Thursday, November 20, 2008

False Starts

I’ve been avidly following Lance Parkin’s Eyeless blog, in which he unpicks how he goes about writing a Doctor Who book. Some things I concur with wholeheartedly, on other stuff he’s Entirely Insane. And that’s why it’s so fun.

Lance has got past the stage of the synopsis being approved and is on to what happens next. In an interview at the start of the year, I said:
“The first chapter is usually the hardest, because you have to rewrite and rewrite until you get the ‘voice’ of the book right. There were maybe five or six completely different openings to The Pirate Loop before I got it working. Once you get that tone and style, the rest follows much more easily.”

Julio Angel Ortiz, The Ten With… Simon Guerrier, 8 January 2008.

You want the book to start with a bang, to hook the audience from the first sentence. So what were those different openings?

On 28 June 2007, I scribbled in my notebook. I came up with some questions to ask Stephen Fewell for the Inside Story of Benny and I made a note to “send Lisa [Bowerman] script for Final Amendment”. And then there’s the first attempt at a prologue to The Pirate Loop. It needed to begin with the Doctor telling Martha about the Starship Brilliant and how it disappeared.

(Italics is stuff I went back and squeezed into the gaps; asterisks are a note to myself to insert the extra bit further down the page. And I work on the basis that it’ll all be polished anyway when I type it up.)
‘But you know everything!’
Martha [?] Jones was [age] running for her life pursued by android per hover sheep*. The sheep, it turned out, were programmed to protect the lush pink pasture of the planet Valley of Welp.

* The sheep firinge lasers from their eyes.

‘Unauthorised personnel,’ bleated the sheep in identical weary tone, ‘are to be eliminated.’
‘Not everything,’ said the Doctor, helping Martha across the over meta the paddock gate & back to where the into the next muddy field. He was a tall, skinny brightly smiling bloke and Martha had something of a crush on him. ‘You see?’ he said, arms outstretched. ‘Perfect countryside & a twinge of helium in the air. That’s why your voice is a bit squeaky. Bit of your H.E. ‘on ‘em, Human vocal chords go all stretchy.’
‘You were telling me about this spaceship,’ said Martha.
Martha made a concerted effort to sound less like a mouse.
‘Meeeh,’ said the sheep burbumping up against the far side of the gate, ‘we’ll get you next time, intruders.’
‘Well,’ said the Doctor. ‘The Starship Brilliant just disappeared There’s a perfectly rational explanation. Somewhere.’
‘Right,’ said
And that just wasn’t working. So, after a line break, I thought I’d start instead with the Brilliant disappearing:
Cap Captain Window was a short, square man with a brisk moustache & temper. He was perfectly at home on the flight deck of any starship, but he had little en delight in his passengers.
‘Teddy bears,’ he muttered
‘Her brother is in the space chancery,’ he said irritably as he inspected the hyper-geometer’s post.
‘Sir?’ said the geometer, who was a new posting & hadn’t yet learnt.
‘The space chancery!’ roared Captain Window, who loved any excuse to shout. ‘One of these lawyers who agrees the boundaries of the empire. The sort leading us all to war.’
‘Yes sir,’ said the geometer.
And that wasn’t working either, so I left it for a few days. And came up with the wheeze that the Doctor and Martha were in mortal peril, or about to be killed. What if, to take her mind off that the Doctor told her about the Brilliant? (Back when I thought I might produce Benny Series 9, I came up with a wheeze for a cheap two-hander, where Benny and Peter are in a cell waiting to face a firing squad, and Benny keeps Peter's mind off it by chatting and telling stories.) On 7 July, I wrote:
‘You’re kidding me,’ laughed Martha Jones, the day before she died. ‘I thought you knew everything.’
Beside her in the prison cell, the Doctor
She and the Doctor were in a prison cell, under sentence of death. The It was the usual thing;
And that wasn’t working, so I left a line break and started again.
Martha Jones wasn’t really worried, so long as she was still with the Doctor. He lounged beside her in the prison cell, long skinny legs stretched out in front of him, his feet in mismatching, stripey socks. The robot guards had taken his shoes, his coat & sonic screwdriver.
And then another line break.
‘You say it all the time!’ laughed Martha Jones. For someone under who was going to be executed at dawn, she was in good spirits. Beside her, in the prison cell, the Doctor stretched his long & skinny limbs.
‘I do not,’ he said.
And then another line break.
A crowd turned out to see them die.
And then another line break.
You take your time,’ said the Doctor amiably.
‘We’re not in any hurry, are we?’
‘No,’ said Martha. ‘And you want to make sure you get it right, don’t you? With all these people watching.’
And then another line break.
Martha Jones first heard of the Starship Brilliant while waiting on her way to be executed. She and the Doctor The robot people of the planet Soft had never ‘unplugged’ humans before, & while they debated twittered & bleeped about the best & most efficient method, the
And then another break for a few days. On 13 July I jotted some notes about Martha’s relationship with her family having chatted to Monster Maker. On 15 July, Millennium’s daddies hosted a marathon watch of Martha’s TV adventures and I scribbled more stuff down. And at some point around that time, Codename Moose updated his Facebook page saying he was sick of hearing Mika’s Grace Kelly everywhere he went. All this lodged in my brain, and on 20 July I wrote:
Sixty million robots danced through the streets of Milky-Pink City. They had never been program taken any dance lessons and they’d never been programmed with any styles. But they all flaunted & twisted & cavorted their metal limbs with abandon in time to the rhythm in their heads. There were tall robots doing what was sort of a rumba, & wide, heavy-lifting robots doing potat what were almost potatoes and squares.* And on all their blank expressionless faces was something like machine joy.
‘It’s funny,’ said Martha Jones watching them as the Doctor stuffed his. ‘My brother hates that song.’
‘Yeah?’ said the Doctor beside her as he rummaged through his deep pockets for the TARDIS key. ‘I like the line about [Grace Kelly by Mika].’

* They had been built to serve and pamper holiday 1000s of human holiday makers, who had then never showed up. The robots had waited patiently, but intergalactic tourism is a harsh & cruel business. The tourists never came. Until two travellers just happened to stop by.
The robots had fallen over themselves to oblige these two. They’d fought each other to make their drinks. They’d had a war over who got to help take the Doctor’s coat. Eventually They’d turned on the visitors…
Much better, and the rest of the book went from there. (And all that stuff about being stuck in a prison cell got turned into "The Great Escapes" in Short Trips: Defining Patterns.)


Le Mc said...

Fabulous. Love getting insight into how you write.

Michele said...

Just wanted to say that was fascinating - and how much I love "The Pirate Loop"!

0tralala said...

Thank you!

Julio Angel Ortiz said...

Thanks for the mention again. Yes, I'm still lurking. ;-)