shaped project here got a nice shout-out from Jacob, the amazing recapper at TelevisionWithoutPity who does the masterly job with Battlestar Galactica. Thanks for the mention, Jacob! I'm a fan!

In the same recap, Jacob uses the phrase: "Everything you want, in the worst possible way." This is an extremely important element of good storytelling, and I find myself surprised I haven't talked about it before. Giving the audience everything they want, while stabbing them in the eyes at the same time, isn't just a Battlestar trick, it was one of our storytelling staples at Buffy too, and it should be in your bag of tricks as well.

The classic Buffy example, of course, was giving Buffy and Angel their lovely moment of happiness. Everything the audience wanted! And then revealing that that very moment of happiness had condemned Angel to lose his precious soul. The worst possible way!

If you can find a way so that your spec culminates in a moment like this... it will be delicious. It works for (your more poignant flavors of) comedy, it works for drama... it adds a lovely angsty touch to any meal.

I'm trying to think of other effective examples I've seen: Sela Ward saves House's life (Wanted!) and loses his love and trust (Worst!). Pam doesn't marry Roy (Wanted!), but Jim's already gone (Worst!). Orpheus gets Eurydice (Wanted!), but he turns around too soon. (Worst!) Arrgh! It hurts so good!

To do this, set up a goal. Make sure it's clear that this goal trumps everything. Then figure out a way to fulfill that goal but at the cost of something else. Something vital. Something the gambler didn't even know they were putting out on the table.

It's the classic deal with the Devil, and you, the writer, get to be the Devil.

Have fun!

Lunch: turkey burger

Jane on 11.02.06 @ 11:16 PM PST [link]

Wednesday, November 1st
When Zeit Met Geist

Remember how I told you all once about how sometimes you will have the exact same idea for a script as someone else does, and that doesn't mean that someone stole it. Even if you totally told your writing class about it or whatever?

The title of last week's Ugly Betty: "The Lyin', the Watch and the Wardrobe." The title for one of our Jake in Progress episodes last season: "The Lying, The Watch and Jake's Wardrobe." Hee! So close and yet so clearly independently-arrived-at. If you've got both a watch and some clothing in an episode, it just kinda makes sense. And there's always lying, so that's just built in. Some ideas are just in the air.

And if you really think that someone took your idea for your spec script? Even then, you don't have to sweat, because you're gonna beat 'em on execution. No spec script wins a contest or an agent or a job based on the idea alone. Much more attention is given to whether or not you got the voices, the tone, all that other good stuff.

Lunch: chicken soft tacos from Del Taco. With Mr. Pibb. I have mistakenly identified this as Dr. Pepper in past posts, but Del Taco is actually only down with the Pibb.

Jane on 11.01.06 @ 12:24 PM PST [link]


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



November 2006

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