Cobra Kai has no right to exist, let alone be good.
It’s a spin-off of a move franchise whose third installment limped out of theaters thirty years ago. It’s centered on the villains of those movies. And because Pat Morita has passed on (RIP), it can’t include most people’s favorite character.
How did this happen? Who greenlit this? Who had the audacity to even suggest it?
And how the hell is it this friggin’ good?
Because seriously, if you put the first two seasons of The Mandalorian up against the first two seasons of Cobra Kai, Cobra Kai is the better show, hands down. It’s got funnier lines, better acting, and better characters.
Cobra Kai’s surprisingly deep, willing to show us good and bad sides of all the characters. As a result, for its first two seasons, there’s no real villain. There’s conflict, sure, and tension, hell yes, but you can sympathize with everyone. Root for everyone. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a TV show where I liked every character, but Cobra Kai pulls it off.
…for two seasons. The third season drops the “no villain” posture, and switches genres entirely. From a grounded, complex show, exploring the adult lives of Johnny Lawrence and Daniel LaRusso while also examining how their rivalry impacts their kids’ lives, Cobra Kai switches over to a YA love-triangle plot in a universe with martial-arts movie logic. Which is fine, as things go, but isn’t nearly as interesting, and is a jarring switch, after two seasons of being a rather different show. You’ll want to see all three seasons (season two ends on a bit of a cliffhanger), but be prepared for the tonal shift.
Still, if you liked the Karate Kid movies, I highly recommend Cobra Kai. It’s clearly made by people who love those movies, who could recite them line by line, because of the way they weave the backstory from the trilogy into the plot of the show. They even manage to make good plot fodder out of the third movie, which is something I didn’t think was possible!
They took their love, and built this beautiful show, that for its first two seasons stomps everything else I’ve seen recently.
Ye gods, it has been hard for me to avoid spoilers for Mandalorian Season 2. Even though I deliberately avoided every article, every review, still things would slide by on my Twitter feed, and then boom spoiled.
So two of the “biggest” reveals — well, okay, three — were basically spoiled for me before I even started rewatching Season One.
I…well, I hate that, so I’m going to be very careful here. The first part of my review will be completely spoiler-free, promise.
The second part will have spoilers, but I’ll label it in huge header-style letters first, so if you haven’t seen Season Two yet, you can stop before you get there.
Season Two is a huge improvement on Season One.
In Season One, the episodes were very much disconnected, both tonally and plot-wise. It felt like the kind of show that a network that 20 years ago would have been shown out of order on a network, because they thought no one would notice.
Season Two finally gets its plot arc together. Each episode flows naturally from the last, and builds on it, till the final episode feels inevitable, instead of weirdly tacked-on.
As a result, every single part of the writing is stronger. The dialog is better, because it has a purpose. The individual plots are better, because they’re not mucking about, they’re building to a conclusion. And we get to see more character moments from Mando, learning more about him, and how he changes over the course of the Season.
Basically, everything that was missing from Season One is finally in place.
And thankfully, they don’t throw out the elements from Season One that mostly worked. They revise them a little, perhaps, but amidst the new cameos and characters, it felt good to see them tying into locations and events from Season One. It made the whole thing seem more grounded, more real.
So what’s not to like?
Well, I’ll save the details for the spoiler section, but basically they still don’t know what to do with Moff Gideon other than have him be SO EVIL, LIKE REALLY EVIL, HE WEARS BLACK AND EVERYTHING CAN’T YOU SEE HE’S EVIL?!!
And they can’t seem to think of a good name for something Imperial other than to call it “Dark,” which makes me think they drank the Dark Kool-Aid in their Dark Treehouse while wearing their Dark Hat (and listening to Dark Music) just a little too much. It’s not scary at this point, it just sounds uncreative (and a little racist, to be honest).
Finally, after all the buildup I heard online about the last episode, it was a complete and total letdown. Plot-wise, character-wise, and ending-wise. Just meh.
SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS
This next part of the review has spoilers! If you don’t want ’em, skip out now. I’m going to give you till the count of 3.
“Dark” Troopers? Seriously? That was the best name they could come up with? The scariest name?
And what’s scary about them? They have better armor than stormtroopers, they’re kind of strong? I mean, really, how are they a frightening force?
They’re obviously there so that the only thing that can rescue our heroes from them is a Jedi. Which is…so frustrating, and feels like a lost of wasted potential.
Ditto Moff Gideon. “I’m done with the Child, you can have him”? And then Mando just believes him? Mando, who a few episode earlier we saw shoot an enemy that claimed to be disarming? Mando, who we’ve seen call in a New Republic hit on an entire base? That Mando?
I don’t buy it, not one bit.
I feel sorry for Moff Gideon. They have him strutting around in that ridiculous armor, which he has no business wearing in the first place, spouting villain dialog which goes nowhere and does nothing.
Dear god, I just remembered: “Dark Saber.” Jesus Wept. What a horrible name for a MacGuffin.
And then Luke shows up, and he doesn’t sit down to chat, doesn’t explain anything, just this dude in black comes up and says “Give me the child,” and Mando just hands him over, no problem.
They’ve taken the ship. Why not have Luke stay for a bit? Discuss his plans? Get to know the Child?
Oh, it’s because de-aging CGI is expensive? Well, gosh, maybe they should have had some other Jedi come in and take the Child.
Like, oh….How about Qi’Ra? No computer-based aging required. We know she was working with Darth Maul, so her being a trained Sith is possible. And she can pretend to be a good person, at first, who’s willing to take the Child.
But having someone actually evil, actually, interestingly evil, take the Child gives us a plot engine for Season 3, and a cliffhanger for all of us who’ve seen Solo.
Instead, Luke’s flown in, taken the Child, end of story. What’s left to do?
Oh, the whole rule over Mandalore thing? That’s so obviously a fake problem, I don’t…I don’t really care.
I might care, if Mando had to try to protect the Child while getting involved in a plan to retake Mandalore and put what’s-her-name on the throne. That’d be interesting.
But that ship’s sailed, hasn’t it?
So for me, the final episode was just a big letdown. Going out with not a bang, not even a whimper, but more of a sigh.
I think the first five episodes of the Season are fantastic. But things start to wobble in Episode Six (it was good to see Boba Fett kicking ass, sure, but did Mando really need to throw himself at that force field three effing times?), and then completely come apart in the finale.
I don’t know if I’ll watch a Season Three. Having established their show once, and fixed it the second time, then thrown it all away, what’s there to draw me back?
In preparation for diving into Season Two, I’ve been rewatching The Mandalorian’s first season. And there’s a lot of things I’m noticing, good and bad, about the series that I didn’t pick up on before.
Warning: Slight spoilers for Season One below.
I still love the decision they made to set it just after the original films. Both aesthetically, because it lets them recreate the look of those movies (which I’m still a sucker for), and story-wise, because it gives them a lot of room to play, with the Empire crumbling (but not gone) and the New Republic still finding its feet (along with everyone else). Lots of possibilities.
And seeing characters that got short shift in the originals, like the IG unit and the Ugnaught, finally get their due as fully realized people, warms the heart of this old fanboy.
The special effects are simply spectacular. You can tell they poured a lot of money and time into them. And it’s not just The Child, either; the ships, the creatures, everything looks as good as (or better) than anything made for the movies.
Ditto the music. I love the theme: So sparse but memorable, really sets the Western tone for the series. They keep the music low-key or gone for most of the show, which I appreciate. It’s there to heighten some moments, but otherwise they know they don’t need it.
And sometimes — not often enough, but sometimes — the dialog crackles. I think the scene between the two speeder troopers at the open of Episode Eight is one of the funniest, most re-watchable scenes in a modern Star Wars production.
Far too often, though, the dialog is clunky. There’s too many times where characters point out something completely obvious, like when they reach the lava river in Episode Eight and someone actually says “That’s a river of lava.”
Or the dialog simply makes no sense at all. Like when The Child approaches Greef, hand out, intending to heal him, and Greef cries out “It’s going to eat me!” Which is laughably bad. Nothing Greef’s seen in his time with The Child could make him think that tiny thing was going to try to eat him. It’s just ridiculous.
Often they recap something that the audience has heard already, sometimes twice. And I don’t mean the whole “I don’t take off my mask thing,” which they obsess over for some reason. I mean actual plot recaps they have two characters give each other after we (the audience) have just seen it happen in that same episode. There’s a scene in Episode Seven where Cara and The Mandalorian recap not just the situation he’s in (which we know because we saw him get it in) but also why he brought her along (which we know because we saw him recruit her).
It’s not just the fact that these recaps don’t make any sense in-story (because they’re often between characters that know the things they’re rehashing). They’re also wasted time, in a show that doesn’t have time to waste (only 8 episodes for season one, each only about 30 minutes long).
Setting aside the dialog, I also wonder if The Mandalorian changes at all over the course of the season? His circumstances change, sure, but he starts out a pragmatically ruthless, honor-among-thieves type, and ends the season as…a pragmatically ruthless, honor-among-thieves type. There’s no grand moment when he realizes something about himself that he wants to change, and makes a conscious decision to change it. The droid IG-11 has more of a character arc then he does!
There’s so many parts of this season that make me cringe.
Basically all of Episode Six (“The Prisoner”). For that episode to work at all, we need the other crew members to look and feel like a tight-knit group, moving and working like a well-oiled machine. That way, when they betray Mando, we’ll actually be worried about him being able to take them down. As it is, he’s the only member of the crew to display any competence at all, so it’s no surprise when he comes out on top.
The less said about Xi’an’s “I’m a bad girl and I’m into you, Mando” shtick, the better.
They really obsess over his helmet wearing. Too much. In a galaxy filled with all kinds of intelligent creatures, from Calamari to Tusken to Jawas, is it really so odd for someone to always wear a helmet? Re-watching it, I was struck by how much I really don’t care what Mando’s face looks like. I care about other things, like “Why did you leave The Child alone in an empty ship in the middle of Mos Eisley?”
And the whole sequence with Moff Gideon…Ooof. Where to begin.
Let’s start with why he doesn’t already know the troopers have The Child? The speeder guards obviously know The Child’s important. They have working comms. Why don’t they just tell Gideon? Because that’d eliminate the need for his “I’ll keep them alive to drag out this episode” speech.
Then he commits the sin of actually saying they know what the e-web thingy is, and then goes on to explain it to them anyway.
Gives them “till nightfall” to talk things over, as if he cares about their lives…When, if he did care about them, he wouldn’t have sprayed blaster shots into the bar in the first place.
It’s all such mustache-twirling villain stuff, I can’t help but roll my eyes.
Which is a shame, because the actor, and the character, is fantastic. An Imperial Moff, clinging to some semblance of control in his corner of space, defying the fall of the Empire. Great stuff.
I just wish they gave him something to do other than posture and bluster. Oh, and pilot a Tie-Fighter, something an administrator who came up in the intelligence services has no business doing. It’s kind of like if the Governor of Montana used to be in the CIA in the 1970’s but then decided to hop into an F-22 for funsies. Just…why??
On first watch, I felt The Mandalorian was a solid B-movie in TV show form, a nice little Western story told on the edges of the Star Wars universe.
After re-watching it, I still think that, but I’m more frustrated than before at the mistakes the series makes.
It’s hard not to compare it to Firefly, another Western-in-Space story that had a pulpy feel. The Mandalorian doesn’t come off well in that comparison: It stumbles out of the gate, with clunky dialog and “villains” that don’t act in ways that make sense.
I haven’t truly binged-watched a show in a long time. Yes, even with the epidemic, I’m more often working or doing chores than watching something on streaming.
But The Boys is so irreverently good, so twistedly watchable, that I started it on Friday and spend Saturday finishing it off.
There’s currently only one season, and when the last episode was over, I thought: Well, they just blew everything we knew up. Where could they go from here? Could a Season Two be even close to as good as this?
Dear Reader, I think it can.
Below is my outline for a Season Two.
Major Spoilers for the The Boys Season One follows
Butcher starts Season Two with everything he’s built his life on for eight years suddenly knocked out from under him. His wife’s alive, she’s been raising the kid she had with Homelander, and she’s never, not once, tried to contact him about it or tell him the truth.
He’s going to struggle to come to grips with that. He’ll be in denial at first, and then angry when his ex-wife (and is she even his ex?) lays it all out for him. There’ll be fights. He might try to move in with them — insisting on a husband’s prerogative — he might try to “rescue” Becca (which she’ll resist, confusing him more).
He might even try another attempt on Homelander’s life, using his new family as bait.
All of these efforts, this raging at the new reality, will fail.
Finally, at the end of the last fight with his ex-wife, when the bleak truth has settled in, he’ll remember something Homelander dropped at the end of Season One, when he was talking to Stillwell (who was all tied up with explosives at the time): The name of the scientist who created Homelander.
Butcher will shift gears at that point, away from Becca, and towards a new goal: To track down this scientist, and guilt him into making a formula to undo his greatest mistake. Something that neutralizes the effects of Compound V, making Supes normal again.
Homelander and Becca and the Kid
Meanwhile, Homelander has been trying to play house with Becca and his son.
But he’s bad at it. Incredibly bad at it. Becca doesn’t really want him there, the kid wants a dad but can’t relate to someone raised in a lab, and Homelander himself has no role models to imitate.
Butcher himself might help here, in a scene where he’s feeling low and takes pity on Homelander for once. Gives Homelander an in, something he can do to bond with his son.
But it’s too little, too late. In an attempt to show “tough love”, Homelander ends up killing the kid’s favorite pet. Becca drives him out of the house, tells him not come back.
The Seven (as was)
With Homelander distracted, Maeve steps in to lead The Seven.
It’s a literally thankless job. Their new manager at Vought feels nothing but contempt for Supes, seeing them as just more dangerous versions of spoiled celebrities. And every interview Maeve gives, someone asks her about Homelander. Even when he’s gone, he overshadows her.
So she begins making some changes, to get some attention. She brings back a disgraced Supe, makes them part of the Seven. She gets back with her ex, and comes out of the closet.
It all unravels, though, when she finds out how Starlight has betrayed them all (in working with Hughie to take down Vought from the inside, tracing the route of Compound V to supervillains) and Homelander returns, all in a rage from his failed family experiment.
Hughie and Starlight and the Gang
Finally, “The Boys” has stopped being an all-boys’ club. Kimiko and Frenchie are an item, and more and more Kimiko is willing to help them in their crusade against Vought (though reluctantly at first).
Hughie and Starlight’s relationship remains fragile. They’re friends and allies, but arguing constantly about the best way to go about things. Each time of them reaches out to rekindle their romance, the other pulls back, wounded and mistrustful from their last fight.
Because of all this back-and-forth, Starlight doesn’t realize how deep she’s gone to the other side until Maeve confronts her about it towards the end of the season, framing everything as Starlight’s attempt to undermine her and take over leadership of the Seven.
Everything comes to a head all at once.
Homelander returns in the middle of Maeve and Starlight’s fight, pissed at everyone and everything.
Starlight’s fight delays her helping Hughie and the gang getting into Vought’s headquarters for the final piece of the evidence, making them think Starlight’s betrayed them.
They break into the lab themselves, where they find Butcher, happily switching everything over to churn out the Compound-V antidote. He’s carrying a rifle that’s been modified to fire doses of the antidote, so he can make Homelander mortal.
And everything goes to shit when the world’s first supervillain team chooses that moment to assault The Seven in their Vought HQ.
Spoiler’s ahead. If you haven’t seen Season 8 yet, and plan to, you probably want to stop reading now.
Just to give us a little buffer between this and the spoiler’s below, I’m posting a completely non-spoilery GoT picture below. Everything beneath that picture will contain spoilers.
What Went Wrong
Season 8 felt rushed, to me. Not in terms of pacing; they cranked the slow-motion all the way up to 11 for this last season. Rushed in terms of execution.
Jon’s first dragon ride was the first time the dragons looked fake to me. I mean, I know they’ve always been CGI creations, but they looked good up till that point. It’s like they got so far, and then quit.
And so many storylines get short shrift. Dany’s slide from liberator to slaughterer is too abrupt, too forced. Ditto Jaime’s about-face from noble knight to love-struck pawn. Once the battle with the Night King is over, it seems they give up explaining character actions, and instead just move them about the board to where they’re needed.
It’s sloppy, and it didn’t have to be this way.
How to Fix It
Let’s start with the decision to only make 6 episodes. This was a mistake. It doesn’t give us enough time for all our storylines to breathe. And we end up wasting a good portion of each episode with slow-motion filler, instead of pushing the story ahead.
So we go back to 10 full episodes. We cut any slow-motion that doesn’t serve the story or the tension of the episode (which, let’s face it, means all of it gets cut, save for the slow-down before Arya’s awesome leap at the Night King).
Now we’ve got enough space to tell our story. But what story do we tell?
Dany’s Not Mad, She’s Just Drawn That Way
Despite all of Varys’ hand-wringing and Tyrion’s prison self-pity, I don’t think Daenerys’ actions in the latter part of the season mean she’s gone insane. I think she’s been driven to a dark place. I think she’s angry, and seeks vengeance against her enemies, as she always has.
But crazy? No.
And with more time in the season, we can show it.
Start with the siege of King’s Landing. Let’s make it a proper siege!
We can still have the naval battle at the beginning, where she loses another dragon because the ship-mounted scorpions catch her by surprise. So she lands angry and hurt, already. One more death to lay at Cersei’s feet.
Her troops dig in around the capital. She summons her war council, where the Westerosi try to tell her how to proceed. She dismisses their advice, telling them she’s conquered several cities already, and knows how it’s done. She puts the prep work in the hands of Grey Worm, who was at her side when she won those cities.
The next day, she goes to the wall, and does what she knows best: she talks directly to the people.
She doesn’t appeal to Cersei. She doesn’t care about her. She makes her pitch directly to the people of King’s Landing, just as she made it to the people of Slaver’s Bay: throw down your masters, open the gates, and the Breaker of Chains will give you freedom.
But unlike before, the gates don’t open. No troops lay down their arms.
Instead, Cersei executes a prisoner. Right there, in front of everyone, where Dany can see.
Notice I said a prisoner. Not Missandei, not yet. Cersei captured several people after the battle, and over the next few weeks, as the siege drags on, she executes them all, one by one.
Each day, Daenerys goes out to make her plea. Each day, she sees another of her followers executed in response.
And loses a little more of her patience.
On the last day of the siege, Cersei executes Missandei.
By the time battle is finally joined, we’ve seen the build-up. We’ve seen Daenerys try to prevent bloodshed in the way she knows how. We’ve seen her try to connect to the people, and fail.
So when the Bells sound, and she decides to sack the city anyway, we may not agree with her choice, but we understand why she makes it: because it’s too little, too late.
Jaime Isn’t Love-Struck, He’s Summoned by Duty
Jaime’s about-face in the latter half of the season also doesn’t make sense. It’s a complete reversal of his entire character arc, where he’s been building to a sense of himself as an honorable person, a flawed one, but one that has been trying to do the right thing.
Why would he run back to Cersei, after finally rejecting her and riding North?
Answer: he wouldn’t.
Instead, while the seige is happening in King’s Landing (over a couple of episodes), we sometimes shift over to Winterfell to show what’s happening there.
For Jaime and Brienne, it’s a long-sought time of peace. Winter has come, true, but the Night King’s been vanquished, and the war at King’s Landing will soon be over (they expect Cersei to surrender to Dany’s dragons). They can lay down their arms, and simply enjoy being with each other. A reward for all that they’ve gone through, all they’ve lost.
That peace is shattered, though, when a raven arrives from Tyrion, summoning Jaime to King’s Landing.
Tyrion’s letter tells Jaime of the loss of a second dragon. Of Daenerys’ rejected pleas to the city. Of Cersei’s stubbornness in the face of certain defeat.
And he begs his brother to come help. To sneak through the siege lines, and convince Cersei to surrender the city. To save the lives of the people of King’s Landing once again, as he did when he killed the Mad King.
We see Brienne and Jaime argue about what to do. Brienne begs him to stay, to let Cersei pay for her mistakes, finally. But Jaime feels honor-bound to go.
We still get the scene of Brienne crying, begging him not to leave. We still get Jaime, regretful, saying goodbye. But not because he’s “hateful”.
He leaves because he’s honorable.
Jon Hides from the Truth Until It’s Too Late
Meanwhile, Jon didn’t tell Daenerys who he really is in that scene in the crypts (before the battle with the Night King). He told her Rhaegar loved Lyanna, sure, but he held back on the results of that love.
Why? Because he has doubts. He’d just been told something that contradicts everything he knows about himself. He heard it from Bran, true, but Bran claims not to be Bran anymore. And Sam confirmed it, which makes him take it seriously, but Sam could be wrong, couldn’t he?
So he holds back.
After the battle, he does finally tell someone. His family.
In that scene in the Godswood, he opens up. Shares what he knows, and his doubts about it. Bran insists it’s true, and gives some spooky quotes to back it up.
Jon says he’ll have to tell Dany next. She’s his queen, she deserves to know.
But Sansa convinces him not to. Sansa tells him — rightly — that she’ll see him as a threat if he tells her. That she doesn’t want to see him burned alive, like her grandfather and uncle were. And if he doesn’t want the throne, he shouldn’t tell anyone.
The last argument convinces him. He decides not to tell Dany, and swears the rest of them to secrecy.
Sansa, of course, immediately tells Tyrion, intending to drive a wedge between Dany and Jon, weakening the Dragon Queen. And setting in motion the chain of events that will end with Varys’ betrayal.
Jon tries to go on with Daenerys as if nothing’s changed, but it has. He starts to pull away from her touch, her caress, out of his concerns about their incest.
Dany doesn’t understand why, at first, though she gives him some slack because of what they’ve gone through (and her focus on retaking the Iron Throne from Cersei). But it unsettles her, makes her feel rejected and alone, and contributes to her sense that Westeros doesn’t like her, that its people will never love and accept her.
So she pulls another page from her Essos playbook: marriage to a local noble, to cement the people’s loyalty.
And the noble she chooses is Jon. It’ll seal her alliance with the North, and head off any rebellion Sansa might be planning.
Before they leave Winterfell (because they’ll be separated: she’s going by dragon/sea and he’s going by land), she proposes marriage. Jon is flustered, taken aback. He wants to say no, because of who he is, but he can’t. Not without telling her.
So he agrees. Dany is happy, says they’ll wait till after they take King’s Landing, of course, but that it’ll be good to have something to celebrate after so much war. Jon is sober, quiet, but plays it off as his concerns with the coming siege, nothing else.
But then the siege starts, and Daenerys loses another dragon, and Varys betrays her.
It’s Varys that tells her Jon’s parentage, just before she burns him alive. And when she confronts Jon, expecting him to deny it, he instead confirms what Varys believed, revealing that he’s been keeping secrets from her, too.
At this, Dany goes cold. She assumes he wants the throne, though he denies it. She wonders how she can believe him, when he’s been holding so much from her. He says she is his Queen, and she has to trust him.
She decides to trust him, but on one condition: he has to renounce the Iron Throne. She insists their wedding still take place, and that his formal renouncing of the throne take place after the ceremony. Everyone will see him bend the knee, and hear his words of fealty, and understand who is the Queen of the Seven Kingdoms.
Jon’s hurt that she doesn’t trust him explicitly, and unsure of an incestuous wedding. But he agrees. “As my Queen commands.”
So as we move into the Sack of King’s Landing, everyone’s under tremendous pressure. Tyrion’s trying to win King’s Landing with a minimum of bloodshed. Jaime’s trying to do the honorable thing, even if it means leaving behind a peaceful life with the woman he loves (Brienne). Jon’s growing more and more uncertain of his position and his safety.
And Daenerys feels alone, vulnerable, and unloved. The people of King’s Landing seem defiant and ungrateful to her. Didn’t she mobilize the army that defeated the Night King? Didn’t she offer them a peaceful way out?
If the people of King’s Landing — or the other kingdoms — find out who Jon really is, won’t they turn on her the first chance they get?
The battle happens much like it does in the released version. But this time, when the Bells sound and she starts destroying the city, we understand why. She’s not gone crazy. She’s punishing them for making the wrong choice. For rejecting her.
One more change: when the Unsullied start slaughtering prisoners, Jon orders his men out. He doesn’t stand there like an actor without blocking directions, he actively tells his men to get out of the city. As a result, none of the Westerosi knights participate in the slaughter.
Jaime and Cersei die in the catacombs under the keep. Arya almost dies trying to get out before Dany destroys the city.
Jon and his troops finally enter King’s Landing, trying to restore some sort of order. Tyrion wanders among the dead, looking for his siblings.
Daenerys gives a speech to her troops. But not the “eternal war” one she gives in the released version. She does praise them for slaughtering her enemies, and showing them no mercy when they deserved none. She praises their loyalty, and promises a new time of peace, though she knows she can always call on them to defend the defenseless.
Hearing that speech, and having seen the devastation, Tyrion resigns as her Hand. He can’t work for someone that’s proud of what she’s done. She has him imprisoned, not for resigning, but for his betrayals: once for releasing Jaime in an attempt to help Cersei, and twice for keeping Jon’s parentage from her.
In the throne room, Jon confronts Dany about the sack. Instead of responding with some weird speech about conquering the world, she defends her choices. Did she not give the people a choice? After they made it, how could she not hold them to its consequences? She talks about how she needs to inspire fear in Westeros, since she cannot inspire love. How she’ll rebuild something better from the ashes, just as she did in Slaver’s Bay. And just as in Slaver’s Bay, those who won’t bend the knee will be dealt with harshly.
Jon pushes back, saying Westeros won’t respond to the same methods she used in Essos. That its nobles are more stubborn, its people more loyal to their rulers. Will she burn them all, just to ensure that what’s left is loyal?
Daenerys looks at him, eyes fierce. “If I have to.”
Jon goes to see Tyrion, more torn than ever. Tyrion doesn’t give him the “we should have always seen her madness speech,” which, again, isn’t needed. It’s enough for Tyrion to be down on himself, to have helped her kill his family, and so many women and children. He can remark how it’s different seeing people you’ve known your entire life being burned alive.
And he has a warning for Jon: that if he doesn’t act soon, Dany’s going to turn him against his family, too.
Jon scoffs. Sansa’s loyal. He’s going to marry the Queen. It won’t be a problem.
Tyrion chides him for being naive. Sansa’s not going to bend the knee, he insists. And when she doesn’t, Dany’s going to take her dragon and burn down Jon’s childhood home. His only way out is to kill Daenerys, and take the throne from her.
Jon leaves in a huff. He’s no assassin. No Queenslayer, some second coming of Jaime Lannister. He’s loyal to his Queen, and if his family rebels, then so be it.
His bluster doesn’t fool Tyrion. And it doesn’t really fool himself, either. He comes out of the visit, wondering if it’s true, and what he’ll do if it comes to it.
Daenerys settles into King’s Landing, to rule. She sends ravens to all the nobles of Westeros, inviting them to her coronation, and to swear oaths of fealty.
Sansa’s answer comes back: no.
Daenerys summons Jon. Tells him to order Sansa south, as King in the North. He insists she can stay there, he’ll bend the knee for the North.
But Dany won’t be placated. If Sansa won’t come, then she’ll take her army to Winterfell and force her.
That pushes Jon over the edge. Torn between family and honor, he chooses family. He embraces Dany, for the last time, and plunges his dagger into her heart.
Drogon melts the Iron Throne and takes Dany’s body away.
Grey Worm sees Drogon leave, finds Jon with blood on his hands. Immediately takes him into custody.
Ser Davos convinces Grey Worm to let him call a meeting of the high lords of Westeros, to decide what to do.
And so we see Tyrion brought out to the assembly, where they are to decide his fate, and that of the Queenslayer.
Talk turns to choosing a King. Edmure stands up, begins his little speech about being a “veteran” and knowing about “statecraft.”
And Sansa tells him to sit down.
After he sits, Sansa keeps talking. Says the North will never kneel to a Southern king again. Not ever. The North is free.
The Dornish noble nods, and says his kingdom, too, has ever been unbowed and unbent. Though they lost the Sand Snakes, they are unbroken. They will not bend the knee, either.
Tyrion gets frustrated. Wonders if it’ll be a return to war between the kingdoms, without a single King or Queen to hold them together.
Sam stands, says they don’t need a King. What they need is a Hand.
Edmure scoffs. Can’t have a Hand of the King without a King.
Sam shakes his head. Not a Hand of the King, he says. A Hand of the Realm. Someone chosen by them, the Lords of Westeros, to serve the Realm as a whole. To arbitrate disputes, organize the defense of the Kingdoms, and prevent war.
Sansa agrees, a Hand would be fine. But who?
Here, Bran speaks up, finally. Nominates Tyrion as the Hand of the Realm. Explains why: he’s been making mistakes, and he can spend the rest of his life cleaning up his mess, with no title or lands of his own.
The other lords agree, one by one. Tyrion will be the first Hand of the Realm.
As his first act, he chooses Bran to be his Master of Whispers.
His second act is to negotiate a deal for Jon. It winds up much the same as in the released version: life at the Wall in exchange for renouncing titles, and he escapes punishment for killing their Queen.
Heartfelt goodbyes, the Unsullied sail for Naath, Tyrion hosts his first Small Council meeting. Jon reunites with Ghost and Tormund, rides into the sunset.
There were still plenty of good panels, though, with a great interview with Tom King in-between. And it was absolutely thrilling to see a friend of mine, local indie author J Dianne Dotson, share a panel with Cory Doctorow!
All my notes are below. Looking forward to next year!
let’s talk about making space for everyone by, maybe, making space-suits for everyone?
maura: there’s a whole bunch of tech that people can modify into the suit, to accommodate themselves; for fashion, she tends to make everything black; it’s kind of camouflage in a way
dianne: how fabulous can you make it and it’s still fashionable? always wants style and function; wants to think space should be for denizens, not dilettantes; everyone should be able to go, in 2019, we should have suits that fit everyone on the international space station
s.b.: comes at it in an economic angle; money talks, it’s often used as an excuse for not accommodating everyone; the way she approaches it in her fiction is protagonists from economically disadvantaged backgrounds having to use the tech designed for the advantaged
cory: works on a non-profit who wants to abolish the phrase “so easy your mom could use it”, because it takes more ingenuity to use something when it wasn’t designed with you in the room; “so easy your boss could use it” is a better phrase, since they’re the ones bullying employees to bypass firewalls
let’s talk about some of the emotional aspects of interacting with tech (for example, apologizing to siri when asking q’s)
maura: has book where “monitors” control the room, interact via holographic projection; you can’t just order them around, though, you have to negotiate with them, or trick them
dianne: on the space station in her book, there’s a variety of bots and drones to interact with; there’s a character that has a problematic relationship with an AI that he’s altered to resemble someone he used to be involved with
s.b.: fascinated by how tech impacts lives and relationships of people; any tech derived from our needs as human beings: to remember appointments or navigate a room or communicate with our family a long way away; teleporter’s are cool, but become more impactful when think of what it can do for your life
cory: thinks most salient thing is not what it does but who it does it for and who it’s designed for; likes exploring those power dynamics; in his book walkaway, explores the “how did that get there?” effect with the interaction of human beings and drones helping them build homes out of garbage
another emotion we like to experience is security; problem with consuming or creating science fiction is the burden of knowledge; we have cool medical apps now, but also hackers that can go in and change medical records; how does that knowledge impact you personally?
s.b.: in her fiction, she turns it around; enjoys thinking about what we gain as we give up privacy; we expose ourselves to risk, but we gain so much: connections with family and friends, etc; likes the pendulum to swing both ways, showing the dark side of our tech and the bright mirror of what good things we could achieve if we wield these technologies appropriately?
dianne: comes from a place of wanting patient data being secure; informs how people in her books come into a medical situation, and the ethics of their privacy and possible manipulation
maura: something she worries about; with all the data she has to give to a company everytime she downloads an app; but there’s always something about yourself that they can’t get to; in her book, everyone knows a character’s crimes, but no one knows what makes her tick, you have to make a personal connection in order to figure that out
cory: his motto: “this will all be so great if we don’t screw it up”; skeptical of accounts that say we’re indifferent to losing our privacy, just because we give our info to facebook; being with your friends is an unalloyed good, and we hope that we can control these companies with democratic solutions; best we can hope for is to use cryptographic tools and networks as tools to help us advocate for building a better state; there’s no parallel world, no getting away from a state that is often captured by the powerful
Spotlight on Tom King
nothing but audience q&a 🙂
recommends word balloon podcast, interviews with comics creators, awesome for people that want to break in, he listened and picked an origin story he wanted to follow — brad meltzer’s — who wrote a novel, sent it to comics publishers, and got in
The Art of Garbage: Writing the First Draft
dr billy san juan, jonathan maberry, christine boylan, dr travis langley, dr janina scarlet, jonathan butler, danielle jaheaku
how do you take that first seed and turn it into a first draft?
janina: lots of panic attacks and coffee; lots of late-night writing, lots of “this is the worst piece of garbage i’ve ever written”
maberry: process changes a lot; first novel, had no expectation of selling it, just wanted to see if he liked doing it and wrote something he’d like to read; hated it at various times, but wrote an outline and basically wrote to the outline; now writes the ending first, and aims for the ending; writes an outline but doesn’t stick to it; “first draft is you telling the story to you, cut yourself a break” (ray bradbury)
christine: there’s a huge different between an assignment and something you’re writing on your own; some plays have taken her 10 years, and some episodes of tv she wrote in a weekend; sometime you’re first draft is what’s on the board in the writer’s room, second draft is the outline, third draft is the first full crack at it (and might be the last)
travis: for him, writing nonfiction, the first draft is the book proposal
how do you overcome the “this is terrible” voice?
butler: it needs to be really rough and ugly, the first draft, so those feelings of “it’s terrible” come with the territory; you should feel that it needs work early on, those are good instincts, but you’ve got to ignore them to get the draft done
danielle: for her students, the hardest part is often getting started; she tells them to just write it down; don’t worry about what it looks like, if you get wrapped up in self-doubt, you’ll never get it down
maberry: a lot of us get hit with imposter syndrome; each freaking books, even the pros reach a point about 2/3 through where they email their friends saying “this is going to be the book that sinks me”; we never lose our insecurity
christine: yes, that text or that email that says “i’m done, i’m going to walk into the sea”; get a group of people you can send those texts to, so they can give you a reality check (and you can do the same for them)
butler: don’t leave this room without those people; we’re all here to do the same thing
christine: definitely work on yourself; do self-care; do not try to get rid of that voice; but pushing against it will give you the energy to do your work
travis: writer’s group is so important, yes, even if they’re outside of your genre or your area of writing; also having deadlines with that group can give you motivation to finish things
maberry: started the writers’ coffeehouses because when he was writing his first novel he thought all the problems he was having were things that were unique to him; the coffeehouses give you a chance to see other writers going through the same problems and trade solutions
janina: likes the writing groups because she noticed we tend to be more compassionate to others’ writing than we are to our own; these anxieties show up because we care, because we love this product so much, and we want to put it out there and see other people enjoy it; for her, keeping that person who’s going to read it in mind has helped her through the dips in the process
Day Two of WonderCon was packed with panels and interviews. I admit it was almost too much; towards the end of the day I stopped taking notes, and just sat back and listened.
But I still took down lots of good advice, from building a career in comics to getting hired on staff for a TV show.
Many thanks to the creators who took time away from their work and their families to share their insights and advice with us!
Breaking in and Staying in Comics
jim zub, max dunbar, chip mosher, ivan salazar, kiersten wing
jim zub: currently writing the avengers and iron man; did the rick & morty vs dungeons & dragons comic
max dunbar: artist, worked on dungeons & dragons, various comics at dc and marvel
jim zub: unlike a lot of other industries, you can go to conventions and show off your stuff, meet people; easiest way to get started in comics is to start making comics; got his own start in animation, because it seemed easier (to him) to break into (so many people needed for every project); started doing his own comic in the evenings after work (c. 2001); what’s amazing about the internet is a lot of the barriers to getting your work out there are gone
max dunbar: x-men cartoon blew his mind when he was young; drew all the time, thought “there’s a job where you get to draw non-stop”; much later, started taking his work to conventions; first breakthrough was convention in 2012, getting into a portfolio review, talking to editor directly, showing them his work
kiwi: there’s a lot of different jobs in comics: marketing, editorial, etc. lots of other ways to get in
chip: got into comics in ’82, parents let him have a subscription to rolling stone, which was a mistake, but it had an article about the dark knight, and he thought “this comic’s going to be hot”, so he went into the shop and bought two number 1s; soon followed with swamp thing, watchmen, etc; one his favorite comic companies at the time was kamiko: robotech, johnny quest, grendel, mage, etc; worked in a comic shop when he was a kid; somehow talked his parents into letting him take a bus from houston to san diego to let him go to comic-con when he was 16; he volunteered because he couldn’t afford a badge; ended up meeting bob and diane with kamiko, who took them to a party where he got to hang out with mark hamill, ended up working for them, and then moving to boom studios and helping them staff up and become a major player, then to the movie side for oni press, then…
max dunbar: make as many contacts as you can early on, never know when those contacts are going to provide an in
jim zub: joined a creative community early on, they would go to the cons and then to dinner afterward, and all look out for each other as each of them got their foot in the door
kiwi: and not only those contacts help you get in the door, but they become your support system later on
jim zub: though if you take a hunt-and-kill approach to making contacts, just looking for the next person to help your career, people are going to notice and you won’t be the kind of relationships you need to not only get in but become a better artist, a better collaborator; seek out the people on the sidelines, who aren’t being mobbed, they’re all important, and they can become part of your support system (and also: it’s just good people to recognize the humanity in others)
ivan: got his job in marketing not on the basis of his professional stuff, but on the strength of his fan-mix covers; because (according to chip) they were more him
jim zub: agreed; so many people pitch stories that they don’t really care about; but the biggest successes in indie comics over the last 25 years have been passion projects; nothing else is going to keep you going when you’re juggling a day job and grinding this out on the side
for jim: how do you get in the mindset for villains? jim -> when writing, he’s done so much d&d, he’s literally roleplaying all of it; villains are people that think they’re good and can always justify how they’re working towards their goals; they’re driven people; if you don’t know who your characters are, if you’re just putting them in there because “we need a bad guy” they’re not going to feel real to the reader; finds villainy for villainy’s sake to be boring, always wants to find their motivation
if you come in later in life, with a day job, how do you balance that?
jim -> can be really difficult, he’s still teaching, and writing at night, it’s nuts and it’s hard to get in the right amount of writing; like any hobby, like exercise or dieting or anything habit-forming, you need to be able to carve out that time; and hopefully the people in your life understand that and will give you your space; it’s so important to stop pretending like “i’m going to take 6 months off and do my creative project”, that’s a lie; make incremental progress constantly, daily, and then you’ll look in the rearview mirror one day and marvel at your progress
max -> start small, on anthologies, short comics; it’s important to work on projects and finish them, put them in your portfolio; put in the daily effort you’ll need to work on your craft
jim -> definitely don’t do things like cashing out your retirement account early so you can take a year off work to produce a comic; the problem with getting advice from successful people is that none of the bodies strewn on the fields around them speak up and talk about how things didn’t work out for them
max -> you can keep your job and work in comics, it’ll just take more discipline to juggle the two
american market is saturated with superheroes, can you talk about pitching stuff that isn’t that?
jim -> would not recommend trying to break in with a superhero comic; better to do a different genre, and build your rep there
max -> plenty of other stuff out there; his first superhero book was just last year
ivan -> for pitching, look at editors, see what they’re working on, look for similar stuff, and pitch your stories to those editors
jim -> check the names in the back, be targeted in your pitches, look for the people/names in common with the work you like; when you reach out to them, be genuine, don’t blow smoke, make a real connection based on your research and your fandom
jim: don’t send generic emails out to companies; meet people, and send your stuff to them
Spotlight on Scott Snyder
with whitney moore, host of the DC Daily (podcast?)
“what does it mean to have 80 years of batman?”
batman was one of his favorite comics when he was little; he’s from New York, grew up when times square, etc wasn’t considered safe; batman resonated with the problems he saw growing up, every day
and you want him to win, because he’s the most human of the heroes; no super speed or strength or anything else
didn’t handle his first year of writing batman well; got the book when he was in a low place, was really unsure of himself; was writing short stories at the time, one of them caught the attention of editors at DC, was only supposed to do background for the book, and then suddenly got handed the whole book; thought he’d only have that one shot at batman; wasn’t handling pressure well, was drinking too much at cons and parties, getting into fights with editors, etc; ran into grant morrison, who told him the only way he could deal is if made his character have a birth and death, and that’s when he started working on zero year; wanted batman to deal with the problems his kids are dealing with (shooter drills, terrorism, things that scott didn’t have to deal with when he was little)
batman laughs is his chance to vent, be crazy; write the anti-batman; let loose with all his little problems like “i got stuck in traffic today”
what is it about the horror genre that draws you?
was a very weird, anxious kid; lots of worries and anxieties; horror helped him deal with them
found a loophole in the video store: they wouldn’t rent R-rated videos to kids, but they would deliver them to your home; remembers getting night of the living dead, made a huge impact on him, so bleak, so socially conscious, lived in his imagination for months
horror is the perfect distillation of conflict; even if you’re writing a drama, you’re pitting the hero against their own worst fears; if you’re writing horror, you can go at it directly
takes your worst fear and makes you face it; takes the worst version of what you’re afraid of, and makes you face it, and then you come back ok
but even your horror has levity, how do you approach that? is a formula of timing, or..?
tries to throw in jokes because you need some release through the book
always puts himself in the work; it comes from what he’s struggling with personally; if you’re an aspiring writer, be prepared to be vulnerable, because the only way you’ll make these characters original is to bring to them your fears and problems
advice for aspiring writers and artists?
you gotta write your own favorite story that day; doesn’t have to be the smartest or the funniest, but the story that would change you that day
pragmatically; it’s going to suck; there’s going to be lots of years when everyone else has careers, and you’re like “i’m a writer!” with no credits
you can’t wait for the muse, you have to think of it as your real job, your secret identity, and work it like a real job
when he started out, he wasn’t the brightest bulb in the class when it came to writing, but he wanted to do it, and so he kept at it
writer’s block is just the fear of writing something shitty; even on the days where you suck, you have to write anyway
what if you don’t want to confront yourself on the page?
there’s no way to avoid it; whatever you write will be you; even if you don’t want to face your fears, write what about something you love, and make the villain the thing you hate, and you’ll still be confronting yourself on the page
Inside the Writer’s Room
chris parnell, gabrielle stanton, ashley miller, steven melching, ryan condal, deric hughes, bo yeon kim, kay reindl, jesse alexander, sarah watson, brian ford sullivan, marc bernardin, mark a altman
haven’t done a breaking in panel in a while, let’s do that, shall we?
focus on the staff writer today; how do they fit into the room?
gabby: levels: staff writer -> story editor -> executive story editor -> co-producer -> producer -> supervising producer -> co-executive producer -> executive producer, and that’s wobble for a while
who hires writers?
mark: writers hire writers; he wrote comic books for a while, didn’t work out, agent got ahold of one of his comics and said what do you want to do when you grow up; need to be able to write a pilot, need to come to LA for meetings, need to wow a show-runner, need to be able to plug holes as a staff writer; your job is to help the show-runner execute their vision
ryan: even show-runner has to get approval up the chain
in order to get hired, have to get your name on a list. how do you get on a show-runners list?
sarah: once you’ve written your one great script, write your second great script; you don’t know what show-runners are gonna be looking for; having a breadth of material helps; write as much as you can, because you get better with every script
recording this for inside the writer’s room podcast, which will launch later this year
jesse, how many scripts had you written when you got staffed?
wrote mostly features first, got into tv because a friend did and said it was fun
found his voice very early on, but now he’s so old that he’s lost his voice
write what you love and what you want to see, just crank out tons of it
wrote 40-some scripts just to learn how to do it
understand: the show-runner’s been moving up the chain for years, and this is their one shot to get their vision out, so they want to build a room that can get their voice out there
as a show-runner, what are you looking for?
jesse: had series with nbc, young writer submitted 2 spec scripts for other shows, and they were amazing and they were two very different shows, and so he hired her
kaye: is always looking for the writing; tip: read lots of scripts, read good ones and bad ones; most scripts aren’t bad, they’re just average; when you read something with a craft to it and a point of view to it, it stands out; she’s looking for someone that has their craft working for them
mark: wrote an original pilot that got him on castle; but he’d written features for years
when trying to get in a room, should they focus on specs or original material?
mark: recommend writing original material; really depends on the show runner; he prefers reading original
gabby: have a spec in your back pocket, because a lot of the writing programs now are asking for a spec and an original
sarah: have a spec because it teaches you how to write in someone else’s voice
kaye: also helpful to learn how to breakdown a show
when staffing colony, ryan only show sci-fi scripts, but he really wanted drama writers, because the show was meant to be character-driven in a sci-fi backdrop; also looking for diverse voices, even someone that doesn’t like science fiction to find out what kind of show they would watch
gotta market yourself to get on staff, right?
deric: yes, you want to pick a lane, get known for something to get on a list, and then once you’re established, you can move out of the lane; writing a smallville episode got him representation, but writing a rescue me episode is what got him his first job; gotta prove that you can write, no matter your lane
ashley: i’m supposed to have a lane, but i’ve been drinking, and so i don’t know the lane until i get home; been doing a lot of sword&sorcery lately; finding a lane is good advice, because it’s about knowing who you are as a writer; having a ground truth you can start from is very powerful; should constantly be creating material and developing skills
nelson, any different in animation?
in the early days, in the 80s, was studio staff driven; building full of writers would be assigned to whatever shows they were doing
then it became a freelance model, with single show-runner
now it’s more like tv model, with staffs of writers working on show
want to emphasize that it’s important to find your voice and where you fit, because it’ll be soul-crushing to be stuck somewhere you’re not happy working in (imagine being stuck in a show type you don’t like for 4-5 years)
what sets a good script apart from a bad script?
ryan: voice; it’s the hardest thing to quantify, but when you read a cormac mccarthy novel, you know it: that’s a voice; that’s the thing that leaps off the page, especially for people reading tons of scripts every day
jesse: looks for craft in the scene; needs someone who can tell a story and knows the format of tv; know how to tell a story in a scene
kaye: no more excuses for not having the right format for your script; when reading for a competition, knew she had a good script just from the way the writer started off the episode (just five pages in)
sarah: it’s character; wants to feel like she knows those characters; nothing more boring than a cop show that’s just about cop stuff; hook her with the characters, and then she’ll be into everything else
what’s a good pilot character?
jesse: put specifics in it; don’t say “i love a car” say exactly what car; this is nuts and bolts stuff that’ll make your work stand out
marc: it’s a character that’s never satisfied; the show is them trying to cross that gulf between where they are and what they want (ex: buffy and her need to be normal); mulder is much more interesting before he finds his sister
brian: got in through the warner-bros workshop; made it through a scene of house he wrote
what are options out there for getting in the room?
warner brothers writers’ workshop
writers on the verge (nbc)
cbs writers’ mentoring program
writers’ assistant is another way in; they’re the keeper of the wikipedia of the show, they keep all the notes and all the discussion from the room; they have to take everything and collate it into coherent thought at the end of the day, and send it out to the writers
marc: don’t be a dick; conduct yourself with grace; a lot of this business is people you know, and if you’re a dick, people will find out and they won’t want to hire you
also: don’t go on twitter and tear other shows down, it’s not a good way to get known; people look at your social media when considering whether to hire you
sarah: twitter is an optional platform with real-life consequences
can you be too old to break in?
marc: got first staff job at 43 years old
what about show bibles?
deric: no do not write the show bible, the show runner has that and they don’t want to read yours
kaye: don’t save anything from the pilot, don’t assume you’ll get a second episode; just blow shit up in the first episode, and deal with it once it gets accepted
nelson soler, lia martin, kristine huntley, kayreth williams, suzanne park, teresa huang, ken choy
feeling fear makes you a writer; wants to create a safe space; teach you how to utilize it
if you don’t have a writing support system, get one, to help you through your periods of doubt
take those traumas you’ve been through and turn them into fodder for comedy; it can be very cathartic
one method to add the comedy: have a character that can do things they wouldn’t normally be able to do (example: if they have cancer, there’s a lot of taboos they can break)
the rules: be funny, be honest, and be ugly; if you’re going to go (expose trauma) go all the way; dig deep, write all the ugly into the script
“all procrastination is fear”
epiphany: the fear never goes away; you have to learn how you’re going to live with it; stop fighting it or feeling bad about having it
technique: use creative kindling; give yourself 5-15 min to write something else: from a writing prompt, or a diary complaining about how things are going; then set timer and write during the whole time
every story is about fear; fear gives you the stakes, and the tension
take your fears and build them into stories, that’ll make them resonate with other people
for a tv show, need to take that fear and make it big enough to form an umbrella for 100 episodes of a show; example: fear of failure in college, make the college a super-prestigious place where failure means derailing your entire life (and maybe ruining your family): now all the normal events and stresses become much more dramatic
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?
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
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
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
I’m not sure I’ll be back for Season 6 of Game of Thrones. I feel like this last season was the weakest one so far. I’m still processing why, but I suspect it’s because of the following things, mistakes that I’ll try to avoid in my own writing:
1) Focusing on the wrong things.
I think this season spent a lot of time lingering over details that it didn’t need to, and shouldn’t. I’d count Sansa’s wedding night sexual assault as one of them, for multiple reasons. First, I think sexual assault is one of the most terrible things that can happen to a human being, and I don’t really want to watch even fake ones any more. Second, we didn’t need to see the actual assault to know it’d taken place: the very next scene with Sansa, where Reek comes upon her laying battered and half-naked on the bed, tells us everything we need to know.
But because they did decide to show us the assault itself, they weren’t able to show us other things, like Sansa trying to work out different ways to escape, or talking to the different servants to find out which ones she could rely on. They couldn’t show us the preparations for a siege at Winterfell, with Sansa trying to take advantage of the chaos to send a raven to Littlefinger or study the walls to remind herself of the best way over them.
I think it was a similar mistake to insist on showing us the full extent of Cersei’s humiliation, including the entire walk of shame. I didn’t want to see it, I didn’t need to see it — seeing her at the next small council meeting, head shaved and face cut, shaking as she reaches for her wine, is enough — and it prevented them from showing me other things, like Kevan trying to get her back, or the whole of them dealing with the aftermath.
I’ll admit that GoT takes place in a nasty world, where nasty things happen. But I didn’t need to see Craster actually rape his daughters to know he was a nasty man and understand what was happening there. I didn’t need to see King Robert’s sexual orgies to know the humiliation his antics caused Jaime and Cersei. And I didn’t need to see Viserys force himself on his sister to know she lived in fear of him.
2) Moving characters around instead of letting them move.
A lot of the decisions characters made this season felt forced, as if they needed to move across the game board for plot requirements, and the writers found an excuse send them there.
Take Jon Snow going to Hardhome. Why was this necessary? I understand that without Jon Snow there, there’s no perspective character to show us the assault of the army of the dead. But it would have made more sense for Aliser Thorne to have gone instead of Jon: he’s First Ranger, and known to hate the Wildlings more than Jon. Wouldn’t the oath to give them safe passage have been more impressive coming from an old and known enemy?
Jaime and Bronn going to fetch Myrcella also didn’t make sense to me. I mean, I understand wanting to show a buddy knight trip between the two of them, but Jaime has little reason to go and Bronn has less, and their presence didn’t affect the outcome at all. If they hadn’t been there, the Sand Snakes would have tried to kidnap Myrcella, failed, and any messenger from Cersei asking to see her daughter would have given Doran the excuse he needed to send Myrcella away to safety.
Finally we have Jorah. His decision to sign up for gladiator combat the first time made sense, since it gave him a chance to see Daenerys again. But submitting to slavery a second time after being banished again? Only made sense as a way to place him near her during the Sons of the Harpy attack. For the character, it didn’t make sense at all.
3) Trying too hard for big moments.
So many times during this season, I felt like I was watching the “Are you not entertained?” moment from Gladiator. The music would swell, the camera would zoom in on some character’s face, and they would say a line that was supposed to carry a lot of emotional weight. But it fell flat for me, every time, no matter the character or the situation.
I think the first two mistakes, made often enough over the course of the season, robbed the emotional high points of any impact. Instead of caring that Brienne finally got to confront Stannis, I just saw a knight come upon an old wounded man in the forest, tell him her name, and deliver a killing blow. Instead of dying a little inside at seeing Jon bleeding out in the snow, I knew from the moment Olly came to fetch him that he was about to be ambushed, and the circle of knives was way too much “Et tu, Brute?” to make me do anything other than shake my head.
And Drogon saving the day . Well, of course he saved the day, then dumped Daenerys in the middle of nowhere instead of somewhere else in the city. How else were the writers to setup Daenerys being standard in the wilderness, needing her two bravest knights to come save her (groan)?
None of it worked for me, and the parts that did deliver an emotional impact — Sansa’s assault, Cersei’s humiliation — were entirely negative. For me, this season was a set of lessons in what not to do. Here’s hoping I take them to heart.