Putting flesh on bones and deciding when to start writing

I was thinking about FoT today, while reading more of Russell T. Davies journey through the season four scripts of Doctor Who. Can you believe he wrote episode 4.1 in a single week? Sure, he’d been thinking about 4.1 for at least six months prior to beginning, but he sat at his desk late August 31st, “Look! I’ve started…” and wrote “DONE!” a week later on September 6th. I find that incredible. And it makes me wonder what would happen if I just started writing the FoT script. I’ve been thinking about FoT, on and off, for six years. Surely there is enough compost there to pull together one hell of a great story. But the story is changing, it’s still forming in my mind. It isn’t really there at all, at least not in a version I’m ready to write.

Speaking of versions ready to be written, I am not at all sure about the cult/temple aspect. I don’t know what it is I don’t like but it always felt over-the-top. Beyond real, and out of touch. I couldn’t feel part of that and I think, especially when it comes to T.V. that viewers really need to feel like they can escape to a setting that has such a vast reach in the story. The Nagaran work as a nemesis but part of me wonders if they would work better if I pulled them out of the earth and disappear them into the chaos of the city. Isardior is already a ramshackle turmoil of seething discontent. I could lose a cult of snake worshippers in her underbelly without literally putting them under the ground.

In Underworld, the vampire clans are on the surface despite being light-sensitive. They don’t live in the dirt. They do, literally, bury their elders who sleep in caskets under the floor of their mansion houses but the clans live on the surface, and meld into the darker underbelly of the city. The lycans are literally in the sewers which makes them more animal, reviled. That works for them. But for the Nagaran, I don’t feel them as more animal, I feel them as people. Yes, they are misguided, snake-worshipping fanatics who are developing a virus to hybridise snake-people but they are, for the most part, still human.

It makes me wonder how I can have Tori on the surface, even Lucas on the surface although essentially from above the surface, but not immersed in that darker world. It’s obvious really, because it is new for Tori, she’s discovering a secret that is deep in her family history but her own upbringing was far removed from that darkness. In that sense she needs to be the little rich girl. It would make the contrast more distinct. Especially if she were ripped out of her reality. She can’t go home. Except, to stretch this into a series maybe she can and should. She and Lucas will need a home base and having her come from money would give them that kind of foundation. It’s been done before, Batman, Ironman, even Dark Angel had a foundation in a loaded rich kid funding the search into the sinister. That doesn’t mean I couldn’t pull it off differently. But my inner voice warns me against playing too close to the already played. Sure, there are no new ideas but that doesn’t mean I need to mish-mash the old ones.

I still see the Flight scene clearly, but I thought today that it could make for a fabulous season finale. Also, the romantic tension between Tori and Lucas could be strung out. Writers are always playing on that unrequited love angle. And in their case it would work really well because it is a forbidden love. It makes sense that Tori would be afraid to love, especially as she comes to understand and fear the darkness within. Lucas is essentially immortal; angels can’t love humans; against the rules. But his essential character trait is compassion; his great failing is that he comes to care too much for his charges and that inevitably puts them at greater risk. Stretching out that love story, making it touch but not touch would be easy. Again, it’s been done before. But then love is like that. It’s eternally untouchable. That’s why it’s been done, and done, and will be done again and again.

But I would love writing that scene.

There are a number of scenes from the original draft that really worked. I loved them. I couldn’t pull the story together like that but if I think of those scenes in a greater story I start to think of how they would work if they stood alone as the groundwork of an episode. Tori being captured, it doesn’t work. Tori and Crey in prison doesn’t really either. But Chelan/Zara in the white gown, bleeding, essentially dying on the alter? They work, especially if we have an episode where Chelan dies proceeded by Zara who is in that same transient moment between life and death when she is saved episodes later. Like deja vu. It works.

Turning this in to a series gives me more freedom to build on Chelan too. She is such a sweet character. I can picture an actress when I think of her. I don’t know her name. I can’t even remember what the movie was I can picture her from but she was sweet, possibly a vampire, scared, cowering. Long, brown hair, sunken eyes. Fragile. Maybe it’s Bree from Twilight: Eclipse. Elle Fanning could probably pull it off too. When I started Googling to see if I could figure out who the picture was in my mind I didn’t really find it. And both of those two didn’t quite feel right. But Chelan is definitely there, and I like the idea that I could develop her story a bit more; it would give Tori and Lucas a chance to really come to love her before she dies.

Speaking of characters I can touch, versus those I can’t, I can’t even remember her name right now and in the original drafts it changed and kept changing. Jessibelle. That’s it. Isobelle/Jessibelle. The grandmother-type figure. She never felt very real. Intangible in the sense that I never quite grasped who she was or what her point was. Odds are she’s completely misplaced. I wonder what would happen if I cut her completely. Would anyone notice?

Speaking of Jessibelle/Isobelle. Do you know who I could picture with the name Isobelle? Maybe not. It was a fleeting fancy, Tori’s mother. Did you know I had that story in snippets in my mind too? I don’t know how I would do it if FoT were a t.v. series. But Tori’s mother and her own angel Michael, have a hell of a back story. Do you know how Charmed showed the mother/angel backstory? I don’t know that it worked. The mother was long dead, the angel more absent, there was no real connection except through the girls and this new “sister” that I never really liked because she wasn’t Prue. Not that I really liked Prue, well I did, I liked the concept of Prue but not the execution. But Rose McGowan didn’t quite pull off the new sister either. Anyway, tangent, what I’m really saying is that it would be nice to cameo Tori’s mother and Michael but at this stage I don’t see it working. But then, that’s what backstory is sometimes, something off-screen, something that just is but never shown. And as a backstory for Tori it is fantastic. It adds depth to her character.

Lucas, I love him, but he’s still not real. Perhaps it is inherent because he’s removed from the world. He isn’t real, he’s an angel. So he has a past that I can’t seem to scratch the surface of. He hasn’t let me in. It’s like a deep, dark secret. But he knows it. It’s not like he has no memory of his past. I toyed with that idea for a whole second just then but it doesn’t work. He knows it, but there is a sense of the forbidden, hidden, secret, sacred. You just don’t pry with Lucas. He’s a vault. And I guess that adds to his mystery and his sense of unrealness but it’s awkward as a writer because I have trouble making sense of him. He’s a slow reveal; I question everything with him because I don’t really feel like I know or understand him. I don’t get him. So it’s hard to know, would he do this? Why does he do that? Where should he go? I play with it over in my mind.

I like how this feels reminiscent of Davies talking about Doctor Who. Not the unknowable Lucas but the whole, snippets here and there of episodes but nothing really concrete that would pull together a whole episode. It spreads like that. But then each time I toyed with rewrites of FoT I could see bits and pieces. Knowing I’ve toyed with this story so much makes me doubt if writing it as a t.v. series would help bring it to life. In my mind, it works. And I love the idea. I’m excited by the idea at the same time as being terrified.

I can picture myself taking a single book that should have taken a year at most to write, which turned into a trilogy with the first book still unfinished six years later, that turns into a t.v. series of what? 13? 23? episodes per season, over how many seasons? I can imagine myself still toying with it years down the line without having ever written a script. THAT is scary. At least Davies had that deadline. He needed a script, even just a working script pulled together by the tone meeting. He had people waiting for pages. Deadlines. If his script wasn’t written by deadline then shooting couldn’t begin, the whole show falls apart. I don’t have those deadlines. My script could wait until the never. That’s depressing.

Other writers have suggested I impose my own deadline but to date that hasn’t worked. I don’t hold myself to it. It’s transient and because I set it myself I could shift it myself and there are no consequences. At least none beyond this sense of failure, regret, and self-flagellation. Sure, that pity-party isn’t fun but it’s not enough to make me hold myself to an imaginary deadline. I think I need a Julie; someone who is there, reminding me that I need to crack down because people are waiting on the script to start shooting. Except you don’t get a Julie until you’ve got a script. Catch 22.

Meanwhile, I also wonder at what point you start writing the script. For Davies it was when he couldn’t wait any longer and still make the deadline. Without a deadline that becomes never. But how well did he know what would happen before he started that first scene? With episode 4.1 there was a lot he didn’t know. He had a fairly good concept but he definitely hadn’t pulled it together. Before he started writing he was thinking of botox and green-swirls coming out of people’s faces. I should go back to that point when green-swirl/botox turned into grey-blob/adipose. There it is, July 18th. A month and a half before he started writing the script. That’s a good time for percolation. I wonder how much of the story he knew before he started writing.

I am still very new to screenwriting. I don’t have a clue how to write a script. I am getting more and more familiar with the format:

1. EXT. Church – Afternoon

Except it wouldn’t be. Because I’ve got the concept of the camera-angle starting further out that that. In the sky, above the church. Does that mean you put the camera direction in before the scene direction? I need to read more scripts to become familiar with how the whole thing comes together. How to write those points. How to do those snippet details that give you the scene in your minds eye but lets the floor-men handle the details. I have also noticed that different screenwriters do things differently. Russell does the above but some writers don’t have a scene number. I wonder what is most common. Obviously a sign that I need to read more scripts from a wider range of writers.

CU: Autumn leaf, falling through late afternoon blue skies, touches ground; green grass. Black leather boot, crunch. Zoom out (see, I don’t even know what that camera angle would be called but it’s a wider shot, so we see Tori with the church looming up in front of her). She’s grungy, almost. But it works for her. Jeans, leather, black. Dark hair, waves, wind-swept; dark eyes, behind darker sunglasses. She takes them off, looks up at the church.


resolute. moving forward. pushes open creaking doors.

See, all this is scene set up and there are no words. Not for ages. She pulls out the voice recorder, ultimately talking to her self for a moment. It plays out who she is but not so much why we care. And it plays out the church which is a beautiful setting. Of course getting that angel stain glass would cost production a fortune. I wonder if one exists in some church already. How much does it cost to make a normal church look creepy and desolate.

All these business angles I have no clue about. It’s a whole new adventure. But it’s exciting. And I can see it. In that way that I see but don’t see-see it. It works, and I’m finally excited about this project again. Six years. But it is coming together. It will come together.

Published by

Rebecca Laffar-Smith

Rebecca Laffar-Smith is a publisher, children's writer, and novelist. In 2010 she gave up a successful 12-year freelance career to focus on her three loves; family, community, and fiction. She self-published her debut novel The Flight of Torque in June 2014 and the first three titles in the P.I. Penguin series in from Aulexic in May 2015. At The Craft of Writing Fiction, Rebecca shares her journey of creation and learning with readers. She loves getting to know her fellow readers and writers and can be contacted through Twitter and Facebook, or Email.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *