“What Does He Know? He’s Only the Writer.”

That’s a quote from the film Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. The context is that Michelle Monaghan’s character, Harmony, learns that the writer of her favorite detective novel series considers his series to be frivolous garbage. Instead of being depressed, she just writes off his comments with two little sentences. “What does he know? He’s only the writer.”

I identify a great deal with this saying. There becomes a point when a creator cannot let control of their work go. JK Rowling keeps stepping into shape the public consensus of her characters. Because of her we know Dumbledore is gay and Hermione and Ron might not really be meant to be. George Lucas worked with others for Star Wars, but decided to take on all of the work himself for the prequels. Carter Bays and Craig Thomas wrote the finale of How I Met Your Mother to put Ted and Robin together, even though the series and fan base had moved on by then.

A series may not belong to their creator, but if it doesn’t then to whom does it? Does it belong to its fans?

Although sometimes a creator’s vision doesn’t match what their story organically becomes, the fans don’t always know what is right either. If a character becomes a fan favorite, then they also become immortal. Daryl in The Walking Dead. Felicity in Arrow. Tyrion in Game of Thrones. These characters are so popular that the writers of these series are scared to kill them off or write them out lest the fandom riot. The fans then have a stranglehold on what kind of stories can be told. Which can hamper the quality of their own favorite series.

It’s a debate I struggle with as a writer and a fan. When I follow a film or series as a fan, I feel that need to protect the aspects of it I love. If the story little my little removes all my favorite parts then I won’t want to come back anymore. However, when I write I can easily feel beholden to the story I want to tell. If the story wants to change along the way, I may fight to bring it back to my original intentions. What if I can’t be trusted with my own storytelling!?

I’m sitting here trying to think of a solution and my mind just brought me around to George Washington.

Now hear me out.

When George Washington was elected to be the first president of the budding United States of America, he did not think he was the right man for the job. Historically speaking, many experts would agree with him there. But he did do one thing right. He filled his presidential cabinet with men who would challenge him on all points. He picked the smartest people for the job, not the ones who would support him fully. And I think the same must be a rule for a writer.

Whether they are other writers in the room or producers and the director for a feature, it is best when they aren’t all a bunch of yes men. There must be people who will put their foot down when the creator loses sight of what their story has become. There must be people keeping track of what the fans like and want, but also people who can see what those fans need but aren’t aware of.

The beautiful thing about modern visual storytelling is that it is such a team effort, and if that team is put together well they will produce the best story possible.

Here’s to the shows that evolve into something new by the time they finish. The end is so far from the finish and you took us on a grand journey there.

Here’s to the shows that have hurt me. The pain of loss has made the moments I love burn all the brighter.

“What does he know? He’s only the writer.”

I still believe in that quote. As a fan, I must be allowed to interpret a story as I see fit. And as a writer, I need to learn where my influence reaches its end. The truth of the matter is that once the work is released to the public it belongs to everybody. After that all the creator can do is learn when to let go.

-JP

PS, if you haven’t seen Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, you really should.

Advertisements

Purely Speculative

I’ve been thinking a lot about Spec Scripts lately.

I’m writing one in an attempt to enter the WB Writers Workshop, but I feel like I should explain what a spec is first. Obviously spec is short for speculative, but in this context I am specifically referring to a script that is an episode of an already established TV series. They exist as an indicator of whether a writer can write to an established tone with established characters.

I feel the need to clarify since often even an original script can be considered speculative. If nobody has hired you to write something, then it is automatically speculative. Everything I write is speculative. On the other hand, If you are hired to write an idea, then that is an assignment script.

Still, when most people say the words “spec script” they mean a script of an established TV series. Up until recently these were how writers would get writing jobs. They would prove they can write for the show and then get hired for it. Steven S Deknight, who was the showrunner on Daredevil in season one got his first writing job on Buffy the Vampire Slayer after writing a spec for the series. But it seems that recently these ideas have changed.

As I ask others who work in the industry about what kind of spec I should write, the first thing they say is to not write for the series you want to work on. They say to write for something similar, but not the same. Even more than that, they say producers and writers would rather read original scripts now instead of specs.

There’s a good reason for that first part. It turns out that if a writer on a series reads your spec and then an idea from that spec appears in the show they become liable. They’ve stolen your idea, whether they know it or not, and you can take them down for it. So to protect themselves, they won’t read anything that is written as their show.

I think the other half, why they want to read originals, can be easily explained as well. Reading what somebody writes in the framework of another series isn’t showing everything they can do. It isn’t their voice as a writer. In fact, it’s the voice of whatever show that writer is writing. Nobody is looking for a chameleon to join their writing staff, and they want to know what kind of writer you are. What stories you like to tell. What makes you tick. There’s no better place to get that than from an original spec.

Like I said. It’s something I’ve been thinking about.

Which brings me back to this Writers Workshop I will be applying to in May. This will be the second fellowship I’ve applied to and, while the last one wanted five pages of an original pilot, this one is asking for one or two spec scripts of existing shows.

Why? After everything I’ve just talked about I don’t understand why this program would be asking for existing specs and not originals. Now I am currently writing a spec script for the MTV series Teen Wolf. It is incredibly surreal. You have to indicate where in the season your story takes place, but Teen Wolf is such a heavily serialized show that that becomes difficult. Even a spec of an existing show should be you writing the only story you would ever want to tell with these characters, but if I did that I would veer them dramatically from the season’s plot.

This would have been easier in the days when all series were episodic. When there wasn’t any overarching story and all you had to write was a case-of-the-week type plot. But those shows are mostly gone now, and the ones that remain are not really in my wheel house.

It’s an interesting challenge and one that has gotten me thinking, but I also feel like my creativity is being restrained a bit when I play with other people’s toys instead of my own.

-JP

PS, this post may have been born from procrastination

 

PANTHEON – Chapter II

Note: So I clearly overestimated my ability to deliver these chapters in a timely manner. I like to think Chapter II was just a special kind of difficult and I’ll be able to deliver future chapters on time. I don’t want to lose momentum.

You can find all Chapter of Pantheon in one place and in order over on the Pantheon page!

CHAPTER II

A Creation Myth

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Shit. I can’t see a thing.”

“Gah!”

“I’m not the only one!”

“You’re not supposed to swear.”

“Shut the fuck up Dem.”

“Bridge!”

“Wait, are we all alive? Does anybody have a light?”

“Oh! I do!”

A single beam of light bursts forth from a flashlight in Bridge’s hand. A beacon amid sprawling and endless nothing. She points it up and around, temporarily blinding Lonti, Quivica, Cirom, Dem, and Forse as she scans them. They are alone, yet somehow alive, in the void.

Dem looks up at all of the adults. He’s perceptive enough to notice they’re all scared. He looks down at his feet. He isn’t standing on anything, he’s just suspended in midair.

“Was this what was supposed to happen at zero?” He asks. The others look his way, and then turn their eyes toward Forse in judgement. Bridge points her flashlight directly at Forse’s face, causing her to squint and look away.

“Mom?”

“Stop shining that light at me!” Forse yells at Bridge. Bridge turns the light away, but Forse still refuses to make eye contact with her son. “No. This isn’t what was supposed to happen.” She admits.

“What was supposed to happen?” Dem asks. “Nobody ever told me.”

“Because we wanted to protect you. Keep you… innocent.” Forse attempts to explain.

“What does that mean!?” Dem yells.

“It was the end of the universe!” Forse yells back. “Okay!? We were all going to die. Everything was going to die and nothing would ever live again forever and ever!”

“… Why was the universe dying?” Dem asks quietly, trying to wrap his head around it all. How could something like the universe just stop?

Forse looks around to the others for help. Anybody who knew the answer to this question was long dead, and they never cared themselves to find out. For as long as they could remember, the countdown was already taking place.

“You know the Bastion?” Bridge jumps in. She points the flashlight at her own face and nearly blinds herself. “Ah! Wow!”

“Of course.”

Bridge points her flashlight away and continues while rubbing her eyes. “It’s like when a machine in the Bastion breaks, but we don’t have a replacement part for it. It just kind of broke down, and nothing could fix it.”

“And once the universe died, then nothing else could live.” Quivica states, just to make things clear.

“Except for, apparently, us.” Cirom says. He’s thinking out loud more than anything. Somehow, they are all still here. Except here is nowhere. “Everyone who was alive at the end is still… here.”

“No we aren’t.” Dem points out. “Dad isn’t here.”

“Seriously Forse?” Lonti accuses. “Does he know anything?”

“Shut up Lonti!” Forse responds. “You could never understand!”

“Clearly.”

“Mom. What is she talking about?” Dem asks softly, scared he already knows the answer.

“Yolas is dead.” She says, not consolingly but instead with all of her anger. “Last night he took enough pills to stop his heart.” She starts to speak over Dem’s mounting cries. “He didn’t want to live to see the end of everything.”

“No!”

“Yes Dem!”

“No you’re lying again!”

“This is the truth! Your father is dead. The universe is dead.” Forse states, putting the final nail in the metaphorical coffin.

Dem has to close his eyes, it hurts to much to keep them open with the tears streaming out. He closes his fists and tightens up. He feels too vulnerable with them open. He yells as loud as he can, keeping any more words from his mother or anyone else at bay. They were meant to die, but they are here, but here is nowhere so what was the point.

As Dem’s anger grows, the void comes alive. Dem wishes to send the others away, and a wave of chaotic force bursts from him to do just that. It cuts them. Rips their clothes. Breaks Bridge’s flashlight. Everything plunges into darkness once more.

A strange sensation builds in Dem’s core. Like he’s a pot, about to boil over. He doesn’t fight it. Instead he screams into the void, a beacon of golden light shining from his chest and out of his mouth and eyes. The maelstrom’s arcs and flurries glow as gold too, hitting Lonti and Bridge, hurting his mother, heading towards Quivica.

Cirom follows the shockwave with his eyes. It’s going to hit Quivica. It’s going to hurt her, and he will stand for no more of that. He must get to her in time.

Putting all of his focus into arriving in front of Quivica in time, Cirom’s body arcs and throws itself toward her. There’s no other way to put it. He’s flying.

His body inelegantly jolts to a stop before her. Their eyes meet. She wonders, will this boy sacrifice himself for her? He decides, no power in existence will tear them apart.

Cirom turns to the oncoming golden light, and a fire lights in his soul. He yells, forcing that fire to grow, and swings a fist into the oncoming storm. All of his strength travels down his bone and into his bare knuckles, slamming into Dem’s own golden energy. A flash of white light from Cirom’s fist shatters the golden shockwave before Quivica and him. Cirom can stop him.

“No more!” Cirom cries out, his own chest glowing white, his eyes and mouth becoming emitters of brilliant white light. He knows what he’s doing now, and throws his whole body at Dem. The child clearly isn’t in control. He’s still screaming, each wave of force bursting forth when he exhales to scream once more. But Dem is taking a deep breath, and when he yells next, the shockwave will be deadly. Unless he can stop it.

Cirom thinks on the power he’s found. It emerged so he could protect the woman he loves. Now he needs it to save himself and her, as well as Forse, Lonti, and Bridge. He needs more power and dammit, he will have it. If all of this is coming from an engine within him, Cirom just pulled the cord on it. He becomes a meteor of white light, reaching his apex above the crying youth who could end them all.

Right hand raised into the air, Cirom dredges every last ounce of his power to the surface. The women all cover their eyes from the blinding light. Brighter than any they had known on the Bastion. Cirom clenches his hand into a fist. Dem yells out once more. Here comes the storm. Cirom brings his fist down like a hammer. Golden and white energies make contact. Two unstoppable forces collide, and they create a big bang.

The golden and white lights crack and shatter, sending flecks of both out into the void. As they travel into the distance, they start spinning, becoming small swirls of light, growing as they go in an attempt to mimic what Cirom and Dem have created in the center.

Dem has fallen below, knocked unconscious from the conflict, but Cirom floats above, light gone, sweating and breathing heavily. Between them, a swirling mass of golden and white lights spins. A dark center with pure energy moving around it. Something new. Growing with each passing moment.

“Dem!” Forse yells, flying under the light to retrieve her son before it over takes him. Lonti, Bridge, and Quivica all regroup with Cirom as well.

“What did you do?” Quivica asks Cirom. He shrugs, no idea how he did any of it. He only knows the why.

“You were in danger.” He simply says.

“So…” Bridge states, watching Forse return to them with Dem in her arms. “We can all fly now. And apparently make light… whirly… things.”

“You don’t know what that is?” Forse asks, looking down at the light, her feet now dipping into it as it grows. “They’re all over the children’s books I read to Dem.”

“What is it?” Cirom asks.

“It’s a Galaxy.” She says. “Comprised of suns and planets and everything else.”

Lonti looks around at the other flecks thrown into the distance, growing and becoming galaxies in their own rights. “They’re all galaxies.” She points out.

“In all the old stories, the universe was filled with galaxies. Constantly growing and expanding.” Forse continues.

“Which means…” Quivica concludes, “Cirom. You’ve just created a universe.”

“How is any of that possible?” Bridge cuts in, more in wonder as she watches an orb of light among many move around them. The galaxy is still growing.

“I think I get it.” Cirom says. “What if the universe wasn’t dying? What if it was just restarting? What if, because we made it to the end, our prize is that we get to shape the next universe? As gods!”

“Gods!” Lonti scoffs. “Like with the primitives!?”

“Like with our people.” Bridge says to Lonti. “I found a chapel in the Bastion. People believed in a higher power even up until our time.”

Lonti cocks an eyebrow at Bridge. “If I’m a God, then I can simply wave my hand a make a bottle of wine.” She makes the motion mockingly, and yet a full bottle of wine appears in her hand in a pop of violet light. She lowers her eyebrow and looks from the bottle to Bridge. “Okay I believe you.”

Lonti takes a swig of her wine. Quivica draws a circle in midair, creating a small sphere of land with her red energy and sending it off in the universe. She starts pointing around and making more, laughing as she does. Forse rests a hand on Dem, and a soft wave of silver light pours from her hand over him, waking him up. Bridge tries to get in on the fun, reaching out for a star, and waves her hand at it. A jolt of black light leaps from her fingers to it, and it splits into two. Bridge looks at her hand, disappointed.

Their universe continues to grow around them, stars and planets becoming giant while the six gods remain human sized. Lonti takes another swig of her wine and asks the only question left in existence.

“So what now?”