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Alternate realities

Posted May 23 into Writing by John Birmingham

One of the nice things about writing for a living is the way you get paid to retreat from the world of real things. I've been in full retreat since about 7.30 on Saturday night. The entry below, "Dark Thoughts", was composed in the hours before dawn when I'd woken up, seething and unable to get back to sleep.

I brought myself down to my office, wrote that blog post, and opened up Scrivener. I started to work on a TV script. I can't talk about it in detail because we're still in the early stages of development. But I can say this. I fucking LOVE writing for TV. I get lost in it. Sometimes I get lost in novels too, but not like this. I've been racking up long hours at the keyboard all week. Not because I'm on deadline or under pressure, but because once I step into the imagined world of this show I find I much prefer it to the real world. I don't want to leave.

Even when I do leave, when I push back from the computer and rejoin the family for dinner, lets say, I find myself repeating long stretches of dialogue without realising that I'm doing it.

"What did you say?" Jane will ask. And I have to mutter something about just talking to myself. To be honest, it's a little embarrassing that it's been happening so much.

Still, better than reality.

I don't think the retreat from an unpleasant outer world explains why I've spent so much time so deeply embedded in this new, inner world. I think it might partly have something to do with the structure of storytelling for the screen.

The irreducible element at the core of a screenplay or a teleplay is the scene. Each scene is a world unto itself, but unlike a book it is an almost bare stage. When writing a novel you make everything bigger. When writing a script, it goes the other way. Everything gets stripped back, reduced to essences. It's fascinating, almost mesmerising.

I've now finished the first draft of the pilot for this show. I have no idea whether it will get any further. But even so, even with a chapter of World War 3.1 to write, and a whole novel in the Zero Day Code franchise to finish, I feel myself being pulled back into the world of the TV show, almost as though I am trapped in a dangerous rip.

13 Responses to ‘Alternate realities’

WarDog has opinions thus...

Posted May 23
Just in case it doesn't make it to T, can it reprised in written form?

jl has opinions thus...

Posted May 23
A fine question!

John Birmingham puts forth...

Posted May 23
It could be, but I really hope to see it made.

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jl mutters...

Posted May 23
Sounds like great fun, actually. Yeah, I got lost in my latest (an alternate history) pretty bad for the last two weeks; now the rough draft is done. Definitely know what you're saying, JB.

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Barnesm has opinions thus...

Posted May 23
I am drawn by the imagery of your writing being caught in a rip, so Australian. Since Saturday I have been trying to follow Alasdair Gray's aphorism "Work as if you live in the early days of a better nation" but it is hard.

Nocturnalist reckons...

Posted May 24
Have you read WALKAWAY yet? That line and sentiment come up quite a bit in it.

Barnesm would have you know...

Posted May 25
Not yet, but Cory Doctorow is always on my to read list.

Nocturnalist ducks in to say...

Posted May 25
Be interested to get your take on it when you've read it. I don't reread much these days but I'll probably take another trip through it myself soon.

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jason swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted May 23
My favorite thing about writing and others people's writing in some ways is that you get to play in a world where you control almost everything. The good guys normally win or are so heroic it appears to be a win and the bad folks always take a licking. Far removed from the real world but a beautiful place.

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Oldy ducks in to say...

Posted May 23
It sounds like some chicken soup for your soul, and I for one cheer that on. I can relate to how dark these last few days have been, and anything that brightens that, I'm cheering for.

Have fun mate, and I look forward to enjoying more JB content.

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Leftarc mumbles...

Posted May 23
Sounds like good times. As a fan of the West Wing (of which seems to get more and more wistful, and yet further away from reality every single day), and the West Wing Weekly podcast, I remember a quote from the late John Spencer; 'First comes the word'. Early episodes of the podcast tell of how late the scripts were for the West Wing when Aaron Sorkin was writing was because he spent hours making sure it was right. And it was, actors had to read the script exactly, there was no improvisation, and you could not change any of the words. At all.
This is why I imagine TV writing would be a whole rabbit hole to go down. I think the difference between a novel and TV is that there is more setting out, and 'telling the story' for TV. In a book like The Stand, my imagination created how Stu Redman looked and spoke. But then watching the mini series, Stu is Gary Sinise, since then Stu's words are spoken in that Gary Sinise drawl.
And whilst you bang away at Zero Day Code, and since I brought it up, Stephen King also wrote the screen play for The Stand Mini Series. You might be onto something.

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Sparty is gonna tell you...

Posted May 23
I'd like me some JB TV.
interesting to note that @pennyred who some people tagged as a good inspiration for whats her name in the time travel books is now a writer on Joss Whedons new series..

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thetick has opinions thus...

Posted May 26
How is writing for TV different from writing a novel, for example?

I mean, is it that you describe each scene, character actions, lines, etc?

Like, when you write a scene are you laying down the setting, the clothing, etc, or does that get filled in later?

Is it fiction or non-fiction?

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