Hello everyone! Just a quick heads up that the kind and wonderful Kelly over at Belle Of The Literati gave us the chance to write a guest post! We love geeking out about our favorite things, so you know we jumped at that chance: we talk about ALTERED, where the inspiration came from, how it was written… we also get into TV, YA, sci-fi, and some other cool things. Check it out right here!
How do you know when you’re watching something written by TV writer, showrunner extraordinaire and all-round genius Russell T. Davies? You’re probably crying.
And by the way, those tears probably started in laughter. Which happened in the middle of a thrilling action sequence in which the characters you LOVE are thrown into high stakes peril, and have to use extreme cleverness to save themselves from a situation that somehow blends terrifying concepts with overwhelming heart, soul and emotion.
That’s just an average scene for Davies, because he is the master of the human heart. When he REALLY wants to mess with you, it’s just devastating.
Davies is best known for his tremendous resurrection of the longest running sci-fi show in TV history, DOCTOR WHO (it first aired in 1953!). This tale of a time-traveling Time Lord known only as The Doctor who journeyed through the universe in a TARDIS (a time machine in the form of a blue police box), usually in the company of one or two humans who were looking for adventure, was originally a much-beloved, yet quaint, show on the BBC. It was known for its charm, inventiveness, futuristic electronic scores and less-than-stellar special effects. Sadly, over time, ever more ridiculous storylines resulted in the show being axed in the eighties, seemingly never to return (with a brief exception in the form of a TV movie that popped up in 1996).
However, Davies, who, despite his roots in the gritty, everyday dramas of everyday people, was a huge sci-fi fan, and a fan of the show, rescued it from its cancellation wasteland in 2005 and rebooted it into a glossy global phenomenon.
How did he do it?
With brilliant writing. With feelings. With, as the ultra-smart and Scottish late night talk show host Craig Ferguson describes it, a healthy dose of “intellect and romance.” Because no one does feelings quite like Davies. His stories and scripts are overflowing with heart and emotion. And they’re extraordinarily clever too. But it’s not the cleverness that keeps us there: it’s the people. Davies’ background in writing astonishingly great dramas about “everyday” people was key to the success of this most fantastical of shows. Davies knows how to give us the shortcut right into a character’s soul, and make us feel what they feel. Although the show is called DOCTOR WHO — and although Davies did reimagine the Doctor as intelligent, bold, and very funny, as well as being a dangerous and charismatic hero-figure — he was the first to truly realize that the heart of the show (one of them at least) should be the human companions that accompanied this alien Time Lord. Because they were our stand-ins. Our view into the conceptually mind-bending experience of actually traveling through time.
Davies was rebooting a sci-fi show and making it fresh and “now.” He could have focused on spaceships, spectacle, action. Instead, to begin this new journey, he crafted a beautiful hour of television that showed us how a girl with dreams plucks up the courage to try and chase them. And so his first episode, the one that relaunched the show, was simply titled Rose, after the girl who decides to give up her life on Earth to follow the Doctor into the stars.
Rose Tyler is an ordinary, working class girl, living a regular life, living with her mother in a tiny flat, working in the local department store, just trying to get by. But she dreams of so much more than that. When she gets chased by mannequins possessed by an evil alien lifeforce, has to deal with her store blowing up, and, in one brilliant scene, fails to notice that her boyfriend’s monosyllabic responses are not due to his disinterest but the fact that he is a replica created by the aliens, Rose realizes that life doesn’t have to be ordinary, or even safe. She chooses the thrill of the unknown, and accepts the Doctor’s offer (once he’s saved the day), to journey with him. The smile on Rose’s face as she runs into the TARDIS is one of the emotional high points of the entire show.
Davies understands what it is to dream of something more than what you have, and how you can become something extraordinary when you’re in the most challenging of situations. His characters, his writing, resonate so powerfully. As writers often like to say on Twitter, his writing has ALL THE FEELS.
His era of Doctor Who ran from 2005 through 2009, and it was extraordinary. It’s up there with the best of TV sci-fi like BUFFY, FIREFLY, STAR TREK, BSG, FRINGE, and Davies’ own WHO spin-off, TORCHWOOD. Davies wrote a book about running DOCTOR WHO, called The Writer’s Tale. If you are writer of any kind, a storyteller of any sort, a fan of the show, a fan of sci-fi, a fan of TV, an aspiring showrunner, or just interested in how stories are told, you need to read this book. It’s one of the greatest books about writing, about stories, about TV, ever written. You can see the detailed evolution of stories from initial idea to treatment to draft to shooting script. It’s fascinating, and it shows you above all how important character is.
It doesn’t hurt that Davies is a genius sci-fi writer, able to spin incredible ideas together and create deep and detailed worlds, often one after another to fulfill the hungry demands of a long-running episodic TV show. And he subtly layers in long-running arcs that build to insane crescendos like a boss.
But whatever he is writing, however fantastical the setting, Davies’ primary concern is always the character, and how to make us feel.
And boy, does he make us feel.
Welcome to a new series of posts we like to call “influence is bliss.”
In this series, we’ll be looking at different writers who inspire us, and who we love being influenced by. Writers who thrill us. They could be writers from the world of YA, TV, or movies. They are all writers who move us, teach us, and make us want to write like, right now.
There’s a long list of these writers who carry us away with their sometimes funny, sometimes heartbreaking, but always beautiful words. Words that change the way we look at the world.
We figured we’d start with a writer who has been a huge inspiration for years, and even more so this year.
Genre-blending hero. Fan favorite. Beloved creator, showrunner and overseer of some of pop culture’s greatest achievements: Buffy, Firefly, Serenity, Dollhouse... Alien Resurrection (we liked it!). And, of course, The Avengers, soon to be followed by a S.H.I.E.L.D. TV show centering on Agent Coulson (“Nick? His first name is agent.”), and, of course, Avengers 2.
What a trajectory. What an icon. What a hero in the geek world. And one of our most important writing influences.
While Whedon proved his action-directing chops with The Avengers this summer, first and foremost it showed just what an extraordinary writer he is. Whedon is one of the few who can seamlessly blend action, humor, and emotion into a tightly executed plot. All while giving his characters deep inner lives and complex arcs.
One of the finest examples of Whedon’s talent is the “meltdown” scene in The Avengers, where our heroes argue themselves into self-destruction. We could watch that scene again and again. It is written with the control of a true master. There are six characters in one room, all with their own emotional trajectories that intersect perfectly. They’re all suffering in different ways, all losing it uniquely, driven by their personal desires and frustrations.
The characters are blasting zingers and snark at each other with both barrels, nailing weaknesses and vulnerabilities, pushing each others buttons like pros — and this is SIX characters firing at each other with machine gun speed as the camera wheels around them.
It’s like six Shakespeare plays crunched into a few firecrackingly explosive, freewheeling minutes. Everyone’s a protaganist, an antagonist, an aggressor, a victim. As the massive egos showboat and collide and implode, it’s dangerous, and funny, and heartbreaking.
This scene is a masterclass of Whedon-writing: every character’s motives and fears are laid out. The tension builds and is broken with humor before building again. The plot turns and our heros remain true to themselves despite the revelation that they are more than the weapons they wield.
This is another Whedon skill; giving us something real to carry us through the fantasy. Take the now-beloved Agent Coulson; in the shortest of dialogue this previously sidelined supporting player became a fully humanized fan favorite (the cellist, the trading cards) whose fate we desperately care about.
There’s no flashback or soliloquy. Everything is in motion. Everything is kinetic. Because Whedon’s writing always flows.
For Whedon, drama is not only conflict, it’s rhythm. Lift us up, smash us back down (in the emotional sense, not the Hulk sense). Whedon pulls reversals mid-scene, mid-line, but always keeps us hanging on. He’s like a fighter jet that can turn on a dime, rotating through all kinds of crazy angles at high speed. His writing is extremely agile, which allows him to take us on intense dramatic journeys.
The Avengers meltdown may be one of the greatest written scenes in cinema history. This scene’s honesty, emotion, rhythm and humor defines “Whedon-esque.” You just marvel (pun… yeah, intended) at his skill.
Of course we cannot talk about Whedon as a writer without talking about his women. As evidenced by this scene, and by pretty much every scene he’s ever written, Whedon writes incredibly real and inspirational female characters. It is, unfortunately, something that needs to be called out. Because, as sad as this is to write, it’s still unusual. Just compare Black Widow in Iron Man 2 and in The Avengers. It’s no surprise that the creator of Buffy can give us a complex, accessible, conflicted, vulnerable, powerful, beautiful, smart and kick-ass Natasha Romanov. Whereas in Iron Man 2, she basically had to look good in leather.
To sum up, because this blog is going much longer than we intended, Joss Whedon inspires us to be better. He pushes us to write harder, push each beat further; to have fun, cry, mess with the audience, kill characters, and, of course, make it all incredibly entertaining.