In the Writers' Room Where It Happened
Before I started writing fiction, I wanted to write for television. My first attempt at writing and selling my work was a spec script for Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, which I wrote, typed, and mailed to Paramount when I was 13. That was my first professional rejection too. Years later, I applied to a Nickelodeon writing fellowship with a spec script for the cartoon CatDog, which I probably worked on harder than any paper I had to write in college. (No one will be surprised to learn it was about CatDog visiting a parallel universe, where they met DogCat.) That didn't go anywhere either.
At the time, I had the impression that to make a go of writing for television or film, you had to move to L.A. and pay your dues. I decided that if I wanted to write, I would focus on short stories instead, since I could write those anywhere. But even as I began to sell some stories, and eventually novels, I continued to think, "What if...?" and imagine what it would like to be in the writers' room on a TV show. Then along came Serial Box.
If you don't know it, Serial Box is the "HBO for readers." The company publishes serialized fiction that has been planned like a television series with an overall plot arc and season-long stories — and written like TV shows too. When I was recruited to write for ReMade, a young adult science fiction series with crossover appeal for adults, I jumped at the chance. It seemed like the best of both worlds, the perfect marriage of fiction writing and the challenges and opportunities of the television medium. I didn't have to move to L.A., and I can write in my own time, and in my pajamas!
But the best thing about this approach —and there are a lot of great things about it—has been collaborating with a team of phenomenal writers who are all working at the top of their game. I've written about collaborating with another writer before, but this is on a whole other level. Honestly, I was a bit intimidated and worried about whether I could hold my own with the group, but it has been one of the most enjoyable and fulfilling experiences of my writing career. It feels a bit like working with a bunch of talented beta readers who are all sharing one story and want to make it as good as possible.
Since we just held a "story summit" a couple of weeks ago to hash out the exciting season two of ReMade, I thought I'd give you a little peek into how the sausage is made. For this round, five authors (showrunner Matt Cody, Andrea Phillips, Gwenda Bond, Amy Rose Capetta, and me) met with our editor and producers in New York to review how season one went and where we thought the story would go from there. We'd worked out the overall plot before, but over the course of writing the first 15 episodes, things had changed and we needed to course correct a bit. We went back to the drawing board in some cases until we had something that was true to the premise and characters and will give everyone a satisfying conclusion. Easy, right?
Once we figured out what our endgame was (ha ha, you didn't expect me to spill it, did you?), we mapped out the next season and broke the plot down into various acts, while also planning out each character's development and personal story arc. Then we broke it all down further into individual episodes. Each story has a different POV character, so we discussed whose perspective would best advance the story, and then the really fun part: We decided who would get to write each episode! This was a relatively painless process.
As for the actual writing, we all go off to outline our episodes at home, then we share them and meet online in a group video chat to discuss and refine them before writing drafts of the episodes. As you can imagine, it's challenging to write parts of a larger story simultaneously, particularly when you need to set up things for episodes following yours. Then we share the drafts, discuss virtually again, and revise. Throughout all this, we're always in contact over e-mail and Slack, sharing ideas, asking questions, commiserating, etc., so we never feel we're doing this alone. And it helps make us a little less anxious, because we're sharing the responsibility and helping to make each story far better than any of us could have made it alone. It's a true team effort, like Voltron. (Dibs on Blue Lion!)
It can also be a challenge to make it all feel like one story, as if you were watching a TV show like Game of Thrones, even though we all have our own voices and writing styles. I think we pulled it off, especially because each episode has a different POV. But you'll also see a lot of trademarks from your favorite writers, so if you read my episodes there'll probably be some geeky pop culture references and humor.
If you're interested in seeing how it all came together, you can read the first two episodes free at www.serialbox.com/serials/remade. If you like what you see, you can subscribe to the whole season, or just buy individual episodes from your favorite authors. You can also hear from all the writers in the writers' room of each series, with behind-the-scenes details about their episodes, in the Serial Box blog. My third and final season one story, "We're Dead in This Ghost Town," will be available this Wednesday, Nov. 23.
Any questions about Serial Box, ReMade, or the collaborative process? Drop them in the comments below!