I’m zeroing in on the theme for my feature film project. And I can tell you, it’s been a headache.
That’s what happens when you naturally gravitate towards political ideas – at least for me. It means that I often come at a story with social commentary or a moral in mind. Unfortunately, deciding upon a theme in a story isn’t always what comes first. More often than not, a theme is discovered. It kind of pops out from somewhere in between the characters, the conflict and the setting. So what starts off as a clear idea about what I want to write, morphs into something entirely new.
There is a lot of letting go in this process. It hurts to have to put aside an idea and admit that perhaps this time, the story isn’t about x, y, z.
Originally, I started out wanting to write a story that said something about class-ism. While I haven’t deviated very far, I’m realising that the theme for this story is more about prisons – those that are imposed on us and those we devise for ourselves. It is about authority and how easily we hand our power over to others – often to our own detriment. And it is also about refusing to see the truth of our prison.
All of us live in prisons. There is no such thing as true freedom. It doesn’t exist. What do your prisons look like?
From a recent Facebook status update:
Coming out of four days of illness and launching myself into writing a story outline. Now my head hurts… I have all these ideas floating around me – some circling slowly, others zipping this way and that. Occasionally one idea hits another and they snap into place. Then a rogue asteroid of an idea hurtles into the orbit, smashing into my infant planet and sending bits and pieces flying in all directions. Ugh!
Right now I’m struggling. Yes, I have a lot on in my life at the moment. I’ve been unwell and I’ve had lots of other things on my plate. But overwhelmingly, I’ve just been plot-tied. I’m not sure I would call it writer’s block. Not really. I have ideas. They’re just not coming together yet.
That’s it. I just wanted to vent.
It’s funny, you know. I’ve never considered myself a fan-fiction writer and yet lately I’ve been writing a fair bit of it. I’m not a member of the fan-fic community. I literally had to Google terms like ship, het, and one-shot. Writing fan-fiction for me has been about practicing the discipline of writing.
This has really worked for me. For a long time I had resigned myself to the belief that writing fiction would never get me anywhere. Instead I focused on writing non-fiction for a number of publications. Returning to the world of fiction meant I needed to get over my self-saboteur and unfortunately that saboteur often takes the form of a little voice that tells me I can’t put pen to paper until I have absolutely everything figured out right.
Fan-fiction has helped me overcome that somewhat. Writing about characters that I already know allows me to easily pluck a story idea out of the “I wish this had happened” part of my brain and get down to writing. It has been a great way to cultivate a daily practice and also to hone my craft.
What has been extremely important to me however, has been writing stories that keep the characters in-character. I simply cannot understand why anyone would wish to write characters that behave in ways that do not fit in their respective fictional worlds. The most intriguing phenomenon for me is the prevalence of slash-fic (another term I had to Google).
I support all the ways that people express their love, gender or sexuality. What I have a problem with is what I consider to be the abomination of forcing existing characters to behave in ways they never would. I’ve certainly never been tempted to go down that road myself. Until recently.
It has always bothered me that the Doctor did not show up and save the day during the Torchwood series ‘Children of Earth’. My fantasy-world brain was very upset with the Doctor about this. And so I set about writing the most recent story in my ‘Companions Collection’ series in which this very issue is addressed.
I’m not all about fix-its. Some things should just be left alone. Sometimes bad things happen. In this particular story I wanted to explore the relationship between Captain Jack Harkness and the Doctor by using the ‘Children of Earth’ event as a catalyst.
In my mind, this would be an easy story to write. So much emotion – guilt, anger, fear. I knew how it would start and I knew how it would end. My favourite kind of story.
In reality, things turned out to be much more difficult.
First there was the challenge of writing emotional scenes for characters who have a hard time letting down their defenses.
The power relationship between the Doctor and Jack has always been in the Doctor’s favour. In his own world, Jack is the one calling the shots. He is the mysterious person with the secret of immortality. He is the person that people look to for help. Face to face with the Doctor however, Jack is reduced to playing second fiddle.
The Doctor is an alien with the power of time travel. He understands that Jack is a fixed point in time and space. Indeed, he can literally feel it in his bones when they are near one another. As such, the Doctor has always held himself aloof and separate from Jack, even when trying to work together.
Writing scenes that bring down at least some of the emotional walls between Jack and the Doctor turned out to be harder than I thought. It was also a constant battle not to slip over the line into melodrama.
But what I didn’t anticipate was the flow-on effect that I found myself dealing with. And the most challenging – Jack’s feelings for the Doctor.
No secret has been made of the fact that Jack fancied the Doctor even before the incident on Satellite 5 that resulted in Jack becoming immortal. And afterwards in Series 3, Jack laments with Martha about them both desiring the Doctor’s affections without the Doctor giving either of them a second glance.
While writing my story, I discovered that I could not avoid exploring those feelings. Besides having a physical attraction to the Doctor (something that is really not that exciting given Jack’s inclination to flirt with almost everyone) Jack’s character has evolved in such a way that those feelings may have become something much more.
Jack has looked to the Doctor for help in the past and is the only person with whom he shares any kind of intimate understanding about outliving everyone around him. The Doctor both despises what he is, while also being the only person with any insight into what he is. The Doctor was there when it happened.
This is where the challenge took an interesting turn. The desire to explore these feelings in depth showed me for the first time why fan-fiction writers often delve into slash-fic and something that I have now learned is called hurt/comfort fic.
It suddenly became so easy to allow the Doctor to show Jack the love and tenderness that he is likely to have been desperately needing. Having dragged Jack through the emotional equivalent of being run over by a bus, it now seemed unfair that the Doctor would still refuse him, even in his darkest hour.
Personally, this challenge has highlighted the difference between storytelling and fantasizing. While both are an element of the writing process, fantasizing is about fulfilling one’s own desires. Storytelling is about being honest about what is best for the story.
In the end, it was a very fine line. There is something that I find extremely hot about these two men finding solace in one another. And at the same time, there is something equally beautiful and heartbreaking about the reality that it would never happen.
The final curve ball for me was that I had chosen the Eleventh Doctor for this story. While the ninth and tenth incarnations have never encouraged Jack (in fact the Doctor is arguably oblivious to Jack’s affections), Eleven is much more – well, touchy-feely.
Eleven will grasp someone’s face in excitement, hug with impunity, squash his forehead against someone else’s to encourage them to think and will kiss those who inspire him. Eleven can be angry and distant and full of rage, however more than any other incarnation, he can also offer emotional and physical comfort.
All of this made writing for Eleven and Jack a huge challenge because Eleven is much more likely to express empathy towards Jack. In many ways he is not only older but wiser than his predecessors. He has a firmer grasp on the need for emotional connections. And yet paradoxically, Eleven can be completely clueless when it comes to affairs of the heart.
With these “character facts”, writing this story became as much about me as it did about the characters. Staying true to the story was a real struggle. In my personal life I desire true intimacy in my relationships and so I project this need onto the story. My heart therefore wants to see the Doctor giving Jack the emotional intimacy he needs.
I also entertain the idea of the Doctor finally being able to let down his own emotional guard– something that I think Steven Moffat succumbed to by introducing the character of River Song.
But that is not part of this story. This story is about Jack and the Doctor.
This is an alternative ending to Matt Smith’s last episode The Time of the Doctor. Not for a moment will I claim to be able to write a better ending. However this was a scene that dropped into my head after watching the episode.
A couple of things:
1) This is a draft. There is passive voice and a probably a fair bit of clunk going on. That’s not important. For me this was an exercise in getting a story out of my head and onto paper as soon as possible.
2) There may be plot holes. I wrote this without thinking too closely about the wider story or the loose threads that needed tying up.
Enemies the Doctor had faced his entire life converged upon the old house, cornering him. And the Doctor stood in the doorway, defiant to the last. He would buy the townspeople some time. Tell the Daleks something clever. Distract them with his death while the others got away.
The Doctor grimaced. There was nowhere for the residents of Christmas to run.
He stepped out into the falling snow, trying to find a place clear of running people.
“I’m here!” he roared and a Dalek laser tore through him just as he knew it would. It brought him to his knees and his eyes met Clara’s across the field. “Run,” he mouthed, no sound coming out. Only a few had made it onto Trenzalore. Soon the whole Dalek fleet would be upon them.
Clara turned towards the TARDIS but spun back round again, her eyes wide. The Doctor’s own eyes narrowed but Clara wasn’t looking at him. He followed her gaze up towards the crack in the universe that had appeared in the night sky – and through the tear came a flood of regeneration energy.
The Doctor felt his hearts thudding too quickly and he clutched his chest, holding on for the miracle come too late. To regenerate amidst battle meant certain death anyway.
He began to laugh, a painful wheezing. “To hell with the rules hey?” he muttered to the Time Lords who would never hear him. He gasped as the regeneration energy fed into his body.
“The – Doctor – is – regenerating!” a Dalek screamed and the Doctor collapsed, his change beginning.
Clara ran to the Doctor, falling to her knees at his side.
“Clara, you have to get them out of here!”
“I have to get you to the TARDIS,” she said, tugging at his arm. Another laser cut through the air above them.
“No,” the Doctor panted, his hands beginning to glow. “I don’t have time and they just want me. Go. Save them.”
Clara pulled away, twisting around in the snow.
“Help me!” she screamed into the chaos. People ran in all directions. The Doctor grunted, the glow of regeneration spreading throughout his body.
“Help him!” she yelled again and this time the people closest to them stopped, turning to see that it was the Doctor who lay dying in the snow. Three or four dropped to the ground beside him.
Screams and laser beams filled the night but the residents of Christmas slipped their hands beneath the Doctor and hefted him from the ground.
“No – please. No!” the Doctor shouted but the people he had protected for three hundred years pressed on, dragging the old man towards the TARDIS against his will. The Doctor held on, struggling to delay his regeneration. It would kill everyone around him.
“Take them into the TARDIS!” the Doctor begged Clara. “I’ll catch up. I promise.”
Clara ignored him, clutching one of his legs to try and keep it from dragging along the ground.
“Leave me!” the Doctor bellowed.
Another group of townsfolk gathered, standing shoulder to shoulder to create a barrier between the Daleks and the Doctor. The Doctor cried out as they began to fall, one by one, to the weapons of his old enemies. With a scream of rage, the Doctor gave up fighting the townspeople and focused his attention on fighting the monsters. He threw himself to one side and let a flood of regeneration energy blast from one hand, taking out a Dalek.
More townsfolk moved to help, clearing a path before those carrying the Doctor. A contingent of the Order of the Silence joined the fray.
Another Dalek trundled towards a group of fleeing youths and the Doctor let another blast stream out from his other hand.
Lasers ripped through the crowd and the Doctor screamed with them as they fell. Still the people continued on. When one of the townsfolk dropped the Doctor into the snow with their death, another stepped forward to take their place, lifting him once more.
Pain lanced through the Doctor’s body as he fought to control his regeneration.
“Hang on, Doctor,” Clara pleaded and she dropped his leg, running for the TARDIS.
A Dalek appeared from behind the time machine, heading towards Clara. Another blast of energy took it out, the effort wracking the Doctor’s body with agony.
The door opened and to the sound of people falling and dying, the Doctor was deposited onto the floor of the TARDIS. Clara dragged him by his feet towards the console. The silence inside the ship as the door swung shut seemed to mock the slaughter outside.
Clara looked down at the Doctor, reaching out to touch him but the regeneration glow grew brighter, making her pull back sharply.
“Doctor…” she breathed. “Tell me what to do.”
The Doctor gasped a laugh. “Now you want to listen to me.”
Clara’s watched the Doctor anxiously, eyes glistening.
“You’ve seen me change,” the Doctor continued, his voice tired. “You need to step back.”
Clara shook her head, tears beginning to fall. “No, I mean, what am I going to do without you?”
“To change is to survive, Clara.” The Doctor rolled his head to one side, watching the vision of a grown Amelia Pond coming down the stairs to kneel at his side. “But I never forget,” he continued, shifting his gaze between the two of them. “I’m going to be someone else. But I never forget my friends. And I will never, ever forget when the Doctor was me.”
The glow of his regeneration grew brighter still and Clara pulled back, sobbing.
Regeneration energy burst from the Doctor, changing every cell in his body from the inside out. It coursed through him and he gritted his teeth against the tidal wave that burned away everything that had been him, transforming him into something renewed and undiscovered.
The wave ended abruptly, leaving an entirely different man lying on the floor of the TARDIS. The mysterious man sat bolt upright, boggling wide-eyed at Clara.
“Didn’t I tell you to get everyone into the TARDIS?” he snapped, grey eyebrows drawing down to frame angry eyes. The Doctor struggled to his feet and staggered past a stunned Clara to fling open the door. A shot hit the door beside his head.
“Well come on then!” he shouted into the war raging outside. “What are you all waiting for? Everyone in here. Now!”
Good news. As anticipated, I’m feeling much more upbeat and inspired today. It’s funny how a good sleep and a new day can change one’s outlook
Today I started off feeling rather inspired. Unfortunately as the day progressed and the pressures of my day job mounted, that inspiration simply drained away.
On one level it is fascinating how my creative mood can shift so suddenly. Just when I think I’m on a roll… BAM! …my mind is suddenly void of any exciting ideas. It’s an extremely mild form of temporary depression. For a little while, all of my ideas seem ridiculous. The colours fade. Those plot points, once so solid, now drip like water through my fingers, dissolving away to nothing.
They’ll come back. The certainty and excitement will return. But not tonight. No point in forcing it. I’m going to go to bed, pull out my iPad and watch Doctor Who.
Yesterday I wrote a poem because all the cool kids were doing it. Okay, so that’s not quite true. I’ve been added to a Facebook group described as “A competition-free relentless support group for radical poets and artists of all flavours”.
After my original offering of, “There once was a man from Nantucket…” I came up with this.
Also, I am not a poet
Standing in the void
requires nothing of me save presence,
as all is stripped of meaning
and Desire is all that’s left.
No past, nor future, nor parallel existence
holds my hand and beckons me
No, I shall languish and thrive instead
in a paradox of pain and potential
This moment -
the dark seed of a thousand suns
reaches in and plucks out my beating heart
holding it up to my face
…and I follow.
Yesterday I participated in a brilliant workshop about alchemy facilitated by Ravyn Stanfield. Without going into a whole lot of detail, this at its most basic level was about learning some tools to help map change within our lives. Most interesting for me was discovering how I actively sabotage my own desires. Now I’m not going to pretend that I have a clear view of what I ultimately want to do with my life. I suspect that there are many threads in that particular tapestry. What I have learned however, is that I have an amazing ability to get in my own way.
Many of you will resonate with this, I’m sure. Like me, many of you will be well acquainted with that little voice in your head that tells you all the reasons why you can’t do something. For me it’s, “That idea isn’t good enough”, “You can’t write until you’ve had a shower/checked Facebook/done more research…” and most recently, “You can’t become a screen writer if you don’t even know what a Producer does.”
However I’m feeling much more open and positive about working with my inner-Saboteur since yesterday’s workshop. Among other things, I realised that it is okay to be a beginner. It is okay to be uncertain or to not always finish a project. Learning to be okay with that is going to be extremely difficult for me. But what I also have to remember is to not let those doubts and insecurities get in the way of my writing. It stifles my creativity.
So as a first step – as one way for me to get out of my own way and take a risk, I’ve enrolled myself in a one-day ‘Introduction to Television’ seminar.
And I’m thoroughly excited about it too! In some ways it might be a small step, but in others it is huge. You see, I’m sometimes afraid to start new things because I can never be sure whether it is right for me. This is made so much worse when there is a financial hurdle. Or if a course is run full time or during work hours. Some of these things simply make it impossible for me. So investing a lot of time and money in something that I can’t be sure I’ll stick with feels frightening and irresponsible. And the difficult part is distinguishing between the legitimate concerns I should have about that, and my inner-Saboteur who just leaps at the chance to stop me in my tracks.
For now I’m feeling good. It is a simple seminar that will give me the overview of the television industry that I so desperately need to understand before making any other decisions. And I’ll just keep my eye on that ten-week ‘Writing Sci-Fi for TV & Film’ course…
The last few weeks have been terrible. I’ve been sick, stressed and to top it all off, extremely uninspired. I’m writing this here very briefly, mainly so I can include the below link. I’m going to have to work through this.
Now that I’m waiting for an editor to get back to me with notes about my first draft, I’m finding myself with more time on my hands. And while I’m going about my day – working, doing home duties, playing with the kids – there is this little voice in the back of my mind. It’s a constant presence that sounds like what I would imagine a little, excited puppy would sound like.
“So what’s next, eh? What are we going to do? What are we going to write? You know you want to try a screenplay. How about that drama/comedy you want to write on spec? Or how about you just practice a bit more first by writing an episode of Doctor Who for fun? Or maybe, maybe you should just finish that short story you were working on a while back? Or the fantasy novel? You’re up to the third chapter and last time you read it, only the first couple of pages were shit. Maybe if you started a proper outline for that one you might get back into it…”
I think I’m just stalling because I’ve given myself too many choices. But I’m happy to go with that for now. I feel like I’m swimming around in idea-minestrone. That’s okay. I’ll dance with it a bit more and see where my passion leads