Late last year, I got asked to work up a little something that would probably open with —
BASED ON A TRUE STORY.
I hadn’t done a based-on-actual-events job before* but I accepted the gig because 1. it paid, and 2. how hard could it be?
The concept was simple enough: a mini-series based on an incident that had happened a decade earlier, was reported world-wide, and it had a gorgeous protagonist to boot. A tweak here and there, and maybe I could work in a car chase, maybe even some gun play. As I researched the heck out of it, a voice in my head screamed over and over, This shit is just writing itself!
It had to be the kind of show that I would consciously tune in to. Which meant there would be no in media res device in the first ep because I’ve had it up to here with —
A wham-bang opening scene, then --
TITLE: One week earlier.
— so much so that when the Lovely Wife and I were trying a new show recently, I said, “If this sequence ends with a title saying, ‘Six hours ear—’ FUUUCK!” that last word making her spill her tea and I had to go and make her a fresh cuppa.
… Where was I? Yes. So. Here I was playing in the biographical drama space and one of my first creative decisions meant I had no wham-bang sequence to lure the audience in with.
What to do?
The development journey was all down hill from there.
* One could argue that Goodbye My Feleni and We Are Many are earlier outings in historical drama but no: they each took an “Inspired by” approach to Samoa and Aotearoa New Zealand history.
I could/would/should have been more productive so that at the beginning of a new year, I could look back with a sense of satisfaction of having written stuff. I could/would/should have beavered away in spite of the Alert Level changes so that I could greet 2021 with projects to offer to the world with a modest shrug.
I start this year with my health, and the love and support of a good and patient Lovely Wife. Fortress Mamea is officially an empty nest which means I now have a study in which to smoke a pipe sit, surrounded by firearms my wee library, and doomscroll write uninterrupted.
I can/will/shall dream big again: I have some work lined up.
Dolemite is My Name by Scott Alexander & Larry Karaszewski
Oceans 11 by Ted Griffin
This year, I managed to run a personal record-beating 106 times, clocked up a PR-beating 606 kilometres, but didn’t quite manage as much calisthenics as last year. Although guilt continues to be a prime exercise motivator, this year’s outstanding stats were thanks in large part to a couple of Alert Level changes.
THE LOVELY WIFE, a slab of “Owner Builder” MAGAZINES on her lap, glances up at her PET WRITER’s reading: a NOVEL by [a very famous New Zild writer].
THE LOVELY WIFE
How’s it going?
... Ehh. I’m fifty pages in and it’s all been introductions of a whole bunch of characters, all experiencing the same traumatic event, each introduction from their own point of view BUT WITH NO GODDAMNED PROGRESSION OF STORY.
THE LOVELY WIFE
What’d you expect?
Well, with Stephen King’s “The Stand” --
THE LOVELY WIFE
Whoa, there, tiger: they’re two very different things.
They’re both about a small number of people surviving some terrible incident --
THE LOVELY WIFE
Yes, sure, but “The Stand” is a fantasy novel while that --
(re. novel in Pet Writer’s hand)
-- is literature.
He looks anew at the book in his hand:
HOW THE FUCK DID THAT HAPPEN?
The Lovely Wife sighs and resumes her magazine reading.
Last weekend, Playmarket provided a one-day clinic for We Are Many, a newish play inspired by the Womens Mau Movement who continued passive resistance against the New Zealand occupation in 1930s Samoa.
The clinic was followed by a public reading where tears were shed — a good thing for a writer seeking audience emotional engagement, even at ‘just’ a reading — and feedback was gratefully received.
This time last year, I opened up issue 192 of The Walking Dead and did my usual first-pass read — the kind of breath-held-whaat’s-happeniiing-neeeext first-pass read — and partway through I sat back, stunned. I remember turning to the Lovely Wife and telling her what I’d just read. (Not a comic reader herself, she made a sympathetic noise and returned to her house renovations.)
The end of TWD came a month later with issue 193 and, miracles of miracles — though to be honest, there really are no miracles in the creation of art — it ended the series perfectly. And just like with every issue preceding it, I leant back after the more careful second-pass read and marvelled at the craft and love of TWD creatorand writerRobert Kirkman, aided and abetted by artists Tony Moore and Charlie Adlard.
TWD was a series that published regularly, each issue never failed to leave me figuratively gasping How the fuck are they going to resolve that?, mind reeling from cliffhangers and resolutions that were equally unexpected and inevitable, and counting the days until the next issue.
I’m sad that it’s finished but glad that it ended the way and when it did. I don’t know when I’ll be able to revisit the series at my leisure but it won’t be far away, in the Essential Section of the library.
You’ve seen the shorthand in films: a paintbrush applying one layer of paint on canvas, then another, then another.
It’s how I write most scripts: an iterative approach where I can look back at the accumulated page count and tell myself that I’m getting somewhere.
I suppose if I wanted to work smart and efficient and not waste a droplet of writerly sweat, I could outline and storyline and break-it-down so that when it comes time to —
— it all just pours out onto the page or screen, every character fully formed, their motivations crystal clear, every plot point essential and succinct, every word of dialogue pitch perfect, every character voice distinct and individual, every —
Whenever I stare down a project and need to decide whether to work smart and fast or layer by instinctive layer in a leisurely fashion, there’s no avoiding the work required: writing one damned word at a time.
According to my exercise journal, I’ve huffed and puffed more often in the past month than in any other one month period over the last two decades.
Government mandated self-isolation will do that, I suppose.
I’m exercising locally. The weather has been pretty good for autumn-heading-into-winter — little rain, mostly mild temperatures — meaning fresh air has been plentiful as I wheeze about the property. The dogs, like their predecessor, enjoy every moment we’re out and about at pace.
I’ve had to extend the running route to local roads (sans hounds) where there is little to no shoulder. It’s do-able so long as I keep a weather eye on traffic and wear bright colours I haven’t worn since the 1990s.
I’m not writing as much as I’ve been sweating. But in these uncertain times, I think achieving one thing at a time is pretty good.
I’ve pulled some old favourites down from the shelves. They may not be the most appropriate for these times but if it gives me solace to spend time in a world where I know how things will end, I’ll take it.