It's Spring 2000, The West Wing is well into Season 2 and you've decided to write a spec script to see if Sorkin might let you write a few episodes of Season 3 for him. What would your episode be about?
Huh. I've never given that any thought, actually. But since I saw this question, I've kicked it around a bit. What kind of West Wing episode would I have written?
Well, I remember reading someplace -- perhaps in the introduction of one of the TWW screenplay books that were released some years ago -- that originally the President himself was to play a much smaller role in the show. I suspect that ultimately they decided it was just too difficult to keep that conceit in place, especially since they had Martin Sheen playing him. I would have taken that concept a bit farther, and written an episode in which we never see anyone in the White House who ranks higher than Mrs. Landingham. No Sam, CJ, Toby, Josh, or Leo. And certainly no President Bartlet. Just a day in the life of Donna, Ginger, Bonnie, Cathy, Margaret, and those other two guys whose names I could never remember. How hard would this have been? Well, just have the entire senior staff and the President away on a political trip or a diplomatic trip or something, but stay in the White House. Perhaps some kind of domestic crisis could happen, and we watch as the junior staffers try to execute the instructions given to them by their distant bosses. Or something like that -- but a real, good sense of what it's like to work in the White House at that level.
And Chris asks:
Which book scene have you most wanted to live out? Must give book, scene, and which character you would be.
Which heroine (if any) have you fantasized about being?
Taking the second one first: that's interesting, because I'm hard-pressed at first to think of such a scenario. In truth, I don't tend to do a whole lot of 'identifying' with fictional characters, be they heroes or heroines. I think back to when I used to play with kids in the neighborhood, and even when we did the whole "Let's play Star Wars!" thing, I was never thinking, "I'm Han Solo!" or "I'm Darth Vader!" or "I'm Luke!" (And of course, back then, I was still in the 'girls are squicky' phase of life, so I certainly never yelled out, "I'm Leia!".) Identifying with fictional characters just has never been something I've done much of, which is why one of the most common complaints about the Star Wars Prequels -- "There's no one for the audience to identify with!" -- tends to make zero sense to me.
This extends to my writing. When I'm running my characters through some predicament or other, I almost never think along the lines of, "OK, what would I do in this situation?" I don't do that because I am not in that situation, they are. So the question I end up asking is, "OK, what is she (or he, or they, or it) going to do in that situation?" I am not one of the Princesses in SPACE!!!, so what I would do if stuck in a sticky wicket in SPACE!!! isn't much use in my story. And that way, I find that the characters really do surprise me an awful lot of the time.
Now, I have fantasized about settings of stories. Oh yes, that I've done. And I'd love to live in many of the fictional -- especially science fictional -- worlds I've read about. Less so the fantasy ones, because I'm not really cut out for the medieval lifestyle, but I'd love to be on spaceships and whatnot. And I'd love to own a lightsaber and use it to defend myself and peace and justice in the Old Republic. Or I'd love to roam the decks of the starship Enterprise. Or I'd love to have my own small ship and eke out a living in the Firefly/Serenity universe.
So characters? I don't fantasize myself into them much, at all. Settings? Oh yeah.
Which takes me to Chris's first question, which at first glance seems to have already been answered, but not really, actually. There are a lot of book scenes that thrilled me when I read them, and which I would love to see played out. Not with me as one of the main characters, but as "Man with Axe #3" in the background, or "Guy at bar". These are scenes that are incredibly vivid to me, scenes that played out in my head almost as if I was there, when I read them.
:: The Battle of Andarien, The Darkest Road, Guy Gavriel Kay. The entire final act of that book, winding down the trilogy, is so masterful that whenever I re-read the series, I basically block out enough time so I can do the entire last 200 pages or so in one go.
:: David Bowman's final trip into the Stargate, 2001: A Space Odyssey. The book version, where Arthur C. Clarke is more objectively descriptive than Stanley Kubrick's odd psychedelia. (Which I greatly admire, by the way.)
:: The final scene of To Kill a Mockingbird...although I suppose the movie really caught that extremely well, didn't it?
:: One of the first scenes in Christopher Moore's Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal. When a six-year-old Jesus makes his own face appear in all the town's Passover bread.
:: And there's a pie fight in Stephen King's 11-22-63. Because hey, what I wouldn't give to be a full-bore, all-the-stops-pulled-out pie fight.
And with that, I think we're done with Ask Me Anything! February 2013. Thanks for all the questions, folks! (And if I missed one, let me know and I'll do an addendum.)
See you again in August! Well, sooner than that. But for Ask Me Anything!, see you in August.