A lot of my friends have been calling recently and asking me: “Roger Wolfson, which are you doing more of right now. Writing streaming TV or watching it?”
And like most professional writers, the answer is – – depends on the day. I’m currently writing a series for a streaming network. But (at least today), I’ve spent time watching that network even more.
Also like many writers, I have several projects in active development. But all my projects require answering the same question.
“How much or how little Covid do I put into this project?”
This is particularly important in the realm of Science Fiction, which is at heart, social commentary. And some of the best Science Fiction tries to take current social issues and expand them into the future in order to comment on them most effectively.
For me, when it comes to my projects, I want to talk about this pandemic. I want to talk about the social implications. The governmental implications. Personal implications.
Especially since I had Covid myself. I have a lot to say.
The problem is, any project I write won’t be on air – – if I’m lucky – for another year, or more. What will the world look like then? Will we have 40 successful pandemic projects on the air? Will the world be sick of even thinking about pandemics and all 40 of those projects will fail?
TV writing these days is more accurate and current than it has ever been before. And right now we are living in a period where almost any content has its best chance of finding a large audience. We don’t know how long either of those trends will last, but it feels pretty good being a writer right now. Still, even with those two trends, predicting what an audience will find attractive in a year is like throwing a dart at a dartboard that is in another room of your house. While you are blindfolded.
Fortunately, for me and for writers like yourself, there is another path. If there is something about this pandemic that moves you. That touches you. That inspires you. Or frightens you. You can still write about it. But instead of having Covid be the star, just make sure your heroine or hero is the star.
So many writers think the “world” of their show or movie is the star. Contagion, for example – which is a science fiction film – advertises its “world,” the pandemic world, in the title. Would the same movie have been as effective if it didn’t “star” a virus?
Perhaps. With some creative thinking.
Now is a good time to approach your work thematically. A pandemic can be the antagonist or part of the antagonistic forces. But the “disease” should be interchangeable, like those emblems on the floor of basketball courts. You should be able to slide it out. Maybe you’ll swap it out with another kind of threat to safety, well-being, and life itself. For example, Covid is very much like war. Certainly feels like it. Now is a good time to use analogous creative thinking.
Whatever is in your mind, if it’s important for you to say, then you can find a thematic playground for it. What matters is the emotion. Too many writers get caught up in framework. I include myself, here. I’ve been vulnerable to thinking too much about the world in which my characters live and not enough about the characters.
If you have a heroic journey, and it is clear and it is passionate and it is heartfelt, then it doesn’t matter if your lead is climbing the face of El Capitan, or the moon’s Mons Huygens, or the hardest climbing wall in the gym on an interstellar space ship. What matters is your lead’s desire to achieve the goal.
Find that heroic effort. Make sure that it’s one that truly invigorates you, whether through fear or excitement or humor or some other strong emotion.
Then use some of this precious free time that many of us are having more than usual. Use it. Tell your story. When we emerge from this international quarantine, emerge with a script in your hand. And have it be one that means something to you. Later, if you have to swap out your pandemic with something else, you’ll be able to.
Don’t get married to the frame. It’s the painting that the frame holds that counts.
Good luck and let me know how it goes.