WonderCon 2018 was amazing! So much more relaxed than Comic-Con.
I’ll do a summary post about the Con later this week, but I wanted to get my notes from Day One up first thing :)
Note: Some of the panelists’ names are probably misspelled, because I couldn’t always get close enough to see their placards :/
A story is a story: writing in multimedia
- sam sykes: bring down the heavens series; also munchkins series
- Sarah kuhn: heroine complex series; also comics
- Judd winick: artist and writer for dc comics and indies
- Judy ann neeb: librarian and moderator
- What was your first writing medium?
- Judd: comic strips; was meat and potatoes work, you write and draw and ink and letter everything yourself, then send it out
- Sarah: zines; at the time, heard you could write everyday and get paid for it by being a journalist; so middle school started their own zine, photocopies printed out and gossip about cheating on math tests, etc
- Sam: devoured every dragonlance novel ever, and then all the dragons disappeared, so what’s the point, might as well write his own thing now, started with prose because art was hard, went right to novels, because that’s what he’d read, sold first novel at 25, but had been working on it since 14
- Weird how market has shifted, short fiction is basically dead, can barely sell it, let alone make a living at it, unless you do nothing but anthologies, or maybe you get known as a novelist first, which is backwards, thirst for short fiction isn’t dead, though, just look at subreddits for people posting and consuming it by the ton, we’re just looking for the next way to do it
- Short fiction used to be the minor leagues for writers, eventually would get asked to do a novel, but nowadays path seems to be through self-publishing more than short fiction
- To be a creator today, you almost have to master multiple media, unless you can just knock one of them out of the park, to keep up with everyone else, need to be in many places at the same time
- Sarah’s approach to comics: voltron-ing skills?
- Judd: Everything other than one-room-one-person work (which is rarer now) means working with a team, so have to work on your social skills, interact with other people and compromise with them, in larger teams, bottom-line is still storytelling within the tiny garden you’re given
- Sarah: whenever starting a new kind of writing, still feels like an imposter, owes her current career to short fiction, wrote geek-girl rom-com for her friends, serialized it online, did a pdf zine, got a bit of a following because wasn’t that many geek-girl protags, that series helped her get an agent when she had a novel ready; was approached to write comics, someone asked her to, she said yes but i have no idea how to do it, she did a lot of research before diving in, reading and interviewing and going through samples, before realized it is telling a good story at its base, same basic skills, though with different scaffolding on top
- Judd: not enough credit given to editors who find people say “do you want to do this?” and barrel through objections from the writer about not knowing how to do it
- Sam: as the mediums change, you start relying on more and more people, novels is just him and an editor, comics is him and artist and editor and letterer, etc, what it comes down to is the ability to trust other people, you’ve got this idea and you’re trying to get it out there, and trusting other people in that process is hard, comics is littered with the carcasses of writers who did not understand that trust of the artist that’s needed
- Judd: best advice for writing comics from bob shreck the editor and founder of oni press: write the script like it’s a letter to your artist, like you’re talking to a person, and that’s how you can make things a partnership
- Worth mentioning that artists understand geometry and positioning better than you do
- Has there ever been a point in your writing where you’ve wanted to change the format? From comic to novel, or novel to script, etc
- Judd: never been able to switch gears; not that the option is always there, don’t sit around saying “i think this would be better as a major motion picture, lemme make a call”; people have asked him to do prose, but when he starts thinking of a story, by the point he’s excited about it, he wants to draw it, that’s what he enjoys doing as an artist
- Sarah: never wanted to switch in the middle, gets hooked into whatever the right media is for the story, and sticks with it; tried to make her heroine series very visual, since they’re inspired by comics
- Sam: one of the marks of being a professional is putting your head down and barreling through, can’t chase every thought in your head, unless you’re pat rothfuss (and if you tell him i said that, i’ll tell him you’re lying, and he’ll believe me); your idea of perfect keeps changing, so no use in chasing that perfect, best to do many projects at the same time, not all of them have to be finished at the same time, if you have a novel, nothing can stop you from tweaking it a little and making it a comic, but if you want to do it as a living, you have to barrel through and finish it, which means you have to choose
- Judd: advice he gives to kids about writing: know your ending, if you’re going to do a novel, do it, finish it, get a draft, and then you can edit it and make it better; writing is the worst, he likes editing, when he can fix it
- Sam: a little like constipation, sometimes you just gotta sit down and force it out
- Judd: greatest job in the world, we get to make shit up and people pay us money, i’m 48 and i draw and half-watch television, like when i was ten
- Sarah: often feels the script for comics ends up being a conversation back and forth between writer and artist(s), her first comic was smaller team, used to tell the colorist “more sparkles!”, felt like her own little clubhouse, initial scripts for clueless series were more detailed, since had a different artist, once they started getting art, got to more a shorthand with her
Spotlight on VE Schwab
- Written 15 novels in 8 years
- No trunk novels, doesn’t start novel until she knows she has enough for the novel to come to fruition
- Longest time, had just an image for darker shade of magic: wounded man falling through a wall and hitting a girl dressed as a boy
- Six months later, hit on the idea of doing an homage to harry potter, a multiple worlds story
- What if the young man isn’t walking through a wall, is walking between worlds?
- That shot became the crystalizing ingredient needed for the book to come together
- Always working actively on one thing and letting 3 or 4 others simmer
- Leans towards fantasy, because grew up wanting the world to be stranger than it is; Wanted the cracks in the sidewalk to lead to other world; as a writer, wants to seed your world with doubt, wants you to look for the stranger things in the world
- Was 11 when harry potter came out, and started reading the books; didn’t love reading at the time, mother’s friend was in a bookstore in socal and called her mom “hey, there’s someone here doing a signing, her line’s not long, it looks like something your daughter would enjoy”… which is why she has a signed copy of the sorcerer’s stone; potter was a hook for her, showed her you could create a story that would make a person forget they’re reading a story
- “What drives the part of your writing where you describe clothes so well?”
- Really, really loves coats
- Watching pushing daisies, realized the guy has a really wonderful black trenchcoat
- Never been very feminine, not a dresses person, but finds coats can be very cool and sexy and not strictly one gender or another
- Uses fashion because it’s a very good shorthand for a character, lets you visualize the character very easily
- Kell’s coat is a nod to the room of requirement
- Kell’s coat, nella’s knives: ways for you to see character easily
- Always been a cinematic writer, resisted writing novels for a long time, wrote short stories and poems and everything else, realized she was afraid of failing to write a novel, so sat down and made herself do it
- Has to see each scene in her head before she can write it; like creating a movie in her head and then translating it into a book
- Loves tv and comics and film, those are her recharge
- Getting to write her first comic now, and that’s so cool because her illustrator can directly translate everything she wants to see
- Nothing better as a writer than to see a lot of fan art and it all looks the same; means you were able to get it across well
- At any given time, have up to 6 projects in development; currently has 3, film makes publishing look very very fast
- “Where does your affection for redheads come from?”
- Not a natural redhead, is a very light blonde, but never felt like a blonde on the inside
- Her father is a weasley redhead, and always got teased for it, never felt good about it
- Her male characters are always hufflepuff, and her female characters are slytherin
- Wants to see more ambitious women and emotive men
- “Books not about love, but about entanglements”
- Loves romance, but so often in fiction, romance supersedes every other kind of relationship
- And it’s the least interesting relationship, so often these cool dynamics take second fiddle; wants to see more sibling rivalries, more frenemies, etc
- Loves a long con, where they start out adversaries in book one, but by book three they become involved, because the relationship is built on something
- Likes room for progress and intensity
- Really likes familial relationships, thinks rhy and alucard are the core relationship for the darker shade of magic books
- “So how do you feel about ’shipping for your characters?”
- Sorry, been rewriting a book from scratch for two months, not as articulate as normal, just finished yesterday
- Fine with shipping, weirded out about it
- As author brings 50% to the book, reader brings the rest
- Tries to do nothing to dictate the reader’s relationship to the book and the characters, doesn’t want to control the other side of things
- Side note: if you have a problem with a female character, especially a strong one, ask yourself if you would be as bothered by them if they were male
- “Interest in monstrosity and monsters?”
- Grad degree is in medieval depictions of monsters and monstrosity
- Not interested in monsters so much as outsiders
- Monstrosity is an easy way to talk about people that don’t belong, to otherness
- When she does have something that is clearly monstrous, she tries to look at its origins, and explore that
- “Why london for shades of magic?”
- Two reasons: one, because she wanted to play against the assumptions we have as readers for what kind of story we’re getting in london
- And two: multiple worlds, all based on the same geography, was thinking how fun would it be if you took a well-known city and take it down to studs, rebuilt it from the ground up with just the geography there, but to do that, needed something a broad audience would be able to imagine with little effort, and london fits the bill: city, with the thames running through it, and bridges, etc
- “Really open with struggles with anxiety, how does that impact writing process?”
- In savage song, main characters are different aspects of her anxiety: one lashes out, the other shuts down and internalizes everything
- Didn’t set out to be open about anxiety, set out to be open about publishing
- When she started, no one was talking about the industry online in an open and honest way
- It’s very isolating, and you feel like you’re the only one going through it, when really every author feels that way
- At conferences, she heard other authors griping about it, but then saying they needed to keep the glamour of the job alive, and so shouldn’t talk about it openly
- She decided: well, i’m going to talk about it, and maybe it’ll help other people
- Over time, she just became honest about all of it, the publishing, the anxiety, the depression, coming out, all of it
- Found the most incredible thing: readers started celebrating with her, showing up at events saying “i’m proud of you”
- Not calculated, not planned, comes from an authentic place
- 15th book, rewritten in two months, it’s still a struggle, the struggle changes but doesn’t go away
- If you’re writing, even if you’re not published yet, you’re not “trying to write” you’re a writer, we’re all in this tribe together
- “What’s a question you hate getting?”
- Used to hate “where ideas come from?” Because each book is so different
- Aren’t any questions she really hates anymore
- Heard each question enough, tries to answer them in ways that are not just honest but also helpful for others
- Does get tired of hearing people ask about when the third archive book is coming out, because she knows it hasn’t come out yet, and is very very aware of where it is, it’s a sensitive topic for her
- “Why comics for the steelheart series?”
- Had this idea for a story, about the king of red london as a prince, with pirates and bad magic, etc, but is working on three more books for the next arc in the shades of magic series already, so thought didn’t want to write it as a book, wanted to do something else
- Was talking with titan, her uk publisher, and they do comics, asked her if she wanted to do a comic set in the shades of magic world, and she thought: this is perfect
- So: first four issues are coming out this fall!
- “Also have a middle grade book, and vengeful, the next book in the vicious series”
- City of ghosts is a weird one, set in edinburgh, scotland, which is where she lives part-time, one of the great things about britain is that everyone has a ghost story, and they’re very blasé about ghosts
- Middle grade book, but it’s written to 12 year old her, so that’s how she feels like it
- Girl almost drowns, ghost boy pulls her out, and when she comes back, she pulls him part of the way back as well; her parents pick up a tv series called the inspectors that has them going from town to town doing shows about local ghosts
- Vengeful: five years have passed since vicious was published, and it’s been five years in that world, as well
- Has five new female protagonists, and it’s about how women take and hold power in that world
- So dark, so violent, impressed her how violent it got
- Comes out in september
- Rapid fire questions:
- “Live anywhere?”: edinburgh, scotland, just bought a place there, only place she felt like home
- “Character in other world?”: delilah bard would fit in game of thrones perfectly
- Favorite villain didn’t write? The Darkling
- Favorite monster? Voldemort
- If you had magic, what would you do with it? Definitely rule white london; white london is for the takers, with enough magic, could sit on that throne for a while
- How to switch between middle grade and adult?
- Only difference is the version of herself she’s writing towards
- Middle grade: 12 yr old me
- YA: 17 yr old me
- Adult: current age
- Middle grade is beautiful, because you can explore so dark themes, children as so good at reading things that would disturb adults more
- Tries not to dial anything down, just thinks of terms of writing to herself
- Will the next trilogy be cliffhangers?
- Doesn’t know
- Firm believer that the first book should stand alone
- Apologized for the cliffhanger at the end of book two, but:
- Second book is a little harder
- Gathering of shadows was her first cliffhanger, so she went all out for it
- Should be able to stand a little more on their own, because they will each have their own protagonist, but will build on each other
- Tools that help you write from vast material?
- Plot is her weakness, plot is not natural for her, so she works on it till it becomes her strength
- Plot is the skeleton, gotta have it strong to support everything else
- Marks out five plot points, when she gets to one, she bisects it: what happens halfway between one and two? Etc
- Had to do a rewrite because spent so much time on makeup for a very badly skeleton’d corpse
Publishing your first comic book
- Ryland grant does stand up during the technical difficulties
- Was supposed to have visual aids, but they’re broken
- Rylend: working screenwriter for years in LA, just recently decided to dive into comics, first book aberrant comes out in june
- Haven’t made comics yet, and you want to? That’s ridiculous, do it
- Never been a better time to get into comics
- Used to have to troll artists alley to get people to draw your book
- Has artists in brazil, in hungary, letterer is in the uk
- Can find everyone with the click of a mouse
- Get off your butts, and do it
- David pepose: interned at dc, first comic spencer & locke (what if calvin and hobbes grew up in sin city) come out last summer, has been pitching everywhere
- Karla nappi: tv writer and script editor, first comic book duplicant will be released by vault comics soon, was a pilot script she turned into comic, set in future where there’s a pandemic of organ failure, focuses on scientist that makes duplicate organs
- David schrader: short filmmaker, recently got baby bad-ass published
- Steve prince: self-publishing guru, six titles so far, including monster matador, set in a future where monsters have overrun humanity, travels world fighting monsters with sword and cape
- Jeff leeds: anthology guru, collections of short stories, easier to produce and cheaper, good way to wade into the water, by day, jeff is exec at nbc
- “What makes it the right idea?”
- “How do you get it into the hands of publishers?”
- Need a cover, 6 pages of art that’s colored, inked, lettered
- 6 pages is the min, more is better
- Then need a treatment: the meat of the story, all the way through
- Describe your team, list everyone’s experience
- Need to be able to say “i know where this story is going”
- Keep it short: no one wants a 60-issue series from someone they’ve never heard of; first arc of spencer & locke is only 4 issues
- Karla: did five pages, no one would pick it up because they couldn’t see where it was going, so had to publish the first issue herself, find letterer and colorer via conventions, that helped her get a publisher; had a treatment for the first 15 issues, but publisher that picked it up only wanted to do the first 5 and see how they did
- One place where having a finished book might hurt you would be with a company like Boom! Comics, who want you to use their own artists, and will want to edit it, etc
- Steve: primarily a writer, writing pitches, going to publishers, you’re waiting a lot, very challenging market, but printing is relatively cheap, comixology submit makes it instantly out there, if he has an idea he just does it, no waiting for others to sign off, people more likely to read comic book than a comic script
- Submission process for anthologies is a little different: a short compressed time window for submissions, instead of the eternal death march for regular issues; submissions process is going to be easier, will need pitch and character designs, not whole story
- One example: theme was las vegas, sent in pitch, they asked for page by page outline, not a full script, and went from there
- [but how do you find out about these anthologies?]
- Unless it says otherwise in publisher’s site, only email them
- There are really good fb groups connecting comics writers and artists, can use them to find people
Writing Great Dialog
- Merifred scott: writes comics and animation; including guardians of the galaxy and transformers, avengers, spider-man, etc
- Holly hukins: writes animation, usually comedy, first job was on rugrats (first season), story editor on recess, recently created some preschool shoes, now working on 8–11 comedies for amazon
- Jim: wrote a lot of scooby doo, wrote an episode of supernatural where the brothers are sucked into a scooby cartoon, producer and editor on green lantern animated series, etc
- “People from michigan are weird”
- Matt lane couldn’t be with us, has been having back problems
- Craig miller: written curious george, smurfs, beastwars, gi joe, done a lot of international market work
- How many of you are writers or want to be writers?
- I feel so sorry for you
- Novels are very different dialog than comics or video games or animation
- Harrison ford to george lucas: “you can write this shit, but you can’t say it”
- What is it you keep in mind when writing dialog?
- Meriford: make sure everyone has a distinct voice, a distinct pov; will go back through and read every line that a character has, all in a row, to make sure their voice is distinct; easy when writing back and forth to have the characters’ voices start to sound the same
- Craig: every character should have a distinct speech pattern. Each line of dialog should tell you immediately when you hear it who it is
- Jim: do your own personal table read to your family; read it out loud, always
- Craig: there are lines that read just fine, but your mouth can’t say them
- Holly: table read with the writing team is traditional on comedy shows, lets you punch up jokes and catch things like “you started each line here with the same letter”
- Meriford: uses final draft’s text-to-speech feature to get robotic feedback on how well it works
- Craig: people of different walks of life, from different parts of the country, speak differently
- Meriford: definitely don’t want to distract from main character with weird dialog from the auto mechanic, but believes people talk the way they think. An auto-mechanic that thinks with their hands is going to speak differently than one that is very organized and thoughtful
- Holly: actors really appreciate that. Love it when they can come in and use the dialog to figure out how to play it, because it sounds like how the character thinks and approaches the world
- Jim: each format has its own constraints and needs; an 11-minute short, every line needs to drip character and be surprising in some way; for an hour-long piece, can let things breathe a bit more
- Craig: in animation, things have to be happening, no one will watch really long scenes with lots of people talking; in comics can’t have soliloquies, have to keep things moving
- How do you come up with the speech patterns for distinct characters?
- Meriford: i steal it; noticed female characters tend to fall into sounding the like the same “action lady”, pulled one character from tommy lee jones’ patterns in the fugitive; had one class where they had to ride the bus and listen, take notes, to figure out how people talked
- Jim: You cast your story in your head, with actors that you’ll never get
- Meriford: you can even steal little quirks, like how obama used to tell a joke during a speech, and then stop and comment on it, and it was such a dad thing to do
- Jim: like in improv, you build a character around these traits and quirks, and then put them in situations; what would norman be like at the deli? Things like that
- Jim: what they don’t tell you, the introvert, looking for a job as a writer where you stay in a dark hole all the time, is that what you’re really signing up for is a lifetime selling your story to other people, and you have to become comfortable doing that
- Meriford: hardest part of being a dramatic writer is having to walk into a roomful of people
- How do you juggle between dialog that’s clear and not on the nose?
- Jim: gotta hide it; to your ear, gotta sound like something someone would say; there are tricks, and everyone’s heard the backstory dialog that sounds weird
- Meriford: three levels of dialog: first where you mean what you say (hello, i love you, duck), second is when you mean what you say, but you talk about it sideways (“it’d be a shame if something happened to that nice suit of yours”); third level is where you never speak about what you’re actually talk about (gene hackman talking about horses after getting demoted by denzel washington in crimson tide); don’t want to live in number 3 or number 1, want to bounce between 1 and 2; another number 2 example: the fight’s never really about the dishes, even though that’s what you talk about
- Craig: if you do stop to have a conversation while the t rex is chasing you, it’d better be damn good dialog
- Meriford: on the other hand, you can stop to have those moments, like hawkeye and black widow in the first avengers: “this reminds me of budapest” “you and i remember budapest very differently”; so much character and backstory embedded in those two lines
- Meriford: loves writing spiderman, because he talks through every fight, it’s a compulsive tick for him, so you never have to kill your darlings in that one
- How do you convey accents?
- Holly: tries not to use accents, mainly
- Craig: standard thing in scripts is to put in parentheses “has a german accent”
- Jim: example, early mistake he made writing scooby was to actually write “rutt-roah”, actor took him aside and said “don’t do that; i know how to do the voice, if you put an ‘r’ in front of every word, i won’t know what it is”
- Meriford: in print, especially, use a lighter touch with accents than you want to, it’s hard to read, maybe throw in a word or two from the language, or use the ol’ asterisk (translated from the chinese)
- What about characters written as cyphers? Like james bond, a bland character in exotic situations?
- Meriford: tries to avoid writing bland characters, just as a rule
- Craig: bond isn’t a cypher, he’s a job, is allowed to show some emotion but in few situations
- Jim: jack reacher books are like that, he’s a machine, what’s interesting is the situations “the corruption goes a lot deeper than you think”; sometimes it’s not about the character, it’s the world, but the other people have to have a lot of character in their dialog
- Meriford: if you’re gonna write a character with very functional dialog, give them a quirk or two to give that smooth line of dialog a bump or two, make it seem like they still have some depth
Writing and Illustrating Children’s Books
- Henry herz: moderating, three picture books coming this year; also does self-publishing
- Jenni holm: newberry award winner, three time
- Antoinette portis: will be here later; former creative directory at disney products; ny times bestseller
- Dan santat: ny times bestseller, caldecott award winner
- Deborah underwood: writes intersteller cinderella, supersaurus, here comes cat
- Eugene yelchin: newberry honor winner; haunting of falcon house
- What inspires your writing?
- Dan: grew up watching 80s tv: a-team, falcon crest, airwolf, a lot of inspiration comes from borrowing other people’s ideas and making them your own, watches all kinds of movies, the weirder the better, anything to jump start his imagination, doesn’t shy away from anything that he might not be into
- Jenni: pulls things from her own childhood, grew up in the 70s, middle child of five kids, only girl, read a lot of comics, late father was a huge comic fan, weaned on prince valiant and flash gordon, didn’t notice at first that weren’t a lot of women in comics, but when grew up wanted to see herself in comics, stole a lot from her own elementary school life
- Antoinette: some from own childhood, some from daughter’s childhood
- Eugene: so many ideas, so much information coming in, hard to decide which ideas to pursue, what he uses to choose between them is the emotion behind them and the strength of the idea, even if he has a poppy idea that would sell books, if he doesn’t feel anything about it, can’t write it, has to let it go
- Deborah: quiet book inspired by sitting at concert, waiting for it to start, noticed the different qualities of the silence that the crowd went through; for her the common thread is ideas coming out of quiet or out of play
- Questions from the audience: How many pages?
- Picture book age: golden number is 32 (dan), if you add to it, you add by 4
- Henry: fictional picture book, you’re looking at 500 words
- Can find templates online to give a sense of the layout
- All endorse society of children’s book writers and illustrators, chapters all over
- Best book experience?
- Deborah: new york children’s musical theatre group made her book into a musical, she got to go to new york and see her characters up on stage
- Eugene: differs with every book, each book is its own world, living in that world for a time, is its own special experience
- Antoinette: wanted to make her own art, her own property, after working for corporate masters for so long, ran away from disney, everyone thought she was crazy, but felt so good to get away and do her own thing, create her own art
- Jenni: her son always read other books, had to do a book report on a newberry award winning author, left his book at school, she pointed him to her book, got him to write a book report on her own book
- Audience question: as an artist how do you get on a publisher’s radar?
- Antoinette: If you join the scbwi, it’s very helpful with all that stuff; can send postcards and have a web site, your target audience is editors and publishers, who are the ones that do the hiring of illustrators, not writers
- Dan: you’d be surprised who’s looking at websites
- Audience question: what do you think about self-publishing?
- Henry: it depends on what you’re trying to accomplish; have your own timeline, own creative control, trad publishing is slow; downside is you’re responsible for everything, so either need to be a master at everything, or have a team that can be masters at everything; too often can see people rushing to self-publishing because they want to see their names in print, and don’t want to spend the time honing their craft; don’t think of it as a shortcut around traditional publishing, because the quality won’t be there
- Antoinette: getting your self-pub book into a bookstore is a full-time job on its own, and as a creative person it’s probably not a job you want to take on
- Dan: contra that, there are people that like the hustle, so even though they’re talented enough to be trad published, they choose to be indie
- Audience question: proper approach for submitting manuscript if you’re not an author?
- Deborah: if you’re just an author, double-spaced typed manuscript is fine, if you’re an illustrator and you submit art, it’s a red flag for publishers
- Eugene: so much depends on the art, better to submit without art
- Henry: cover letter is typically three paragraphs: what’s the story about, market potential, bio stuff
- Jenni: industry is more agented now, so becoming standard practice for publishers to not accept unagented manuscripts
- Henry: true for the big five publishers, but for the medium sized and small pubs, they’ll still accept unsolicited submissions
- Deborah: also, some publishers will accept unsolicited manuscripts from people that attend certain conferences
- Dan: some graphic book publishers will even do “new talent” events
- Audience: why prefer children’s books as a medium?
- Dan: had a cartoon show on disney for three seasons, dealing with executives is a pain in the butt, whereas in children’s publishing, an editor will endorse your views and your voice, your perspective is more intact in children’s publishing
- Eugene: also comes down to your personality; if you’re more comfortable working in a team, than by yourself, then you’re going to drift into different media
- Antoinette: knows an author/illustrator that is constantly pitching shows, wants to be in tv and movies, and to her it sounds like hell, don’t make as much money in children’s publishing, but you have more creative freedom, so it’s worth it
- Audience: how has having children affected how you write children’s books?
- Jenni: they kind of ruin it, actually, productivity went into the toilet; i don’t think you need to have kids to be a children’s author, got her start before she had kids; in fact, recommend not having kids often
- Deborah: i don’t have kids, and that’s why i have time to write; people write for the age of the kid they actually are, so i’m 6
- Dan: kids help me become a better writer, because my memories of being a kid are a little skewed, thought was writing with things for himself as a kid, but then had kids, and realized he’d forgotten so much; had to re-discover his childhood through his kids
- Audience: do you see a dramatic change in how you do things with tech?
- Jenni: kids are growing up so fast now, feels like there’s a renaissance going on in comics for children
- Dan: thinks the attention span for kids is shorter; take a book like jumanji, that’s 4,000–5,000 words, couldn’t get something like that published today; if you’re pushing 700 words in a picture book, you’re already getting word-heavy
- Antoinette: counter to kids’ attention span being shorter, is that they are way more sophisticated visually, don’t have to show every step anymore like you used to
- Eugene: but even grad students these days don’t focus on an image like they used to, we have so much coming at us that we don’t stop to study anything and read an image properly
- Antoinette: but kids spend so much time with a book, memorizing it
- Audience: appeal to parents first or kids?
- Dan: flip flops, just tries to make a good book
- Jenni: writes middle grade, she writes for the kids
- Antoinette: my 4–5 yr old is dictating what works and what’s funny, want it to not be stupid, for the adult that’s going to be reading it
- Eugene: little kids don’t buy for themselves, but older kids do, so it’s two different modes; i write for myself as the kid that i was, mostly write for 10–12; thinking about other kids and other teachers would make him too worried
- Deborah: agree with writing for the inner kids; also likes to put things for the adult reading it that they can chuckle at that the kids won’t get
Inside the writer’s room
- Mark: show runner for the librarians
- Gab stanton: vampire diaries, the flash
- Michael morducci: vampire diaries
- Ryan cordel:
- Ashley miller: fringe, black sails, thor, x-men first class
- Steve melching: star wars rebels, clone wars
- Kay reinalt: twisted, free-form, freakish
- Marc bernarden: alphas, castle rock
- Amy berg: counterpart, da vinci’s demons, eureka
- Chris parnell: co-president of sony pictures studios, worked at sony for fifteen years
- Focus on the awesome task of writing in a writer’s room, a team work, and the writer’s room as a living organism
- What’s inspiring you on tv
- Amy: obsessed with the good place
- Marc: also watching the good place, because he does everything amy says, also watching jessica jones season 2
- Kay: also watching jessica jones season 2, loves it, waiting for the last season of the best show ever, the americans
- Steve: watching a lot of weird comedies, like another period
- Ashley: catching up on shows that everyone else has seen, recently discovered community, watching now and it’s perfect in every way: marvellous ms maiselle
- Ryan: not a comedy writer, but love’s Love on netflix, gets LA completely right, also loves the crown, looking forward to the terror
- Michael: handmaid’s tale is awesome, wormwood about mk ultra is amazing
- Gab: the one dirty secret they don’t tell you is that once you work in tv, you no longer have time to watch tv anymore; check out no activity on cbs because it’s surprisingly good
- Mark: rebels just wrapped up its four-year run, it’s like the breaking bad finale of animation; we binge everything sucks, it doesn’t suck
- Chris: end of the fucking world is also great
- Philosophy behind a writer’s room: impossible for one person to crank out all the material needed for a series; but lots of studies that argue against group brainstorming, that more creative work comes out of one person
- How important is a good showrunner to a group think session?
- Kay: most important; if you’re trying to tell a single season story, have to have a strong point of view
- What does it take to be a good showrunner?
- Chris: movies -> director runs it, writer is just one component; tv -> opposite, writer-driven medium
- Amy: is really about surrounding yourself with the right people, need the right mix of personalities and skill sets, when you’re hiring crew, need your department heads to be great facilitators, can’t really go it alone and get the job done well (see true detective season 2)
- Gab: have to manage people, have to manage a ton of money, have to manage all these writers, have to make decisions about all the costumes, etc, have to be the kind of person that can go to someone and say “help me out with this” and be open to what they have to say
- Marc: have to be able to communicate what your objectives are, so others can march in the right direction and get it done
- Ashley: best showrunners remind him of the best teachers, a lot of those skills convey, personality type that needs to walk into the room with a plan, but know the plan is going to change as soon as it encounters other people, not quite egoless, but have to let people talk and give them permission to be wrong; it’s a hard skill to teach people that just want to work alone in a dark room
- Kay: showrunner has to protect the writing staff, has to make the room a safe place for everyone to be able to contribute
- Michael: thinks what makes the best writers who they are is courage and empathy; that’s also what makes a good boss; don’t want to scream at people if they come up with a not-great idea that moves the show forward, because then you won’t get their best
- Recommended: john cleese on creativity; find the video on youtube, it’s great
- Chris: and yet, you’ve got to hold everyone to creative standards in the room
- Michael: agrees, but don’t want to scare people, make them afraid to bring up ideas later on
- Steve: and sometimes, those crazy, bad ideas you pitch lead to the good ones, you laugh about it, and then it frees you up to think of the good one
- Gab: vocab about it, “this is the bad version, but…”
- What kind of structure do you impose?
- Amy: law of diminishing returns, happens early in the afternoon, comes in with an idea of what she wants to get done, and if she gets there, she gets there, sometimes you have to be willing to call the brainstorm session over and move on
- When breaking season down, use a board, index cards with different color for each character, writer’s assistant is writing everything down, nice feeling that something’s being done because you have a physical object at the end of the day; break down the season episode by episode, or arc by arc
- How do you build a team?
- Mark: be as brutal as you can, until you tell me i can’t change it anymore, and then tell me it’s brilliant; there’s a real value in criticism, if you can trust that everyone is working toward the same goal, you want to make it better
- Chris: have to be able to take a note, to teach people how to take notes
- Michael: was told by a showrunner, most tv writers are not very good, his job is to let them take the script as far as they can, and then come in and make it better; on vampire diaries, they put all the character names in a hat, and everyone had to pull a name, and they became the advocate for that character, kept them from dropping the ones they weren’t as excited about
- Marc: have to be willing to remember that you’re getting paid to not get everything you want, you’re not always going to win, and you have to be willing to accept that, and move on
- Gab: writing tv is really about mimicry, because you have to be able to write in the voice of the creator of the show; when she was coming up, you had to write a sample episode, and that proved you could fit into the show; today everyone’s writing their own pilots, and that shows they can write, but not that they can do the work in the writer’s room on the show
- Mark: “just because you can write hamilton, it doesn’t mean you can write ncis: des moines”
- Ashley: any a-hole can be an artist, the hard part is being a craftsperson, showrunner has to bring an understanding of the craft into the room, and how to use the craft of the writers in the room; pitching responsibly means having an awareness of what the consequences of the idea will be both for what came before and for what comes after; best defense against terrible ideas is “tell me about”, it’s still notes and criticisms, but a different way to think about it, opens people up instead of shutting them down
- Amy: worries that if you have to come to the room with such a complete idea, you won’t bring it, she’s good at ping-ponging off of ideas that are very small grains of things
- Kay: very important when you’re doing it for the first time, that you feel comfortable and not stupid, even when you’re still learning your craft
- Marc: what he wants from a showrunner is the same thing as from a dungeon master; some idea of where you’re going, but the ability to shift things on the fly as the players throw monkey wrenches into things, give them agency in the game; a good DM will roll with the players moving off of the main storyline, and find a way to incorporate it into the main arc
Intro to TV Writing: first draft to staffing
- Possible questions:
- Previous panel talked about shift from writing episode for the show on spec to writing your own pilot; which is better?
- How much of the show do you need to have worked out when pitching a pilot?
- Better to get a gig writing on a current show before pitching your own?
- Agents? Needed or not needed?
- Where do you send these scripts? How do you know which shows/editors/producers might be open to them?
- Melissa: wrote for lost, the gifted, veteran of the warner brothers workshop
- Cat: being human, the cape, cw’s arrow, legends of tomorrow
- Drew: marvel’s agents of s.h.i.e.l.d., buffy, arrow, warehouse 13
- How do you go about spec’ing a script of an existing series?
- Melissa: don’t write for a show you don’t like, it’ll be terrible; watch all the episodes so you don’t do something they would never do; watch a show with a legal pad and do a break down of the show minute by minute, the pacing, how it’s put together
- Cat: seconds everything she said; first script ever spec’d was lost, tried to make it as much as a contained story as possible, found some plot holes she thought she could fill out; try to find that space to work in that’s self-contained; but also find a way to orient readers that might not have seen the show; she did a “previously on lost” to let reader know where everyone was and what’s going on; everyone said she was crazy to spec lost, but that’s how she got a job on the verge
- Drew: wrote an ally mcbeal and a sopranos, and a buffy spec, had a meeting with an exec of 21st century fox, they showed it to joss whedon, which is a NO NO
- Rule: you don’t show the spec you wrote for the show to the actual showrunner, not only will they immediately spot all the flaws, but for legal reasons they can’t read it (might be accused of stealing ideas from it)
- Purpose of writing a spec is to show you can write in the voice of the show
- Dangerous to write a spec for a show that’s been around a long time, because it could vanish, then you’re screwed
- What are you looking for in a script?
- Cat: ex: for a superhero show, not just looking for superhero writers, right now looking for humor, and writers who can write emotional moments, arcs are very important for them; snappy dialog also great; period piece for a time-travel show; humor and heart
- Melissa: when reading for vampire diaries, looking for genre scripts, but in a wide range; had to be able to write banter, since it was so critical to the show
- Drew: it’s character, emotion, and humor, just like cat and melissa said; for example, on agents of shield, they’re all comic book geeks, got that covered, what they’re looking for is emotion, can you write it, can you inspire it?
- Original pilot talk: heard eps lately say they want to read the pilot, others just want the spec
- Melissa: wants to read the pilot, tells you a lot about who the person is; when go into a meeting, they want to get to know you and figure out who you are as a person; even if you don’t get the gig, it’s not always about you, don’t ever take it personally; when she goes into meetings, starts with the story about why she became a writer
- Drew: when writing pilots himself, he’s known for comic book shows, so will zig instead of zag, write a family drama; he’s looking for in a pilot is writers that can do some good worldbuilding, present a fully-formed world from the get-go; no place to hide in a pilot
- Cat: when writing a spec pilot, really take a hard look at your dialog; showrunners will skip prose and go right to the banter, because they’re busy; what separates a good writer from a great writer is finding those voices and channeling them in a way that’s distinct; make it so it sounds like only those characters could sound that way
- Melissa: harder bar: should be able to say at the end of the pilot: what’s the series? You should have questions, you should get to the end of the pilot script and immediately want to know what’s coming next, and know what sort of questions are going to be coming, what’s the underlying engine of the story
- Audience q: How can get writing to people like them?
- Drew: the best way is to have an agent, or a manager; need to network, go to writers events in LA, don’t cold-call them, meet them that way
- Melissa: if she had unlimited resources, would invite a group of writer’s assistant’s out to drinks, find out who needs people
- Audience q: why write a spec script if you can’t show it to the show?
- Cat: main purpose is to get into any of the writer’s programs for the networks, warner brothers, nbc, fox, etc, all of them need a spec script as part of the application process; also EPs will read spec scripts later on
- Audience q: how much map out for the series when pitching pilot?
- Melissa: you don’t have to show anything, but as a writer, it’s a good thing to know the big signposts, what’s going in to season two, etc; ed solomon: don’t do it for the money, or the credit, or the fame, do the work, the rest will follow; it seems easy, but it’s not
- Audience q: if a show gets cancelled, does that kill the spec scripts for it?
- Audience q: what’s the biggest oopsie you’ve ever made and how did you get past it?
- Melissa: do a lot of research on the person you’re going to meet when going into a staffing meeting; know whether they’re casual people or formal, so you know how to dress, how to approach them
- Audience q: biggest takeaway from first season staff writing?
- Cat: learn how to write on whiteboards, like practice, and get really good at it, because that skill will be enough for you to stay in the room, they’ll keep you just for your ability to write legibly; if you have good board writing, they will love you
- Drew: really lucky that his first staff job was writing with buffy; once you get into the room, have to be ready to shift your skillset to working with a roomful of (potentially) geniuses; when you’re building a story with other people, it’s like a train, once it’s building momentum, if you’re the person that just says “no, that’s crazy” then you’ve just pulled the emergency brake on the train, no one likes that; gotta learn how to work with people and introduce things gently
- Melissa: should have been more comfortable in her own skin; surprised by how miserable she could be doing the thing she had worked so hard to do; wasn’t quite the right fit for that staff room, and made it worse by being incredibly awkward; should have done some meditation and relaxed so she could enjoy having made it
- Audience q: elaborate on the fellowship?
- Cat: replicated feel of the writer’s room, ten people total, all pitching specs to each other, getting feedback; going through very organized process of outline, then vomit draft, then revisions; half of the program was writing, the other half was the business; practice going to general meeting, execs would come in and talk about what they want from writers, etc; got a speech instructor who told them how to speak in public; even had showrunners come in and talk to them; started out as a novice: one tv spec and one pilot; had two more scripts when she was done, and felt ready for a writer’s room
- Audience q: biggest mistakes you see in tv pilots? How about submitting artwork?
- Melissa: notices people overcomplicate things, ten pounds of story in a one-pound bag; simple idea executed well carries a lot more in the read; ask a friend of yours that you consider a little dense to read it and see if they can make it out
- Drew: if you need art to back up the script, then you’re failing a bit, since the spec’s purpose is to show you can build the world with just the script
- Audience statement: animation caucus has monthly meeting where they do events with professionals coming in
- Audience q: if you have a pilot, what do you do?
- Cat: same thing
- Melissa: if you want to pitch it to a network, helps if you can find an actor who’s interested, will get them to answer the phone, at least
- Audience q: final polishing?
- Cat: writer friends, use them; writer’s groups can be so helpful; friends get on shows, and then they recommend you, and give you advice
- Melissa: do a table read; find actor friends if you can, but even if not, just get friends together and have them read it, because you can discover things you missed