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Jane Espenson

Jane Espenson blogs about developping a script about an underdeveloped show character

Sunday 15 October 2006, by Webmaster

10/14/2006: Plowing the Untouched Field

So, all right, let’s talk more about that thing about not building a spec around a guest character. I’ve tended to follow that up by saying that centering a spec around the show’s main character is best. And certainly, there are shows where that’s the case. Most shows, in fact. A House without House at the center will not stand. BUT...

Friend-of-the-blog and dazzlingly successful writer Jeff Greenstein has told me of the specs he wrote, with his then writing parter to get into the business. Specs that got attention, that got them meetings. Their trick? Write to the underdeveloped character. Hmm. Interesting, no? This only works, of course, in a show with a strong ensemble, in which the series can shift the focus around a bit. And, of course, the main character should come into it somehow... crucially affecting or being affected by the story. A good way to approach this technique might be to think about the main story being centered on the *relationship* between the main character and the underutilized ensemble character.

The example Jeff told me about was a spec episode of Murphy Brown, in which the story was created to center on Miles’ 30th birthday. Miles was a strong supporting character, who hadn’t, at the time the spec was written, been given tons of air time. And the topic of age/accomplishment is obviously well-chosen to get a reaction from Murphy.

I’m reminded of some of the Buffy episodes I wrote — "Superstar," and "Storyteller," specifically. This is one of my favorite things to do (although I have to say that the original ideas for these episodes came from Joss). I love taking a character who is secondary (or tertiary), especially if they tend to be discounted by the others, and showing how they are the masters of their own house, the centers of their own universes. In real life, no one is a tertiary character — everyone’s feelings count for as much as everyone else’s, so I like it when the same thing holds in Fictionland.

Be careful, gentle readers, don’t lose sight of the center of the show, make sure it’s an episode you think the actual writers of the show might write. Then pick part of the ensemble that has been out of the spotlight... and light it up!

P.S. Such good mail lately! Thank you to Micky in Long Beach for a great letter — good luck on the writing career, Micky! And a generous note from Cheryl in Lodi offers encouragement to Angie, the recent correspondent who contemplated giving up our ink-stained pursuit. Cheryl is finding that success in screenwriting doesn’t have to be limited to the under-30 crowd. She encourages Angie to hang in there. Thank you, Cheryl! I haven’t heard back from Angie — I hope that means she’s too busy writing spec scripts!

And candies! German chocolates from faithful German reader Nic! Wow! Thank you!

Lunch: scrambled eggs and cream soda