Evil Gal Productions

Mere Smith
is a recovering Southerner,
longtime TV writer,
author and blogger.
September 16th, 2011 by Mere Smith

Short Stories Are Spec-tacular

Still trying to collate all the responses from “The Heroine Poll” (or as my friend @saalon dubbed it: The Heroin Pole — which to me sounds like a club for junkie strippers) for further study.  I apologize for my slowness (I ain’t no Alyssa Rosenberg, that’s for damned sure) — but I feel that strong female characters on TV is an important topic — and I don’t want to fuck it up.  Plus, there are only so many hours in a day that the right side of my brain works, and sometimes those hours are necessarily taken up by projects that can pay the light bill.

Hopefully next week I’ll have something resembling a thought-piece cobbled together.

In the meantime, I offer you “My Sister’s Scarf,” a short story I wrote many years ago.  You may think this has nothing to do with TV writing, but more often than not, my manager sends this particular story to potential employers in lieu of a spec (or sample) script — for a few reasons.

One, it’s different.  Humans are apes.  We love novelty.  So when presented with 100 spec scripts and 1 short story, which do you think a reader will reach for?

Two, it’s original material.  More often than not, spec scripts are imaginary episodes of shows that are already on the air — and speaking as a reader who sometimes has to wade through stacks of specs to narrow down bosses’ searches for new Writers, if I never read another spec “House” or “Law & Order: LOL,” it will be too soon.  Boredom sets in, suddenly everyone’s words sound alike, and talent can get lost in a swirling river of sameness.

Three, the story is entirely in my voice — not my attempt at replicating a show creator’s voice. Sometimes really good mimics can write a spec that sounds exactly like the creator’s voice.  Which would be great, if the spec was being read by the creator, but due to legal reasons, showrunners can’t do this — or at least shouldn’t.  Why?  Because if they read your spec, then do a similar episode, and you can prove the idea came from your spec, they get severely fucked — and rightfully so — by the WGA.  So the easiest (read: safest, most CYA) thing showrunners can do is to simply never read specs of their own shows.  Also, sometimes the mimics are just that: mimics.  Mirrors.  Containing nothing in and of themselves, only reflections of what’s around them.  After they’re hired, showrunners find out, much to their chagrin, that the mimic has no bright ideas of her own.  And any Writer who doesn’t pull her weight in the ideas department is deadweight.  But with a short story, if the creator doesn’t like my voice or ideas by the end of the first page, he can be pretty sure I’m not what he’s looking for, and stop reading.  Easy peasy.

Four, it’s short.  That may seem a rather lazy way to pick what to read, but believe me, after plowing through ten or fifteen scripts in a day, at anywhere from 50-60 pages per script, a nice 10-page story holds a certain appeal — even if it’s only to stave off having to return to the 60-pagers.

Five, I have gotten more job offers due to this short story than I have from any of my spec scripts.

And so my fellow Writers, think about that next time you sit down to write another “Royal Pains” spec.

A simple, 10-page story may save you some royal pain — and send you to the top of the hiring list.

Comments

7 Responses to “Short Stories Are Spec-tacular”
  1. I love the short story spec thing. I would have never thought that would work. In my head, it would’ve played out like: “Who the hell doesn’t know how to space a screenplay?” Then trash.

    But this is fantastic advice. Short story bookmarked for future consumption. I’ve been drinking and drunk readers shame you, your story, your family and your dog.

    Also, I cannot believe you reprinted that Heroin Pole line willingly.

  2. Modwild says

    And My Sister’s Scarf was beautiful. You heart bled through in spite of yourself. Loved that about it.

  3. TV will never be more than it is now as long as there are commercials for SOAP SUDS, BAD FOODS, and more STUPID TV SHOWS. America not only feeds on DUMB-DOWN we rerawd it. Were the shows better in my ancient day? No there were just fewer T-V’s. gs

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  5. Toni, crediamo che il genere umano, come tutte le altre cose, l’abbia creato Dio, poi che Dio abbia tratto l’uomo dalla terra o da una scimmia, non cambia nulla. Però visto che il nostro DNA assomiglia di più a quello dei topi (infatti si usano i topi per testare i farmaci e non le scimmie), forse siamo discendenti di qualche tolpo, magari Topolino.

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