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|Monday, September 19th, 2016|
|Homicide And Old Lace
Just rewatched an episode of "The Avengers" -- the proper Avengers, John Steed and company, none of this Marvel gubbins -- which I haven't seen in nearly thirty years: "Homicide And Old Lace". Good God, it's a particular kind of genius.
As someone who's occasionally had to salvage a complete dog of a film project, I have a real affinity for the inventive rescue job, in which the producers use footage in ways they'd never intended to try to make something out of nothing. And in this case... During the few months when Brian Clemens was sacked from "The Avengers" before returning, his replacement had produced a cold mess of an episode, Terrance Dicks and Malcolm Hulke's "The Great Great Britain Crime". Contrary to fan legend, it was actually finished -- but it was 63 minutes long, it veered between painfully straight-faced bits and lame jokes, and it had massive plot-holes and characters being idiots to advance the story. Even by Avengers standards, it made no sense. Clemens salvaged the other two episodes produced while he was away, but he wanted to bury this one deep.
Fast-forward a year. They're about to be cancelled, they're behind schedule and down-to-the-wire for their last American airdates, they're way short on money, Brian Clemens is in dire need of sleep... it's time for desperate measures.
What we got is like if Gene Roddenberry, when writing "The Menagerie" around the original Star Trek pilot, first got really really drunk.
Just over half the episode (27 minutes) is the edited highlights of "The Great Great Britain Crime" -- reworked for comedy, stitched together with silent-movie music and a lurid pulp narration from Steed's boss Mother. Plus he throws in clips from other old episodes, similarly recut for comedy. There's only about two-and-a-half scenes of new material with Steed -- all the rest is a framing story, with Mother telling a story to his spy-adventure-loving maiden aunties.
But what makes this episodes something special is how dear old aunties Harriet and Georgina are *merciless* to the story -- seizing on every plot hole (why *does* Steed go along with the villains' plan?), every unbelievably idiotic authority figure ("Did he marry into an important family?"), every convenient bulletproof vest, even the villains firing a machine-gun on an ordinary London street with no one noticing -- and forcing Mother to justify them on the fly. What it is, is like sitting in on a gleefully malicious notes session with Brian Clemens as script editor, skewering everything the writer has tried to get away with. ("They had reached an impasse," intones Mother. Harriet: "What does that mean?" Georgina: "It means they'd run out of plot.")
I can only imagine what it must have been like for Dicks and Hulke to switch on the episode when it finally aired...
But to top it all off, the restitching of the old scenes is a masterclass in how you can lop out swathes of dull footage and still make the results flow. All the missing explanations are neatly covered in one new scene between Steed and Mother (who wasn't even in the original episode). In an elegant bit of plot judo, they use a blatant implausibility in the shot footage (a bomb goes off right beside the baddie and *doesn't* kill him, just blows a hole in the wall) to justify lopping out an entire redundant action sequence (the bomb actually *does* kill him and they can skip chasing him any further). And the half-scene mentioned above is where they've presumably replaced a serious action sequence with a comedy one -- in just four shots they manage to do a stylish little fight in which *every single actor* is doubled, both the long-gone guest actors and the regulars, so you never see a single face clearly. And it's seamless!
Avengers generally fans hate this one, presumably because it's Just Too Silly. But as a writer, and as an editor who knows what it's like to go to war with uncooperative footage -- there's a sort of malevolent enthusiasm to the whole thing. It manages to make the cliches look deliberately stylized, and find wit in the witless. That's a hell of a job.
|Friday, November 20th, 2015|
Well, I went off on one. Below are my thoughts responding to a couple of people in a college friend's Facebook entry, who were knee-jerking about Syrian refugees. Slightly edited for coherence.
For context, one person said "Assume 1% of these refugees has lepresee (sic) and we'll see a different response on whether they accept them without qualification into their own homes", while the other said " It doesn't say 'Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses,your suicide bombers '. ISIS has already stated the goal of infiltrating the refugees. How stupid are we?"( Read more...Collapse )
|Friday, September 4th, 2015|
|Let's Rewrite Hitler! Or, Series 6 Re-Revisited
Okay, after a tangential discussion on Gallifrey Base, I've had people ask me to pull together my thoughts about how I would have liked to see the last half of Doctor Who's
series 6 play out. Back in the day I wrote a couple of reviews talking about how Let's Kill Hitler
and The Wedding of River Song
unfolded, what left me unsatisfied, and some of what I wish I'd seen instead
. But I figure it might be good to reconstruct all this in the form of one coherent essay...( Read more...Collapse )
So. Does that give series 6 more of a satisfying shape? It's got a few advantages: easing the overcrowding on Hitler
, moving the emotional turning-points to the finale and putting them center-stage, putting the Doctor/River partnership explicitly at center stage, and bypassing the need for a Teselecta revelation by delaying their plan until later (meaning that he didn't plan it all along until after
And it gives each episode a single clear dramatic focus. In short, Hitler
should be River choosing her proper parents over Kovarian and her programming; Wedding
should be her choosing life with the Doctor, and he with her.
|Monday, May 25th, 2015|
IT'S DONE IT'S DONE THE MANUSCRIPT IS OFF TO THE EDITOR AHAHAHAHAHAHA *clutches chest* *keels over*
This has been the single most hypercompressed rewrite period following the read-through for any of our books -- a casualty of the first draft coming out significantly longer than planned (and thus eating up a couple of extra weeks), followed by a week of rewriting before
the read-through to deal with known issues. Fortunately, the book at the read-through was in much better shape than usual, so there was a lot less to do than on some of our previous works!
After nearly twenty years, I think we might finally have a decent grip on this writing thing. Or at least parts of it...
Anyway, the book is now off with the lovely folks at B7 Towers, who will inevitably come back to us with further things to fix. But as it stands? I have that quiet satisfied feeling that I think we've pulled it off.
Oh, and the final count? Just under 75,000 words.
|Saturday, May 23rd, 2015|
Right. Chapter 8, at last you are mine!!
Have significantly improved the actual-plot-event-to-witty-banter ratio.
|Thursday, May 21st, 2015|
All this time that we've been grinding our way through the last push on the Blake's 7 novel... Kate's had a short story in progress that she's been itching to get back to.
I've just finished reading the latest version, and I am *humbled*.
It's an honor to be married to a properly powerful writer -- someone who can reach the sort of truth that I've never been able to articulate. But she's inspiring me to keep trying.
|Wednesday, May 20th, 2015|
For those following along from previous Mediasphere updates: the tongue-tangle caused by having characters named Vila, Vargo, and Vidge has been resolved; Vargo is now named Garov. (The joys of Terry Nation names, they work in almost any order.) Sadly this means sacrificing the joke Peter Anghelides pointed me to, but the overall read is better for it.
And that lengthy Vila babble in Ch 2 which I wasn't sure whether it was brilliant characterization or a huge self-indulgent mess? Is now about 25% shorter, and much farther away from the self-indulgent end for it...
|Sunday, May 17th, 2015|
|Mediasphere read-through cont'd
Mediasphere readthrough now finished -- with loads of delightful input from Dirk Schmitt, Jamie Boyd, Kyla Ward, Jacob Moriarty, and the incomparable Lizz Vernon! Only one significant plot issue unearthed -- a situation which, as Kyla aptly put it, it was clear in retrospect what must have happened and how the characters reacted to it, but we just hadn't bothered to write any of those scenes.
After a pub dinner out and Lizz's best film-crew war stories (one of which is going straight into the book), Kate and I were left dancing through the aisles of Woolworths to "Freeze-Frame". Such a weight off our minds!
|Saturday, May 16th, 2015|
|Mediasphere read-through, Day 1
Day one of the Mediasphere read-through successfully concluded, with oodles of help from Dirk Schmitt, Kyla Ward, Jamie Boyd, and Drew Bowie. Only a few bits so far that need to be lightly spruced up, and nothing that's catastrophically wrong. The air resounds with the eternal triumphant cry of the writer: "My God, we've gotten away with it!!!"
|Friday, May 15th, 2015|
Dammit, this book is not getting any shorter.
But it's making significantly more sense...
(ETA: Read-through draft -- around 73,000 words.)
|Wednesday, May 13th, 2015|
I just did the worst possible thing for someone who's trying to rewrite their prose - I read a bit of Raymond Chandler immediately afterwards.
Reading out his pitch-perfect description of a similar setting to one I'd just tried to write prompted mournful cries of "FUCK YOU, CHANDLER!" from both co-authors...
|Wednesday, May 6th, 2015|
...that moment when you realise a sequence you'd written separately had never been pasted into your main file, and so your draft is 71,500 words long, not 68,000.
...Um, Xanna? What's the actual target length range again? It's gonna shrink in the rewrites, but even 65K seems like a distant memory now...
(ETA: They're not worried. Whew. No need to gut it. Still, this is a classic "Sorry about writing such a long book, we didn't have time time to write a short one" moment...)
Anyway, here's the plan at this point. Normally we finish the first draft, immediately have a read-through with some of our friends, and then spend a month rewriting to fix the inevitable problems which we find when viewing the book as a whole. But because getting the book up to this point took a couple of weeks more than originally planned -- partly because it came out significantly longer, partly because the day-job crunches took up more than their fair share of time -- we now have a bit less than three
weeks till they want the finished manuscript. And because of peoples' availability (not least, mine), we've had to push the read-through off to next
weekend, not this one. So we'll have a bit more than a week to fix whatever issues we can find on our own, and then about another week to fix anything our readers find. Ulp.
If it's any consolation, we know there enough things wrong with this draft that we'll have plenty to do before the read-through... hopefully we'll fix the big issues before anyone ever sees them!
|Mediasphere: Draft Zero
4:32 AM. Done.
All this time, I've known what the final line of the book would be.
But I just came up with a new one.
|Tuesday, May 5th, 2015|
About two months ago, I posted, "Chapter 4 will never ever ever ever ever ever ever end."
Tonight I finished it.
The last sequence I had to go back to fix was a scene between two Mediasphere denizens, which could very roughly be described as "Russell T Davies seduces Mary Whitehouse". This, as you can imagine, took some doing.
Looks like we're going to be around 67,000-68,000 words.
Only the last epilogue scene to go now...!
|Sunday, May 3rd, 2015|
Finished two out of the three epilogue scenes, while Kate's finishing the final actual chapter. I'm going to go back and spackle together the not-quite-finished scenes at the end of Ch 4 before I write the absolute very end of the book. I'm saving that last scene for dessert!
|Saturday, May 2nd, 2015|
Rewatching Blake's 7 for the first time in a couple months. We'd been putting off watching "Deathwatch" because we didn't want to shrivel with embarrassment at our inferiority. Now that I'm up to the epilogue, I figured it was safe... but I'm still humbled by the Boucher bitchery. The way in which Chris Boucher can string together a succession of punchlines with no fat between them still leaves me envious.
Kate and I sang a chorus of "Ohhh how I haaate this booook" over the the theme. It's OK, folks, we go through this phase on everything we write!
|Monday, April 27th, 2015|
Right. The last scenes left in Ch 10 are Kate's to tidy up. On to the grand finale! *grinds ever onward*
|Wednesday, April 22nd, 2015|
Ever seen the Goodies
episode with the Philharmonic Glee Club Rock'n'Roll Band, where our (erm) heroes can't agree on what style to play in, and so we end up with a rock version of "Land Of Hope And Glory" with Tim and a couple of girls hey-nonny-nonnying away in the background?
I can't shake the feeling that that's what "Mediasphere" is going to feel like. Kate's writing most of the grim serious parts of the plotline, and doing all the research on Orwell and North Korean cinema, while I'm dancing around merrily in the subplots strewing satirical bits in all directions.
Ah well -- one of the things which most defines Blake's 7
is that melding of grit and camp; if we can catch both of them in novel form, hopefully the editors will love it!
|Monday, April 20th, 2015|
Okay, so I've just finished Chapter 8, and Kate's a gnat's breadth away from finishing Chapter 9. That leaves two chapters and the epilogue to wrap up.
You'd think it'd be getting simpler by this point! I guess we haven't killed off enough characters yet...
Word count is a bit theoretical at this point, till I get ahold of the Ch 9 file again.
Once this is finished, probably after release, I intend to go back through chapter-by-chapter and detail who wrote which bits. It's become an odd process of us handing files off to each other -- earmarking a couple of scenes in a chapter which we want to hold on to while letting our partner have free rein on the rest, and then reversing roles on another chapter. It's like stuff we've done before, but more of a juggling act. Does that mean the collab is getting easier?
|Friday, April 10th, 2015|
50,200 words. By wordcount, we should be into the fourth and final part; instead we're still finishing off part three! We're now aiming for 65,000 words rather than 60,000, which means the first draft should be done in... three weeks? And then we have to go back and make sure the first parts adequately set up where the characters need to be for the end... the plot action to get them there basically works, but we need to make sure the emotional impact is enough to make what happens later seem justified.
Today we sat down and finally hashed out a scene-by-scene beat-by-beat breakdown of the last of the four parts of the book. This is the point where we need to nail down the gaps between what we hoped
to do so far, and what we've actually managed
This is also the point where we start simplifying out various bits that are just cluttering the storyline. I'd like to say a few words over the fallen body of Tarrant's subplot, which is just not going to to fit into the climax the way I'd hoped! On the plus side, losing his involvement from the stuff that goes down towards the end of the book will allow us to keep the focus more on Dayna -- which is part of the brief.
Another plus side of the tightening is that it's guiding us to concentrate on, and strengthen, one of the elements which is supposed to be the throughline of the book -- Dayna's relationship with the artists formerly known as Blake's 7. We had the key events relating to that in the book, but hadn't really established what they meant
to her -- that'll be part of the rewriting Rethinking the climax puts her more at the center -- and ought to be a lot of fun too.
Last but not least? In pretty much every one of our books there's one or two set-piece chapters which I'm just proud of in their own right -- the flashbacks in Tigers
, "Numberless" in Prisoner's Dilemma
, the TARDIS interlude in Unnatural History
, Sam's reunion with the Doctor in Seeing I
. A little piece which is just a moment unto itself -- and usually a joy to write, because everything just comes out in-focus.
Chapter 7 (well, it's Chapter 7 now
, the number will probably go up as we rewrite) is one of those moments. It's a little Vila-centered set-piece which I've been dying to write for ages. And given the annoyingly bitty, constantly-interrupted-by-day-job-work way we've been working on this novel, to have a whole chapter just come out right
is both a relief and a joy!
(Note: this is the chapter I was complaining about here
. All I can think is, whew