David Hines (hradzka) wrote,
David Hines


For years, I've said that two books are indispensible for people interested in television writing: Aristotle's POETICS and David Gerrold's THE WORLD OF STAR TREK. The former is extraordinarily helpful for learning to think about the fundamental framework of dramatic writing; the latter is a *magnificent* dissection of TOS as a series, what worked and what didn't, and thoughts on how to improve it. Gerrold used some of those thoughts later, when he and Roddenberry were developing STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION. It's a brilliant book, and if you're at all interested in the mechanisms of drama I highly recommend it. (In terms of sheer usefulness, I'd actually put Aristotle second to Gerrold. That's how highly I think of THE WORLD OF STAR TREK.)

To those, I'd add, at #3, DOCTOR WHO: THE WRITER'S TALE, by Russell T. Davies and Benjamin Cook. It's an inside look at Davies's and Tennant's last full series of DOCTOR WHO, in the form of emails between Davies and journalist Cook during the preproduction and production of the last Tennant/Davies series. Cook draws Davies out on his process to great effect, and you get a better idea of what it's like to run a TV show out of this than you could ever imagine just sitting around. It's a rough, rough job, and Davies starts out the season blithely saying, yeah, it's wonderful, I'd do this if they weren't paying me, and by the end of it he's about as cheerful as a man on the Bataan Death March. Cook, being a good and helpful friend, quotes Davies's cheerful earlier words back to him on those occasions, causing Davies to hate him with a deep and burning loathing.

The thing has some wonderful insights from Davies about writing. Example:

This script language really wasn't around when I was starting out, certainly not in TV, so I'm not versed in it. It's not how I think about scripts. I don't think, Act One, Act Two, Act Three. It's just not wired into my head. (But I'm 44. If I were 18, maybe I'd be rattling off Third-Act-B-Plot-Denouement theories like a good 'eun.) I do think about shape and rhythm, though, and the direction and velocity of a script, and, crucially, I do think of Beginning, Middle and End. As you said, that's the same thing as Act One, Act Two, Act Three, but in a different language. Every story ever told has a Beginning, a Middle and an End. It's fundamental. But this is where I'm wary of a formula, because I don't think of the Beginning, then the Middle, then the End. They're all connected, they're all the same thing, each dictates what the other is. It's back to that big soup of Maybe in my head. Soup is shapeless. ...

I worry a lot about that formal structure language, because it's the one thing that the inexperienced cling to. A learnt language. Like a set of crutches. Meetings throughout the industry now consist of script editors and producers sitting there saying, 'Where's the Second Act Reversal?' Idiots. Really, they should be saying, 'Who is this man? Why is he scared? Does his wife really love him? Can he really kill her?' They talk about the shape, not the essence, obscuring valid discussion of that actual story -- and story is far more important. In fairness, as I've said from the start, it's hard to talk about actual writing -- the ideas, the scariness, the exhilaration -- so I shouldn't be surprised if the formal language is a substitute, but I really do start to react violently when the substitute begins to take control.

Tons of great stuff like that, along with lots of script drafts and Davies's thoughts on them, so you find out what the hell the man was really thinking about, for example, Donna's terrible fate and Rose getting a Doctor of her own.

Also, there are moments like this:

FROM: Russell T Davies TO: Benjamin Cook
Wednesday 18 July 2007 22:07:16 GMT


I'm now amusing myself by trying to get as many Agatha Christie titles into the dialogue as possible.

FROM: Benjamin Cook TO: Russell T Davies
Wednesday 18 July 2007 22:25:56


I'll give you £ 20 if you can slip in Ten Little Niggers.

FROM: Russell T Davies TO: Benjamin Cook
Wednesday 18 July 2007 22:33:43 GMT


Actually, I did try:

          It's like Ten Little --

                    THE DOCTOR
          Niggles aside, let's look in the library.

But I thought it was too risky, so cut it.

Yes, Russell, that was probably a good idea.
Tags: doctor who

  • APED: the book

    I've been busy with some other things, so this took a while, but it's now official: if you are so inclined, you can now buy my book. It's a…

  • APED: "a poem every day concludes"

    Well, this is it. I have now officially written a poem every day for a year. I started January 9, 2009, and January 8, 2010, makes the…

  • APED: "there are happies, ever after"

    There are happies, ever after, but little mermaids turn to foam; the gravest hearts give way to laughter, some cats turn king, and don't come home.…

  • Post a new comment


    Comments allowed for friends only

    Anonymous comments are disabled in this journal

    default userpic

    Your IP address will be recorded