Any time I come up with a story, I try to look around to determine where it would work best. This one *felt* like it belonged to TV.
More than that, though...I went into this looking to create a saga for TV. It wasn't so much coming up with the story, and realizing it was a TV saga, as it was, "Nobody's ever done a multi-year science fiction saga for television. As a thought-experiment, can I come up with something that would work in this medium?" This led me to the structure that became Babylon 5.
The way it was constructed is that we'd have a few arc stories in year one, the rest mainly stand-alones. We then roughly double that number in year two. Increase it again by year three...such that by year five, every story is an arc story, all closely connected, because by then all hell has broken loose, and you're racing toward the conclusion of the story.
I've constructed the B5 writing scenario more or less as follows:
1) Each episode will be able to stand alone. If you come in on season two, without having seen anything else, you'll be able to get into it.
2) Questions asked in the course of an episode or a season will be answered in that episode or season.
3) BUT...if you continue to watch the show, then over time a story writ on a much larger scale will begin to emerge. Consider it like a triptych, something out of Hieronymous Bosch...each individual panel is sufficient unto itself, but put them all together, and suddenly you see connections and a whole picture that wasn't there a moment earlier.
Relationships will change. People will live, and die. Alliances wll shift. And at one point or another, everything you THINK you know about these characters will be turned upside down. But there won't be cliffhangers or that sort of thing between episodes. There may be such between seasons, but not in the course of a season.
Had an interesting conversation today with one of our crew. I was talking to someone else about the writing philosophy on the show, and how it's comparable to a tryptich...you line up the stories and you begin to see a much broader story after a while. A series of interconnected images.
And this crew person said that I was wrong, that wasn't how the show is being done. Now lemme tell you...we encourage people on every level to speak frankly, at any time, to any one, but it takes considerable cojones to say something like that to one's exec producer, that he has his own series wrong in the description. "Oh?" says I.
He explains that what it is, is "holographic storytelling." I asked him what the hell this meant. He said that the image of pictures side by side. linear storytelling, wasn't right. That after he read two scripts, he went back and reread the first one, and now he could see things in it that he hadn't seen before. When he'd read three, again he glanced over the first. and new things had come out.
"What it IS," he said, "is not side-by-side images, but *overlaping* images, like old fashioned photographic plates stacked up one on top of the other. Each has a piece of the whole picture. When you line them all up, one behind the other, and look through all of them at once, you realize what the picture is. It's three-dimensional storytelling."
I had to think about that one a long time, but frankly, he's right, and I'm wrong. That *IS* what we're doing, and I've been describing it incorrectly all this time.
Holographic storytelling...well, live and learn, I say.
That said...I think the ending for the B5 storyline is pretty cool.
That said...I don't think it's really about the ending. The ending is simply where the story finally stops. Look at the ending of THE LORD OF THE RINGS. Frodo back in the shire (though not entirely the same shire it was when he left), glad that it's all over.
The climax of the story isn't always the same as the end of the story. The climax of LoTR would be when the ring is returned to the fire, anddestroyed, in my view. Others might say that Aragorn being returned as the kind would be the climax. The fact is there's SO much going on in those books that it's hard to pick any one as being *the* climax.
In THE PRISONER, it was all centered on one question: will he or will he not get off the island, and who's behind it? (Okay, that's two questions, but they're associated.) B5 isn't built around ANY one question. It has a lot of differeads, each with their own arc, like LoTR. Look at the LENSMAN books. Same thing.
Will you be satisfied by the ending? More to the question, are you being satisfied by the beginning, and the journey so far? That's the more telling question. B5 is more about the journey than the destination, though you have to craf one hell of a climax and a solid ending nonetheless.
You're also asking us to make a subjective decision that really only you can make. You didn't like the ending of THE PRISONER. I think it's nifty. It's obvious that some stuff was thrown in just to get weird; but a lot of it wasn't, and you really have to sit down and parse through the thing to get maximum meaning out of it. It's not as absurd as it looks.
Watch the show for as long as you enjoy the journey.
One hard-nosed Absolute Enforceable here: tech stuff is one thing, but the telepath discussion is ranging into concrete story ideas, and that opens a LOT of danger for me, particularly since a couple of things hit upon here are in the script as it stands now. (Answer: yes, I *am* ahead of you, Correa.)
Please, that's the only request I have to make in this regard: NO STORY IDEAS OR SUGGESTIONS. We are in deeply litigious times. Just today I received a legal piece of paper from a pinhead in Georgia who thinks I swiped his idea for a ZONE, and that's probably going to involve lengthy legal stuff to prove that I didn't do it. (The script, and the material on record BEFORE the script predates his material by a long, long, LONG time. He knows this, but is going ahead anyway in hopes of harrassing the studio and me into making a settlement to dispense with this...which AIN'T gonna happen.)
Anyway, the point being this becomes very problematic. So while we will let stand what's here, please, no more on this approach. Thanks.
Obviously, I can't say anything officially here saying "Go write fanfic to your heart's content." Because PTEN would (correctly) stick my head on a pike in the middle of downtown Hollywood. However, let me be ABSOLUTELY clear in this: I have NEVER said, "Don't write it." All that I have EVER said is, "Don't put it in a place where I can see it or stumble over it."
Email is a private system; so is a closed mailing list. I'm not here to be PTEN's eyes and ears; I really don't care what happens out there in that respect. My only real concern is that whatever it is that's happening, *I don't see it.* It's better for all concerned if I don't see it, or don't have access to it.
I've spoken before of Norman Corwin. For those who might've missed it, Norman Corwin is one of the finest writers that this country has ever produced. At the height of the radio drama age, there was no one better or bigger...not Orson Welles or Arch Oboler. Nobody.
He has been an inspiration to countless writers. Charles Kuralt. Rod Serling. Ray Bradbury (who began his career trying to write like Norman). He is, not to put too fine a point on it, a writer's writer. He is the wellspring from which many of our finest writers can trace their origin. Speaking as one tiny trickle in this momentous flood, I can certify his influence on my own work.
Some have commented on the style of writing in Babylon 5, and in some of my previous work. While much can be laid at the feet of Harlan Ellison, much of my influence can also be traced to Norman Corwin, who taught me not just how to write, but what it meant to BE a writer. I cannot commend his work to you highly enough. If you have a love of language, of a story well told, of fiction with a conscience and a point of view, then Norman's your man. Some of you may remember "A Prayer for the 70s," written by Norman, which I posted a while back. A work of absolute genius, in a career peppered with awards, and recognition by the U.N. and others.
Many of you have asked for more information about Norman's work. To that end I offer the following information:
Norman has a new book out, that is just hitting the stands. It is entitled NORMAN CORWIN'S LETTERS, edited by A. J. Langguth. It's in hardcover from Barricade Books, ISBN #0-9623032-5-9. It is an amazing volume, full of inspiration and humor and the occasional thunder-and-lightning.
You will find letters to and from such notables -- friends of Norman's -- as Carl Sandburg, Ray Bradbury, Bette Davis, Stanley Kramer, Groucho Marx, Greer Garson, Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, Edward R. Murrow, Anthony Quinn, Rod Serling, Leonard Bernstein, Erik Barnouw, Archibald MacLeish, Stan Freberg, Walter Cronkite, Norman Cousins, Studs Terkel, Eric Sevareid, Philip Dunne, Bill Moyers, Gregory Peck...the list goes on and on.
The letters are documents of a life, funny and outraged and thoughtful... and beautifully written beyond my capacity to describe it to you. If you are a writer, or interested in writing, I can commend no book to you higher than this one.
If as a Babylon 5 viewer you'd like to get a better grasp of what inspired me to pursue my career, and has helped make that dream a reality... I recommend to you the works of Norman Corwin, starting with this book.
If you need any further encouragement to go out *today* and get a copy of this book, then let me simply suggest that you call up a copy of Who's Who, and look up who Norman Corwin is. I don't think you'll need additional encouragement thereafter.
I have never seen *any* scriptwriting seminar that was worth $400 for a couple days. You would be best advised to take that money and buy $400 worth of scripts, the best-written scripts you can find. Read every one of them three times. By the time you have done that, you will have learned far more than you could have *ever* learned in any seminar.
Without mistake, I do draw upon a lot of my own background and personality and experiences in relationships and other areas for my work; it's hard, sometimes, because you've dealt with something in your heart and nominally closed it...then you not only open it up, and write it down, you watch other actors doing it. Certain parts of the Sakai - Sheridan axis, particularly their first meeting, and throughout that episode, are almost verbatim.
I don't think that using it in any way invalidates it for future use; by exploring it once, you learn something about your feelings that you may not have known before. With time, and age, and experience, and reflection, events take on different perspectives. It's like the difference in writing about your parents when you're 16 vs. when you're 50. Same subject, different perspective.
The two keys in creating characters for TV are: allies and enemies, you create people who you know will come into conflict with one another, because conflict is a huge part of drama, not the whole of it, but a necessary ingredient. So you also build some who can be sympathetic, or funny by turns, but you don't want to minimize or throw away a character, you add a layer of depth to it to give meat to the humor when used.
It's kind of like planning a military campaign, really.
The world and the characters of B5 kind of came together at the same time, one feeding off another until they took on a life of their own. And building both was a joy.
Yes, this is the actual text of a script. And a script contains scene descriptions, dialogue, directions. (Contrary to popular opinion, the actors don't just make up their lines when they hit the stage, based on loose ideas by somebody.) My scripts tend to be *very* detailed, with camera movement suggestions, optical notes, indications of dissolves vs. cuts, on and on.
A script page, single-spaced, works out to about the same wordage as a double-spaced prose fiction page, about 225-250 words per.
As with any television show, in any given episode there is a Problem facing our characters. A danger, a negotiation, a visitor, whatever; it has to be dealt with within that hour. But when all is said and done, little threads have been introduced that begin to very lightly link other shows together. For instance, a thread introduced in "Midnight" rises again in "Legacies" and "By Any Means Necessary." In other shows, there is a character introduced who returns later, upon whose return visit we learn something different about them. Some threads won't even LOOK like threads the first time you see an episode; they'll just skate past without drawing undue attention. It's only later, on seeing some later shows, that you will suddenly twig to something in the first episode. The best comparison I can come up with is one of those rohrscharch tests, where it looks like an inkblot picture of an urn...until someone tells you that it's actually two people kissing...and then suddenly, WHAM!, you see it, and now you can't see anything else, and can't believe you didn't see it in the first place.
That, at least, is the theory. We'll see how it all works starting in about a month. It's really an experiment; no one's done anything this large, over so great a planned span before. Should be interesting....
He is only one of the finest writers this country has ever produced. Go to your local library and look up his work. Take it home and read it (or listen to it). In addition to being one of our preeminent essayists, and a primary influence on such notables as Edward R. Murrow, Charles Kuralt, Walter Cronkite, Stan Freberg, Rod Serling, and is possibly *the* primary reason Ray Bradbury decided to become a writer in the first place, he was this nation's finest and most regarded radio drama writer of his time, moreso than Arch Oboler or Orson Welles. He write the radio drama "On A Note of Triumph" aired on *all three* radio networks on VE day, wrote cantatas for the UN, was a contemporary and friend of Carl Sandburg, wrote the feature film "Lust For Life" about Van Gogh...look into any copy of "Who's Who." The listing goes on forever.
Unfortunately, at the height of his career, he was one of many who ended up grey-listed, because one little creep who owned a chain of supermarkets published a rag called Red Channels, which one day listed Norman's name because some of what he'd written struck this jerk as being maybe sympathetic to the Reds (never mind that this was stuff he had been commissioned by the government to write during WW 2 to demonstrate solidarity during the war). Despite this, his niche remains secure, and he is what's known in the biz as a *writer's writer*. He has been a friend and a mentor for over 15 years, and I've learned much from him about what it is to be a writer, and a human being.
I'm serious. Go to your local library and look up his work. Or to your local bookstore and track down a copy of his latest book, a collection of his letters (cunningly entitled Norman Corwin's Letters), published in hardcover by Barricade Books, containing his correspondence to friends, family, and such notable long-term friends as Ray Bradbury, William Shatner, Rod Serling, Robert Altman, Ken Burns, Philip Dunne, Charles Kuralt, Walter Cronkite, Burgess Meredith, Philip Roth, Gregory Peck, Eric Sevareid, Bill Moyers, Erik Barnouw, Groucho Marx, Carl Sandburg, Leonard Bernstein, Bette Davis, Edward R. Murrow...well, you get the idea.
Let me just start off by disagreeing with your thesis, that the length restrictions and format of TV writing tend to mitigate against good writing. By that same token, sonnets (which use a very strict formula or format) can't be good, or haiku, we should toss out iambic pentameter altogether, and short stories, often considerably shorter than a half-hour TV script, must also be unable to contain quality writing.
The form doesn't matter. It's what you bring to the table.
Similarly, the issue of rushed writing...many of the classic SF tales of the 50s and 60s were written as fast as humanly possible because back then writers were paid a penny a word, and you had to really crank the stuff out there to make any kind of living. It was quite common for writers of many of the SF magazines of the time to go into the publisher's office, see the cover for an issue a few months down the road, and on the spot come up with a title, a story premise, go home, write it, and bring it in the very next day.
We're talking here margins. Margins aren't important. It's what you choose to fill the margins, the care you exercise, the passion you bring to the page, that makes the difference.
Yeah, a lot of TV writing is pretty marginal. Sturgeon's Law: 90% of everything is crap. How many novels are turned out each year that sink of their own weight in zero time? How few novels are really and truly substantial? How many short stories? Out of all the SF novels and short stories and short-shorts and novellas and novellettes published each year, how many will survive on the shelf 5, 10, or 15 years from now?
Mark Twain said, "If you would have your fiction live forever, you must neither overtly preach nor overtly teach; but you must *covertly* preach and *covertly* teach." That, to me, is one primary ingredient; it must, at its root, be *about* something more than car chases and bomb blasts and shootouts. On some level, however cellular, it must instruct and ennoble and elevate and enrich, make us question or consider.
Then there is the basic level of writing style, but that is a very personal flavor. Hill Street had an elegance of simplicity, the writing was often raw and piercing on a sheer gut level. I loved it. When I sit down to write, I tend to drift toward a somewhat more literary-sounding or theatrical style, probably because of my own influences.
It comes down, really, to whether or not you have the inclination to sit down, whichever style you use, and stare at the screen for half an hour until you find just the right word, the mot just, that serves better than any other possibly could. Some writers will do that, some won't. David Kelly does it on ER and Picket Fences and other shows. So do the folks on The Simpsons. And many other shows. A lot of folks dump on TV, ignoring similar failinlgs in literary SF or other genres, but like any exercise in accepted cliche, the reasoning is flawed and often (though not always) unjustified.
As for my personal list of writers whose work I admire...Kelly, as noted, definitely. Mainly, though, I grew up on the genre TV writers of the 50s/60s, like Rod Serling, Charles Beaumond, Richard Matheson, Robert Bloch (that should be BeaumonT, not Beaumond), Ernest Kinoy, Harlan Ellison, Joe Stefano, and though he was fading from view by then, Arch Oboler, and the kinetoscopes of Paddy Chayefsky, Reginald Rose and others. Later, I added Norman Corwin to the list, as a chief point of inspiration, stylistically. (There are a number of writers who call or consider themselves "Norman's Kids" in that we've learned much about writing, and the integrity of writing, from Norman Corwin...including Ray Bradbury, Charles Kuralt, Walter Cronkite, Stan Freberg, and many others.)
The Complete Book of Scriptwriting
The all-in-one guide to writing and selling screenplays, teleplays, theatrical plays, radio scripts and animation scripts.
Working writer/producer Straczynski has revised his 1981 text -- a standard in many institutions -- and brought it into the '90s, with updates on fluctuating markets, speculation about opportunities in CD-ROMs and anecdotage about Writers' Guild strikes that have occurred in the interval. A handy tome for the novice, since Straczynski covers much basic ground in key areas of writing for film, television, radio, animation and stage. Strongest in the movie/TV areas and also valuable for animation scribes, playwrights might note that their chapter is the thinnest; perhaps it was all apportioned according to what the various disciplines pay?
J. Michael Straczynski, writer/producer of Murder, She Wrote and creator of Babylon 5 teaches scriptwriters how to write and sell work for television, movies, animation, radio and the theatre. Straczynski covers each medium in depth. He reveals facts, tells stories and offers observations from the vantage point of a career in the business.
To survive and thrive in the fantasyland that is show business, you need to know the realities of writing and selling. J. Michael Straczynski learned these realities the hard way. With his help, you'll learn them the easy way. Here the writer/producer of Murder, She Wrote and creator of Babylon 5 tells you how it really is - and how you can really succeed writing scripts. Straczynski shows you the importance of distinguishing yourself, through professionalism and discipline, from the wannabes. He helps you strengthen your writing technique while urging you to bring your own vision to your work, avoid formula, and create from passion. And he takes you in for a close look at every entertainment medium hungry for good scriptwriters.
A brief word from the author....
In 1981, I wrote and published, via WD Books, the kind of book that I wished someone had written when I was trying to break into writing for the media (television, film, radio and other venues). My hope was that the book would give others that leg-up in a terribly difficult field. The original edition of the book sold almost 40,000 copies and became one of WD Books' all time best sellers...and a standard text at a number of colleges and universities. Subsequent to its publication, I heard from many writers who managed to break into the business using the book, which made all the effort worthwhile. But the business changes...and after about 5 years, I let the book go out of print until I could afford the time to revise it, make it more current, more useful (what's the point otherwise?). The "revised" edition became the "rewritten" edition. Over the course of the last 4 years, I've revised the book stem to stern, totally rewriting nearly every chapter, and adding about 100,000 words to the book, with updated information and chapters on agents, animation, and other new areas. The book also contains the Hugo-Award winning script for the BABYLON 5 episode, "The Coming of Shadows." It is my hope that you will enjoy the book. I intended for it to be useful, and to be an enjoyable read. Good luck with your own writing. I hope THE COMPLETE BOOK OF SCRIPTWRITING will light your path just a little on that voyage. J. Michael Straczynski Author, THE COMPLETE BOOK OF SCRIPTWRITING Writer/Producer, BABYLON 5, MURDER SHE WROTE and others Order Today!