Writing for Prime Time

Two weeks ago, I was sick.

This, for me, is a rare occurrence.  I take my health, fitness, and diet very seriously, and am also just naturally blessed with an ironclad constitution.

As a result, the minor aches, coughs, and sniffles that many people suffer every other month do not afflict me.  I don’t even really get monthly menstrual cramps.

What I do get is one major illness every year to year-and-a-half that takes me down for about a week despite my prideful efforts to fight it.

That’s what this recent illness was: it started off as a sore throat, quickly progressed to a hacking cough, and before I could say, “I’m fine,” I had a full-blown head cold complete with cement-filled sinuses, pounding temples, aching neck, shoulders, back and abs from coughing, throat scratched raw from the same, tiredness, weakness, and about as much air capacity in my lungs as if I were breathing through a straw, particularly when trying to lie in bed.

I was not fine.

And the thing that hurt the most was my ego in having to admit to my malady.

It was a low moment.  So low, in fact, my body became a metaphor for my mental state: bypassing my bed entirely, I spread a blanket on my living room floor, brought my laptop down with me, and searched for something to watch on YouTube to distract me from my misery.

What I found was the cartoon Transformers: Prime.

My lost childhood, found

The night my writers’ group discussed why we write (which I wrote about in my previous post), one of Michael Bay’s live-action Transformers movies was playing on the TV in the restaurant.

One of the group members remarked that there was a new Transformers cartoon, and that remaking old cartoons seemed to a be growing trend now that all the children who had enjoyed the originals back in the 80s were both nostalgic adults and media executives.

I was one such 80s child who enjoyed the original cartoon.  It was introduced to me by my childhood babysitter’s three rough-and-tumble sons, who also taught me (who only has a sister) about all the other sorts of toys and shows boys liked, including G.I. Joe, Voltron, and the World Wrestling Federation.

Now a nostalgic adult myself who still enjoys cartoons (especially ones written with adults in mind), I enjoy Transformers: Prime very much as well.

No longer strictly a kid’s show, it is everything Michael Bay’s movies were not*: it pays significant attention to the bots’ history and culture (they are supposed to be an alien species after all); no gratuitous violence or flag-waving romanticizing of military life; plot lines that make sense; humour that’s actually funny and of the non-scatological variety; witty dialogue, and Optimus Prime bearing his proper red and blue colour scheme sans flames.

I’ve always had a fondness for Optimus Prime as a character; I even named my house plant Optimus on account of its size.

Optimus Prime is just so impossibly noble, gets all the memorable lines (like “Freedom is the right of all sentient beings” and “Fate rarely calls upon us at the moment of our choosing” –seriously, what cartoon character talks like that?), and even when not making such grand pronouncements still always says just the right thing.

(This in contrast to myself, who does generally know the right thing to say but only manages to says the right thing the right way about 50% of the time.)

An example from season 1, episode 7:  Prime and another Autobot (Arcee) are stranded in the Arctic and slowly freezing to death because they are unable to contact the others back at their base.  Not knowing what’s gone wrong at the base, Arcee chooses to pin the blame on a very large, hefty bot named Bulkhead:

ARCEE: No comm. link, maybe even no power.  The big lug probably tripped over a cord.  He’s never been too graceful.  Remember when we first arrived on earth and Bulkhead walked into those power lines?  Who knew he could dance like that.

OPTIMUS PRIME: Bulkhead may be [pause] too large for this world, but his inner strength is without bounds.  One should not be measured by size alone.

That is true-to-character, cartoon-dialogue gold! (And voice actor Peter Cullen, who has been voicing Prime since the 80s, is just as brilliant.  Plus, as I just learned from Wikipedia, he’s Canadian!)

Say what?

All these thoughts of dialogue make me think about how much I would love to write for a TV show, whether an adult cartoon or some other show that I like.

After all, TV shows are all dialogue, and I love writing dialogue.  I enjoy writing exposition as well, but a lot more effort goes into that.  Dialogue just flows out of me, and I feel like I almost always say the right thing the right way when I’m writing it.

Perhaps dialogue comes easy to me because I spend a lot of time listening to different characters’ voices and words in my head long before I ever try to write it down.

Perhaps it’s because, like most introverts, I spend more time listening (and also eavesdropping, unrepentantly) than talking, which affords me lots of opportunity to study and adapt speech into dialogue.

Perhaps it’s because I’ve always made note of (and fun of) the variations in what and how different people say things (kind-hearted making fun of, I swear!): perhaps this has enabled me to come by honestly an ability to mark distinctions between characters by their speech as well.

Or perhaps it’s because I consider writing dialogue less an act of stringing words together into sentences than it is like singing a song, which I do all the time anyway, and did for years in mid-level choirs.

Speaking in song

Dialogue, for me, has a very musical quality to it – a particular rhythm of stressed and unstressed syllables and intonation that combines to create something like a melody.

I find that once I start writing a line of dialogue, the conclusion of that line has a certain inevitability to it, for there are only so many words I can chose that will produce both the melody and message I’m trying to create.

It’s similar to how when a song gets shut off before you’ve heard the end of the phrase, you can still sing the phrase to an end, even if it’s your first time hearing that particular song.  You might not end the phrase exactly how the song goes, but you’ll still be able to come up with something that sounds pleasing to the ear based on the sequence of notes that came before.  Try it!

Of course, there is an art to telling an entire story with just dialogue and action that’s un-augmented by exposition and explanation.

An art that I’ve never actually attempted.  The one play I’ve ever written admittedly had no dialogue in it, instead being set to music (Huron “Beltane” Fire Dance, by Loreena McKennitt).  Plus, that was sixteen years ago in grade 10 drama class.

But I still think I’m up for the challenge!  My grade 11 creative writing teacher told me I have a flair and natural feel for dialogue, and I’ve carried this compliment with me ever since, believing in it, strengthening my resolve around it, willing it to be true.

I even used it when I did The Artist’s Way, in which one of the activities was to write out an art-related compliment you had received in the past and decorate it.

If not letting me write for an actual TV show on actual TV, then maybe a web series?

All joking aside, writing for TV is a dormant fantasy of mine also related to The Artist’s Way – something that came up in my daily pages, and came up very early in the process on day 13 of 334**.  The idea of working as part of a collaborative screenwriting team is especially appealing to me.

While I’m doubtful some TV producer is going to pluck me from the unemployment line of available screenwriters, if by some random twist of fate an opportunity were to present itself, I would not be averse to giving it a try.  So, I’m putting that out to both the universe and the internet, which, in this day and age, may well be the same thing.

And while I’m waiting for the stairs to align in my favour, though, it’s back to watching Transformers: Prime for me.  I am well and truly hooked now and have just finished watching season 1, and season 2 has already started airing.

This time, though, I’ll be watching from the comfort (and dignity) of my couch or a chair.

——————–

*On the positive side, the Transformers life-action films did have wonderful scores by composer Steve Jablonsky, especially the first movie.  I love epic movie scores (e.g. Gladiator, Lord of the Rings, and The Last of the Mohicans to name a few), and in this regard, the Transformers films did not disappoint.

**Yes, I am aware that The Artist’s Way is only supposed to take 12 weeks to complete.

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2 thoughts on “Writing for Prime Time

  1. Ok really…(sigh) why has no one commented on this post yet!! Honestly, I’ve lurked for awhile now waiting for some clever blogger to write something more witty than my: ‘this is good shit’.

    Hasn’t happened, but I love this post! Transformers, being sick, picture of your plant, working in television– somehow it all fits together + I wanna watch cartoons again, excellent combination.

    Like

    • H, you’re my hero! Thanks so much for the kind words. I think this post was the most fun to write to date, and I am well into season 2 of the show now. You and I should watch cartoons together sometime – all our old favourites. 🙂

      Like

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