I can’t seek out advice, run plot ideas past anyone, or brag when I do something cool.
Last night, I posted on Facebook that I’d teared up a little when writing the final scene of Episode 9.
My friend Dani messaged me and demanded to know what happened in the scene to elicit such a reaction. While I was excited that Dani cared, and wanted to tell her all about it, I couldn’t because it wouldn’t made any sense unless she’d read the 450 pages that preceded the 4 that had turned on the water works.
Episode 9 is finished, which means I’m one episode away from completing Season One of the Top Secret NYU TV Series (don’t worry, it has a much cooler title).
While I’m bummed that I can’t blog about what I’m writing, I thought I could write a post about my creative process. Many people have asked me how I come up with the stories, and plot out an entire season on my own. Episode 9 was probably the most challenging to write so far, so I thought talking about how that went from brain to page might make for an interesting post.
I’ve never been big on outlines. I don’t use them when writing screenplays, and have only been using them on this project because I have 500 pages to write, a multitude of characters, and even more story lines that need to be tracked.
That’s way too much to keep track of in a brain already crammed with story ideas. Plus, I’m very conscious about keeping the budget under control, so it’s important to map out a story that can be told in the locations I’ve used in previous episodes.
Basically, I’ve got a lot on my plate, I’m writing every episode myself, and I have no one to point out continuity errors or plot holes to me. So I need to put it all down on paper first to make sure I’m not forgetting anything.
Ever since my producer told me to make it a 10 episode season, I had Episodes 8 and/or 9 set aside for a story arc about a guest star who visits and throws everything into disarray.
I was looking forward to writing this story because of its impact on two of the main characters. They totally hate each other, but the outsider is a threat to them both, so they have to call a temporary truce to work together to get rid of the threat.
I knew that would be fun to write, so as I slowly scrapped story ideas as the season progressed and I found myself running out of time to tell them, I made sure that this arc remained on the storyboard.
Once it was obvious that Episode 8 needed to be about something else, I knew that this story had to be in Episode 9. The only problem was, the outline was extremely thin.
All I had was that the character visits for the weekend, she is a threat to the two characters, chaos ensues, and the two sworn enemies are forced to work together.
I wasn’t really worried because this is when my brain works best. Let me open the door and allow you a quick tour of my brain.
I’m pretty sure my brain is wired with Predictive Analytics. All I need to do is start an idea, and my brain will come up with the most creative option to move the story along the track from Point A to its final destination somewhere around Point X.
The Predictive Analytics kick in again the next time I’m stumped, and that allows me to write the next scene. And so on and so on…
In the case of Episode 9, I lucked out because I never truly ended Episode 7. That was the Christmas Episode, which had an ending completely outlined, but I decided it would be more fun to end it on a cliffhanger.
Then, because my brain works in mysterious ways, I decided not to begin Episode 8 by resolving the cliffhanger. Instead, I pushed the story to April without telling the audience what the hell happened on Christmas!
It was obvious that something out of the ordinary had transpired between the two main characters, but now the other characters were as much in the dark as the audience.
Since I’d never resolved Episode 7, and because the events I had yet to reveal are crucial to the overall story, I knew I had to end Episode 9 with that missing scene. This would be the very scene, as I mentioned earlier, that would cause me to cry when writing it.
That meant Episode 9 would pick up where Episode 8 ended. So Episode 9 now had a beginning. Look at my unpredictable brain making it all work!
This is when the fun really begins. And I’m serious when I say there is a Predictive Analytic aspect to my creative process.
With that very skimpy outline, I just started writing. There are a few locations that have to be in every episode, so I chose one for the next scene. While writing that scene, dialogue just spilled out of my brain that led to one of the main characters announcing that he was going away for the weekend with his girlfriend.
Okay. That wasn’t in the outline, but it suddenly made sense to have him out of the picture for the rest of the episode to deepen the impact of the guest star’s presence. It would also thrust another character into uncharted territory as the leader of the group, which led to some very unexpected and humorous situations.
When I hit my next roadblock, my brain spit out an awesome idea: I hadn’t brought up Stern Ball since Episode 3, and introducing the guest to this crazy, violent NYU dorm game was perfect for the story.
The rest of the episode just fell into place this way. Every time I didn’t know what to write next, I’d go for a run or a long walk, and let me brain work its magic. It would always conjure up a next scene, and somehow, it would be exactly what the story needed.
Once again, my brain delivered. It somehow came up with a scene that fit perfectly into the jigsaw puzzle that was Episode 9.
It brought back the missing character just in time for a conversation with the lead, that was right on theme for the story.
Then the guest star had to leave, and that conversation not only wrapped up what happened earlier in the episode, but also perfectly segued to the scene on Christmas Morning.
It was a Creative Writing miracle! Somehow, I made it from the dorm at NYU in April, to a mansion on Christmas morning without it seeming like a gimmick.
The episode that was only a glimmer of an idea when I’d started writing it, ended up being so packed with action and story, that I had to go back and cut things from the script.
Hopefully this post makes sense, because when I sat down to write it, I wasn’t really sure where it would go. I might’ve just made it all up as I went along…