For me, it’s been the most difficult transition into TV writing…how much of my writing is being tainted by my fan perspective?
I touched on this in “Spec Writing a Serialized Drama”, but I think there are other elements at play here.
In essence, there are things I might want to do with a TV show as a fan that aren’t right for the show or at least aren’t right at this time.
But a lot of fans don’t realize this. No matter which fandom, there’s always a strong-willed group that will continuously think they know better than the writers, which is a flawed argument for many reasons, not the least of which is:
The show you love so much, the characters you love so much, you love them BECAUSE of the writers. Yes, actors play a part in this, as well as myriad other people, but most of the time the core of a character or story or theme is there because of the writers. So in the end, it’s best to just trust them. And if you don’t trust them, then you can stop watching. Really, you can. No one’s making you watch. The beauty of the internet and fandom is that your stories, your favorite characters, can live on in fan fiction. If you don’t like what the writers are writing, write your own. In most cases, it won’t be as good, but it will be what you want it to be.
Why won’t it be as good? It’s not because you’re not a good writer (though that’s not necessarily a given) and it’s not because you don’t get paid to spend all day thinking about what you’re going to write. It’s because writers of TV shows are forced to be as balanced as possible. Plus, there is a room of writers that have to keep each other accountable to the quality of the story.
One of the most helpful blog posts I’ve found that speaks to this struggle between TV fan and TV writer is from The Bitter Script Reader. In working out how to write a “Don’t Trust the B— in Apt 23” spec script, his first instinct as a fan of the character James was to write an episode featuring James. But he couldn’t do that, because that’s not the show. James is a secondary character. If he does get his own story, it’s the B story at best.
A TV fan’s instinct might be to write a spec script featuring your favorite character. Or even if that character’s story is the B story, having that character do something you’ve always wanted him/her to do. Now, this can be a good thing. It could show your unique perspective on the character and the show, but only if you’ve considered all other options and decided this is the best one for the story you want to tell and the spec you want to present. In fact, in thinking about “The Vampire Diaries” and “The Originals”, Julie Plec herself asks the question, “What do we want to see this week?” Sometimes it’s as simple as wanting to see Elijah smile. So how are they going to do that? That right there is partially a fan response. Fans of Elijah want to see him smile. A great story can come out of that, but because there is a room full of people, they’re more likely to recognize if the story is too far-fetched or self-satisfying.
As a single writer writing a spec script, there is not this checks and balances system for the most part. I’m currently building a group of people to eventually workshop my specs with, but before that happens, I have to actually write the story. I’m my own accountability partner.
So why are fans so quick to attack writers when the show doesn’t go the way they want? Simply put, they haven’t been through the process of writing something for mass consumption. It’s not sexy, but a writer has to please producers, network execs, reviewers, fans, and then, maybe once in a great while, themselves. And when a writer begins a new story line, he/she has to see it through. For example, in Season 4 of “The Vampire Diaries”, the writers made Jeremy a Hunter. Now he needs to finish the Hunter’s Mark. Which means he has to kill a lot of vampires. And oops, eventually that means that they’re going to figure out that killing an Original will do the trick just fine. There’s every likelihood that this was the original plan going into this story line, but there’s an equal likelihood that the writers kind of painted themselves into a corner. They couldn’t kill Elijah because he’s the Noble one, they couldn’t kill Klaus because he’s just too damn good a character and he might be the sire of everyone’s blood line, and Rebekah is the only sister and a fan favorite. Besides which, all three of these Originals have been around the longest and therefore the fans expect them to stay around. So Kol was the obvious choice, especially considering his history with Jeremy.
These are choices writers have to make. Because if they hadn’t, then the fans would be complaining that either the writers aren’t smart enough to figure out the obvious answer to the Hunter’s Mark problem or that they pull punches (if Kol had escaped being killed). Besides which, it wouldn’t be as good a story.
And herein lies the beauty of fan fiction: none of these rules apply. Yes, the story is better if there’s at least some rules and some logic, but in fan fiction you can make Bonnie and Kol a couple whether it’s believable or not.
As a “Klaroline” fan, I want nothing more than for Caroline to leave Mystic Falls and join Klaus in New Orleans. But that’s not realistic. First off, it’s too soon. Caroline is still too human to just forsake everything she’s ever known to join the world of the supernatural full-time. More practically speaking, “The Vampire Diaries” probably couldn’t survive it. In a moment, they lost a huge chunk of their cast and characters. A huge chunk that, by the way, was the best part of the show for years. The Originals made “The Vampire Diaries” what it is. To lose even more than that so soon would be a fatal blow.
But “The Vampire Diaries” has to end eventually and if “The Originals” outlasts it, then that’s a perfect time to bring Caroline over. Or maybe “The Vampire Diaries” finds new blood that gives the show a new life at which point they can survive the loss of another major character. There’s no telling, but as of right now, I don’t see a way for Caroline to switch over without “The Vampire Diaries” suffering.
Most fans don’t take this kind of thing into account. And they don’t have to. But when fans start attacking writers and producers for not doing exactly what they want, then maybe it’s time to look at the bigger picture.
But there is such a thing as accountability. Fans keeping the writers accountable for the choices they make. Klaus’s promise to Caroline at the end of season 4 is, in essence, a promise from the writers to the fans: “He’s your first love. I intend to be your last.”
In the end, though, the fans don’t get an actual say in what’s being written or what develops. In my experience, though, however many perceived missteps the writers make, they’re always (or almost always) able to get back on track, which makes it worth it to stick with your favorite shows.