Before there can be a shoot, there must be a script. Before there can be a script, there must be a story. How do you go from several storytellers to one story?
Before there can be a story, there's "What if...?" In the writer's room, those are the two words that begin everything.
"Breaking" a story--the process during which the mind-meld figures out what is going to happen in the episode--is much akin to building a bonfire. Guided by our instincts, we writer/gatherers eagerly scour for material, searching for the right kind of fodder to contribute. We all take turns tossing our finds into the mix, "pitching" the ideas to the room.
For me, the first couple of days in the room were incredibly stressful. I was completely new to this process and unsure of what was expected from me. In the room, ideas were flowing from every direction one after the other. The writers were building off each others' kernels, turning one person's "What if..?" into an intriguing new layer of The Cape's universe. I was petrified of chiming in. Not only was I afraid of accidentally cutting one of the senior writers off, (because, let me tell you, it was an open flood gate) I was also certain that my worth would be judged by my contribution. I'd have an idea, a nugget, but I had my own "What if..?" derailing my psyche: "What if they hate it?"
So I listened. I sat at the table and listened very carefully, watching Tom's reactions, trying to get an ingrained sense of what was working and what wasn't.
On The Cape we are extremely lucky to have a show creator who fully understands the world of the series. Every idea we come up with filters through Tom. He's our guide, our shaman, and it's his sparks that keep the fire going. Before we even first convened he'd laid out a plan for the first season. Certain character arcs, plot points, and relationships were already set in place, leaving us the task of expanding those ideas, adding depth and dimension, and discovering new story areas in which to play.
A few days went by. I'd had some ideas, waited for a window, and then smiled when a different writer pitched the same idea and got an approval. OK, step one. You're instincts aren't terrible! We were having a discussion about the Cape's cape, and if by wearing it Vince took on more than just a new look. Tom started a discussion asking whether or not the cape allowed Vince to embrace different portions of his personality, and how that might feel.
As the discussion grew, I felt a twinge in my gut. I have an idea. I'm gonna say it. I'm gonna speak up, and say it...
And I did.
I held my breath as Tom mulled it over. He nodded slightly. Before even 3 seconds had passed another writer spoke up, and the discussion continued. I took a minute to mentally congratulate myself on overcoming a major roadblock. He didn't hate it! Sure, he didn't LOVE it, but...I did it! I pitched an idea in the room and the world did not end!
The rest of the room, of course, was completely oblivious to my inner triumph. After all, that's what we're here to DO. We're here to supply Tom with the creative support he needs to make this show come to life. We pitch, and pitch, and pitch. While some ideas erupt rapidly into flame, others merely sizzle or never catch at all. I've learned very quickly not to get discouraged by soggy twigs.
We have a lot of fires to build, and there's only one way to ensure that each blaze reaches is full potential. We have to work together.