Although I plan to blog a great deal about Ruby Skye and share the process with you, I will not be providing a lot of detail about story. I won’t be posting outlines or scripts. We want that to be a surprise. Hopefully though, the process will be of interest.
On Saturday the 26th, Julie Cohn and I sat down to do some writing. Two scripts and a season arc were part of the IPF proposal, but now we had to take the season’s story line and break it into episodes.
Eye to Eye With Ruby Skye is a detective series and the season will be a single mystery told in twelve episodes. It’s kind of like a Murder One or 24 in that one story arcs out over the full season of twelve episodes. Each episode needs a killer cliff-hanger to end it so we’re very definitely writing to act breaks.
At this point the plan is to have episodes of approximately five minutes in length… or less. Why five minutes? It feels like the length that the story wants. We don’t have broadcast constraints to predetermine how long each episode should be. We could try to use stats, experience or conventional wisdom to choose an episode length, but everything changes so quickly in the digital space that just because it worked last week doesn’t mean it’ll still work this week. Instead, we’d plan to let the story shape its presentation.
I want the episodes to be long enough that there is an opportunity to build character. I want there to be comedy and action in as many episodes as possible. Julie and I have sketched out a story with many plot threads running through it. We are trying to hit as many of the sub-plots in each episode as possible.
Our theory is that really strong curtains on an episode will make viewers want to see the next episode. So we spent a couple of days working through the story finding the most exciting moment. These have become our episode ends. The beats between them will form the episodes themselves. The number of beats aren’t always equal and the scenes certainly aren’t going to play to the same lengths. So they won’t yield twelve episodes of the same length. In fact, they may be quite different in length. They may vary by 1 or 2 or even 3 minutes… nothing when your episodes are half an hour long, but when they are in the five minute range, 1 and 2 minute differences start seem significant.
Or maybe they won’t. We’ll see, won’t we?
When we drafted the first two episodes, they came in longer than I had expected. First drafts were about 8 pages and have ballooned up to 11 pages what with punch ups and all. But that’s a function of starting out. Early drafts are often long as you try to find the characters and the tone of the tale. By the time we’ve written all twelve and rewritten them many many times, I’m pretty sure they will be a lot shorter. I’ll keep you posted on that front.
We’re not there yet. We’ve spent a couple of days breaking the arc into episodes. At this point we have a big paragraph written on each of the episodes. Our next session was devoted to the villain of the piece. Detective series are often about unravelling the bad guy’s story. So Julie and I went through the events from the villain’s pov one more time, adding detail and colour to that story and making sure we know it very well. This will inform our writing as we set out to write the rest of the episodes and then to rewrite them as much as time will allow.
In our next session, we drafted Episodes 3 and 4. I think the pace will pick up now and we will get the next 8 episodes drafted fairly quickly.
As we go, we’re discovering a lot — emotional lines, important clues and motivations. The world feels like it’s coming to life. It’s getting to be quite exciting, but truly what I am looking forward to is the second draft. We’re learning so much about Ruby, her friends and how we want to tell this story as we go along. I can’t wait to have all the learning from a completed draft of all the episodes in mind to use in a rewrite.
What I’m curious about is if/how you are going to script/employ other forms of media and interface around the main plot line and if so, are you building it in at this stage. In other words, is the format actually going to revise how you tell your story? Or will it be closer to a number of short episodes of a single series? Are you planning to tell some parts of the story with clips and then augment it with text or some other material? It seems to me you could tell a much more efficient story by leaving out all those scenes where detectives regroup over details and just jump to new and interesting scenes which further character plot and theme, sort of like voice over does in traditional noir films. Also, are you planning to let the user have any control over the story telling? Will there be any way they are able to adjust how the story is told or unfolds? If so, is this altering your traditional writing process? Curious minds need to know about this interesting stuff.
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