I spent the day Saturday in the company of a bunch of talented writers to plot a DEAD MAN novel…not just any book, but our biggest tale yet, both in page count and ambition. The story will be published next fall as a Kindle Serial (six to eight, 10,000 word "episodes" that will add up to one, cohesive novel). The project is being written by Phoef Sutton, Lisa Klink and Kate Danley from a shared outline. So series co-creator William Rabkin and I, along with DEAD MAN author David Tully (THE KILLING FLOOR), got together with them and we all spent the day cracking the story in a "writer's room" setting.
Bill, Phoef, Lisa and I are all experienced TV writer/producers, we are very comfortable with the "writer's room" process of hashing out the story as a group, analyzing every character motivation and story beat until we come up with all the moves of the story, which we layout on a white, dry erase board. It was a new experience for Kate and, to a lesser extent, for David, who has been part of a writer's room on some television projects in Germany (where his wife was a network executive).
The writer's room process is wonderful because not only do you benefit from the creativity of everybody in the room, but it also forces you to really explore, analyze and figure out all the angles of your plot and the motivations of your characters.
The group experience also forces you not to give in to the easy, lazy or cliche way of resolving plot and character issues…to go further and dig deeper. It means there are some inevitable frustration or disagreements, but it's all positive…because you end up with a much stronger, more-thought-out story.
It's my favorite part of the TV writing experience…spending hours, days and weeks in a room full of smart, clever, outrageously creative writers…all working to together to tell the best possible story.
Our writers room session for THE DEAD MAN went great. We first discussed character and our over-arching, creative goals for the book. Then we started talking broad plot points. Then we drilled down to the novel equivalent of the eternal TV question: "what do we want our act breaks to be?" (Or, in this case, the "cliff hanger" moment at the end of our six "episodes") And once we had that, we got into the nitty-gritty of the specific beats of each "act."
That's where the real work was. We hashed it out in spirited debates while eating lots of food (and, occasionally, diverging into discussions of lame plot points in SKYFALL and the last BATMAN movie. Do you realize Bond failed at *everything* he did in SKYFALL? He didn't do anything right. Still a great movie, though).
We got started at 10:30 am and by the time we finished around 5:30 pm, we'd plotted out the novel and felt great about what we'd come up with. Or, as one person in the room put it, we accomplished in one day what it would take an author by himself a month or two to figure out. It's going to be a kick-ass, standalone DEAD MAN novel that requires no previous knowledge of the series to enjoy…but that will also satisfy our loyal fans with a game-changing story that acknowledges past events, answers some long-standing questions, sends Matt Cahill in an exciting, new direction.
Now everybody is writing up their portion of the outline, which Bill and I will cobble together into one document and submit to our editors at Amazon Publishing's 47North imprint for their notes. Once we have their input, the authors will start writing.
I wish I had a writers room for my novels…
1 thought on “Plotting Death and Destruction”
Wow, so much work done in such a short period of time. A philosopher said: “Talent hits a target that no one else can, Genius hits a target no one else can see.” I think plotting out a new novel is akin to hitting a target no one else can see.
I’m wondering if there might be a way for you to have a sort of writer’s-room-experience when plotting out a new novel. One way is, you could set up a website with a password. You could hand out the password to those you trust and want in your “writer’s room.” You could post your premise and get feedback. It wouldn’t be the same, but it might help push you to higher heights and deeper insights.
Anyway, I’m envious of your rib-cooker. Only guys in L.A. have this kind of kitchen service. Up here, in Guelph, Ontario, Canada, we’ve only got to the stage of making egg mcmuffins at home. I’ll take five years for rib-cooking at home to arrive! 🙂