Step 3: Become better sinner

The more books on TV writing I read, the more I become convinced that if you've read Alex Epstein's Crafty TV Writing and all of Jane Espenson's blog, you're golden.

But someone sent me a free copy of Ellen Sandler's The TV Writer's Workbook, so as a way of procrastinating and still accomplishing something (if you're accomplishing something, is it still procrastinating?) I started to give it a read. So far I've learned three valuable lessons.

1. I suck at workbooks.

Really. I'm good at reading. But when I get to the end of the chapter and they want you to do exercises, I'm all like, sure I'll do exercises, just after I peek into the next chapter to see what's going on there. Ten pages later, I figure the exercise from way back in chapter two can wait.

Which answers my question from two graphs ago. It definitely is procrastination.

2. Without theme, I'm nothing.

One of Sandler's exercises that I did attempt involved writing an episode premise line. Nothing new there. Still, in writing a fresh premise line for my struggling Bones spec, I realized my so-called theme was like microwaved marshmallows. Sweet, but no substance. That little premise line re-focused my mind and this morning's rewriting was a smashing success. For the first time, my Bones is starting to read like their Bones. And not the crappy Bones that pop up every once in a while. The really good ones.

3. I need to sin more

Sandler can come up with a whole page of purely glutinous acts in which she has actively engaged. Wait, that should be pure acts of gluttony. I wasn't trying to invoke Elmer's White Glue - which, incidentally, some sinful kids used to eat in school. Not me. Might have sniffed it a little, but that's it. Never was a sinner. Not even in grade two. Though there was that adorable Mark Sutherland who sparked a few lustful thoughts... couldn't help that. Mark said he liked my red hair. He was much more interesting than arithmetic.

Holy bats on ponies, where was I?

Oh yeah. Sandler and Sin.

Must become a lusty, wrathful, proud, envious, greedy, gluttony-filled, sloth-like creature. Bad for friendships. Great for my art.

So there you have it, folks. Three salient ways to improve my writing, in just six chapters. Thanks, Ellen.

Strike notes
I walked the line at Universal on Friday. It was fan day, but I'm pretty sure the only fans there were BSG nuts (I love the show, but not the way those guys love the show). I felt a little sad for the CSI, Friday Night Lights, and Law and Order people - their gates were all underpopulated and a bit lonely. I was feeling a bit lonely that day, too. Some days I'm a great meet-and-make-small-talk-er. Some days, like Friday, I'm just rubbish at it. I really could have used a strike buddy.

I only spent a couple of hours there and now I feel even more sorry for the writers. Walking up and back in an endless loop, waving at honking Prii (the plural of Prius, natch), and chanting "Union power!" is not nearly as exciting as it sounds, and I'm well aware that it sounds dead boring to begin with.

Managed to have a few little chats with Jane Espenson, who is obviously as lovely a human being as her blog would indicate. We mostly talked about House, and all the TV we'd watch if the strike goes on so long that I run out of new episodes of old favorites and she finds herself with time on her hands. On our mutual to-watch list: Six Feet Under, The Wire, and um, something else, I'm sure.

I also met a guy who won an Emmy in the early nineties for some kids show I admittedly had never heard of. He's now waiting tables to make ends meet. His advice was all along the "Steel yourself, kid. It's a tough business" line.

Also walking for a piece of the internet pie:
• Justine Bateman, very perky and cool. I would never have known it was her, except she kept shaking people's hands and saying "Hi, I'm Justine Bateman. You may remember me from such shows as TV's Family Ties." No. She didn't say that last bit. But I would have loved it if she had. She very cleverly had a strike buddy with her.
• Actor Adam Busch - better known (by me) as Warren from Buffy. Also with strike buddy.*
• Writer Harlan Ellison. Mr Sci-fi. Many buddies.
• Ron Moore, of course. Swamped with fan buddies.

So yeah. I wouldn't say striking is fun. But then, it's not supposed to be. I'm going to head out again tomorrow. Hopefully my inner extrovert will be awake.

*Update: Just discovered Adam Busch's buddy was Amber Benson, one of my Buffy favs. Here's a picture.


Elver said...

Best not call Harlan Ellison "Mr. Sci-Fi" to his face. He hates the term. He thinks it sounds like "crickets fucking" :P

I'm focusing more on feature length stuff than TV and I've so far found two great hints.

1. Robert McKee's "write it from the inside". Get into each character's mind and see what he would do.

2. Syd Field's list of things you need to write a movie: beginning, end, plot point 1, plot point 2, and the protagonist's dramatic need for act 2, between the two plot points.

And go easy with the sins there or you'll end up like Alan Moore, writing superhero comics about superheroes with no superpowers, but a terrible heroin addiction :P

Maggie said...

Try a less busy gate. I'm seriously not a people person and get all overwrought with the social anxiety, but I've met dozens of awesome people and talked to them for a long time.

And I'd say definitely NOT to take a strike buddy, or all you'll do is talk to that person.

The gate with four or five people is your friend. Anyway that's where they need more people!

Yesterday we got the VIP tour driver to honk the horn on her little golf cart bus. Wooo!

David Bishop said...

Chapter 11 in The TV Writer's Workbook about rewriting your treatment is one of the most useful things I've ever read. Amazing what a difference it makes you replace dull verbs with emotionally active verbs in your treatment, and how much easier it makes writing the script when that time finally comes.

Worth buying the book just for that chapter.