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Update: July 17, 2007

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I Have The Best Job In The World

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There are many different kinds of writing; spouting your opinion or whatever happens to be on your mind is, quite honestly, the easiest kind there is. When I do it on a full tank of gas, four pages isn't that hard to get -- I've been able to pull that much content out of my ass in twenty minutes before. The problem isn't when you're rearing to go, it's when you just emptied your tank writing something significantly more important, and difficult, and now you're on empty creatively speaking, and even a little bit like this becomes a big effort.

I have a few things going right now that aren't quite ready for posting, one of them is an editorial about how distorted the science fiction genre label has become; you'd be shocked at just how few shows actually qualify these days. It's a good piece, and while I work on it, I'm trying to convince the editor of that he should not only post my editorial on the website, but that he should also create a new section for editorials and letters by the authors of the fiction that is the topic of their site.

So far I think I'm being ignored, and that's fine, I'll finish the piece at some point and post it here anyway. It's way too good not to.

Something else that's been bouncing around my mind over the last few days was inspired by a Craig Mazin post ranting about how sick he is of peoples use of certain buzzwords. Here is the list of words he hates when used in relation to writing: "Energy, Soul, Cosmic, Healing, Inner, Transcendent, Flow, Magical, Mystical, Collective, Circle, Eternal, Essence, Divine, Ethereal, Organic, Embrace."

I have never used any of these words as far as I know, certainly not in my writing, and I'm pretty sure not within this weblog either. There is also a list of the good words too: "Work, Difficult, Skilled, Studied, Technique, Advanced, Effort, Job." In reference to writing, I've used them all except advanced. Not bad.

One of the things Mazin hates is people who say things like "I don’t know where my ideas come from. Maybe they’re in our collective unconscious, and we writers just know how to catch them, like butterflies in our nets..." Fair enough, but then he also says that "Of course I have ideas sometimes and wonder where they came from."

Ideas do not magically appear in your head, they all come from somewhere. I can soundly trace all the ideas I've had back to their origin, and without much effort to speak of. How could you not? I'll give you an example, but first, some unnecessary exposition.

I'm currently writing a spec script for Stargate Atlantis called Exile. I just started working on this one on the 21st, when I wrote the four page teaser. The next day I put down three more pages that comprised the first scene of the first act, and then I loafed. I do that, bad habit, need to quit it. Suffice it to say, I didn't pick it back up until today. I was very pleased with the work I had done so far, and was simply thrilled to not be working on my first SGA spec anymore. I will get it done at some point in time, but I really had to just put it down and move on for a while. I would sit and stare at the thing because it and a five-page hole that I had to fill in with nothing but dialog. Not a problem normally, I love dialog, but I just couldn't do anything except spin my tires. I couldn't get a single good word, and I have five pages to fill.

I put it down and started Exile, because it's been bouncing around my brain for a while and I thought it could be a really great story. On top of that, it made for solid spec material in just about every way possible. I immediately wrote the four page teaser in less than an hour, where the dialog flowed freely and perhaps gratuitously. I loved the work I did, and that might have had something to do with why I didn't get back to it until just now. It's nice to sit back and enjoy the writing while it's good, but I really do need to stop doing that.

Today I started in the middle of page three and after about twenty minutes found myself somewhere between pages seven and eight. Four pages in twenty minutes? Not bad at all. I wrote for another twenty, then broke for lunch and an extended break, considering how much material I had just covered, I already knew it was going to be a good day from a productivity stand point, so it was justified. When I came back, it went much slower than I had hoped though. I only ended up working for another hour and a half I think, and wrapped up the act on the middle of page fifteen.

I love when about three hours of work results in almost an entire act. That's nothing short of spectacular for my ego, but I have to admit that it's really more of a result of my mind being freed for a new concept than my latent super-writing powers. I'm not constrained any longer, and it really shows -- I can feel it. Everything is coming really fast to me now, and I think I may have this thing done by the weekend. I just wish I could put more hours into the effort, and still get a proportional increase in pages written at the same time. Unfortunately it doesn't work that way.

The longer I work, the slower the pages come, and the lower my creative gas tank gets. Three hours of work today may have produced thirteen pages of really great material, but if I put eight more hours into the effort (and I'm not opposed to doing that by any means) that doesn't mean I'm going to get 34 pages out of the deal.

When I'm under duress, I've been able to manufacture fifteen pages in six hours, but the instant I was finished, I went on to sleep an hour for every page I had slaved over, and frankly, the entire thing was crap. Today I got thirteen in three hours and they were all good. If I hadn't stopped (I felt perfectly justified since I wrote right up against the act break) and kept going, the progress would have slowed down and the quality would have dropped through the floor. Maybe the more I write, the less that will be a problem. I hope so. If I can get this spec done by the weekend, and be proud of it too, I will be the happiest person in the world.

I had been trying to think of a cool way to have my first SGA spec end. Now, this spec was actually going to be a season finale (don't ever do that -- I did it because I have no writing obligations and I really wanted to tell this story quite badly). Then it was going to be a two-part finale. Then it was going to be a two-part finale with an opener, and then a two-part opener. Yeah, it was that big. Don't do that, trust me, you'll thank me later.

I wanted to have the very last scene of the arc be a real kick in the balls, almost like what a teaser does. So in my mind, how else better in the Stargate world to start some shit than to have a person come through the gate unexpectedly. So who is it then? Good question. I kept it in the back of my mind as the latest SG-1 season progressed and after the SG-1 finale, I thought who else better to start some shit at the last moment of a three or four episode arc than a prior of the Ori? Fantastic! But I've already jumped off the cliff trying to write not a spec script, but a four-script spec arc. And now I was going to do a cross over of the biggest story line going for SG-1. No, not even I'm that stupid.

But it was a great setup, so I just had to invent somebody else to step through that gate. The moment was already there, all the needed to be done was fill in the blanks. So I need someone who would have an equally big impact *just by them arriving*. Okay fine, who do we have that's big, within this shows canon, and also very pliable? How about an Ancient? Sure! Love 'em, really, those guys are great.

So I did. I had an Ancient just waltz through the Stargate, unannounced and uninvited. That's how I opened the show. From then on, I just had to start making shit up to make it a bigger kick; I had to punch up the concept. He's an Ancient, but he never Ascended with the others, he's just been kicking around the universe for a really long time, and now he's back, and we want to know why. That's the episode premise. The guy is a cog in the machine, and everything about him is a question mark, and that's my story.

He arrives in the teaser, and the first act really gets that ball rolling. Where I go from there is kind of beyond me at the moment, since I am so totally making this up as I go, yet I feel I can do this. Mazin and other people would have you believe that you can't write well without outlining, but it isn't true. I just tossed down an entire act this afternoon without so much as one single sticky note, and I hit my act break perfectly, and it's a great one, one you just don't see in Stargate shows. But it works, so it's there.

I used my knowledge of what makes a good setup, and applied it to Stargate Atlantis, then I just started making stuff up, and that's where the idea for Exile came from. So there, Mazin, you can kiss my butt my godly friend. Ideas always have a source.
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The text of this article is Copyright © 2006,2007 Paul William Tenny. All rights reserved. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License. Attribution by: full name and original URL. Comments are copyrighted by their authors and are not subject to the Creative Commons license of the article itself.