When I bought my Honda Hybrid, I insisted it come with a GPS navigator system. It was so easy to plug in the directions and let the oh-so-proper woman behind the speakers direct me to my destination. What I discovered, however, is that I would automatically plug in directions to a destination I’d be heading for at least once a week–without ever really getting to know how to get there on my own. So, one day, I didn’t use my GPS, using my brain instead to lead me there. That first trip was actually kind of nerve-wracking, given that I had taken the route at least twelve times before. For the first time I really had to pay attention to where I was going and how.
I realized that writing a script or a novel is similar, especially when you rely on the many “how to” books that proliferate the writing market. When I started my first screenplay, I eagerly bought a number of books on how to write a screenplay, using them as I would a GPS system, to help me navigate the best and easiest way to get to my destination–a completed script.
But when I finished the script, thanks to those many “how to” books which told me my inciting incident needed to happen on page ten and the end of the first plot point on page thirty, I discovered I had written the most boring screenplay imaginable. It was purely by the numbers–page numbers. With no inspired character moments or out of the blue plot twists to engage an audience.
I threw out the “how to” books and went back to the beginning of my story, deepening character and coming up with new incidents, ignoring the exact pages on which they should occur. The revised screenplay was optioned several times and even landed me a job on (the original) “Dallas.”
When I stopped using my GPS, I discovered interesting side streets that still led me to my destination–in some cases even faster than if I had stayed true to my navigator’s directions. Why don’t you try throwing out your GPS, those “how to” manuals, and rely on your own instincts? You never know what interesting side streets your imagination will take you to.
For those of you who live in the L.A. area or its environs, come to my Killer Ratings book signing at Book ‘Em Mysteries on Sunday, February 10 at 2 pm. Book ‘Em is located at 1118 Mission Street in South Pasadena, CA 91030. Phone number: 626-799-9600.
I’ll be discussing my life in the TV biz. Hope to see you at Book ‘Em!
Ignition Books, an imprint of Endpapers Press, is pleased to announce that Lisa Seidman’s acclaimed mystery, Killer Ratings, is now available as a trade paperback.
Los Angeles is no stranger to glamour, celebrity . . . and murder. When Susan Kaplan moves to L.A. to become a TV writer, she’s thrilled to be hired as a writers’ assistant on the well-regarded but low-rated TV series Babbitt & Brooks. The last thing she expects, however, is that she’d find herself working for the beautiful yet seriously neurotic Rebecca Saunders, the show’s less-than-competent associate producer who may or may not have gotten the job by sleeping with Babbitt & Brooks’ demanding creator and executive producer, Ray Goldfarb.
And Susan definitely doesn’t expect to find murdered Rebecca’s body in her office at the studio early one morning. When the police learn that Rebecca torpedoed Susan’s writing career shortly before her death, Susan becomes their number one suspect. Determined to prove her innocence and find the murderer, Susan discovers that all her colleagues have secrets they would kill to protect.
From producers to writers to stars, it seems that the hopes and dreams of nearly everyone associated with the show were being threatened by Rebecca.
Despite the danger to her own life, Susan remains determined to find Rebecca’s killer and in the process unmasks the dirty little secrets behind the making of a primetime television series. She learns that real life behind the camera is far more dramatic than the fictional one in front of it.
Lisa Seidman draws on her thirty years of experience as a successful television writer to take the reader behind the scenes and show how the struggle to achieve high ratings truly can lead to murder.
“Lisa Seidman weaves together vivid characters, delightful mystery, and the wry wit of a true TV insider to create a delicious tale of reckless ambition and literal and figurative backstabbing that will not only entertain you, but change your relationship with your television forever.”
“In Killer Ratings, Lisa Seidman, a television writer herself, provides a thrill ride through the ambition-ridden and ego-saturated world of TV production, where there is more death and drama behind the camera than in front of it.”
“Take an edgy TV production team, add a sprinkling of fierce ambition, and finish off with a large handful of paranoia and you have the perfect setting for murder. TV writer Lisa Seidman, who’s been on that set, skillfully does it all in Killer Ratings.”
“Fascinating. Fast-paced. Fun. Emmy Award-winning scriptwriter Lisa Seidman’s debut mystery goes backstage at a TV production company where pride, passion, and peril lead to Killer Ratings. A Killer Mystery!”
“Lisa Seidman’s page-turning whodunit, Killer Ratings, perfectly captures the backstage world of a struggling TV series where appearances are deliberately deceiving and ambition can be absolutely criminal.”
“The drama going on behind the scenes at a TV show is always juicier than what’s on the screen, and Lisa Seidman masterfully combines three of my favorite things: TV, mystery, and a good story well told.”
Lisa Seidman began her television career writing for the primetime serials such as Falcon Crest, Dallas, and Knots Landing, as well as Cagney & Lacy, and Murder, She Wrote. She received an Emmy nomination for her work on Guiding Light as well as Writers Guild nominations for Guiding Light and Sunset Beach.
Lisa spent two years as an elected member of the Writers Guild of America, West Board of Directors and wrote for the daytime serial Days of Our Lives for which she was awarded an Emmy. She is currently teaching TV writing at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts, in addition to writing.
Killer Ratings is available via Barnes & Noble’s website, CreateSpace, an Amazon company, as well as directly from Amazon. It can also be ordered via any bookstore’s Ingram account from Lightning Source (ISBN: 978-1-937868-13-0). And, of course, it is also available as an eBook from all major eBook outlets.
When I was headwriting “Poor Anastasia” in Russia, I created a scene for an episode in which the core characters (the show’s anti-hero Korf, his best friend Repnin, and Anna, the beautiful serf both men were in love with) were eating breakfast. I told the writer of the episode that the scene needed to be about the tension between Korf and Repnin, with Anna in the middle of their tension. Repnin, who was in love with Anna, didn’t know she was a serf. His best friend Korf did, and Anna was plotzing with anxiety as she wondered when and if Korf would reveal to Repnin the truth about who she really was. (In 1862 St. Petersburg, it was not only illegal to fall in love with a serf but it could shatter Repnin’s love for her.)
Instead of the tension, subtext and anxiety, I got kasha.
My writer wrote the entire scene about Korf offering Repnin kasha, explaining it was excellent kasha. Anna, who was eating the kasha, agreed, so Repnin helped himself and also agreed that the kasha was excellent.
That was the scene.
Now, maybe, the subtext got lost in translation, although to her credit, when I told the writer what I found missing from the scene, she went on to write other episodes with the subtext and tension and stakes I found missing in the “kasha” scene.
In counterpoint, when I was teaching at UCLA, one of my students, Mary, wrote a spec “Six Feet Under.” In her script, two of the characters were in the middle of a fraught relationship that was going south fast. Mary chose to illustrate the tension in their relationship by setting a scene in a restaurant with a table that rocked. All one character could focus on was the rocking table, which was annoying the hell out of her, while the other character was trying to get her to focus on what was wrong in their relationship. By the end of the scene, the character obsessed with the rocking table was shouting for the waiter to come and put a matchbook cover under the table leg in an explosion of anger that was way bigger than the rocking table warranted. But the message was clear. The scene wasn’t about the rocking table. The rocking table was a way of showing how the character couldn’t deal with the end of her relationship, and the anger and upset she felt as a result.
Kasha and rocking tables are great when they are used to highlight what a character is thinking and feeling without the character having to actually say what he or she is thinking or feeling. Just make sure the kasha doesn’t become the star of the show.