Writing Wisdom Wednesday: Stephen King

This week, I wanted to start a new series by bringing you interviews from a wide variety of authors speaking about the craft, their creative process, and other notable insights.

Today, I’m beginning the series with one of my all-time favorite authors: Stephen King. Below are a few videos of King speaking about his works, the inspirations for some of his works, and the craft of writing.

Bookmark, Listen, Learn, and Enjoy!

Politics & Prose Bookstore in Washington – 2014

2016 Library of Congress Book Festival in Washington, D.C.

Check back next Wednesday for another author!

The Myth of The Overnight Success

We hear about them often in the media.  They’re the overnight success who appeared seemingly out of nowhere and are now on every magazine cover, talk show, and everywhere else you look. It can be frustrating to see someone like this.  Someone who has been allegedly picked out of obscurity to become the latest Next Big Thing. 

But before you get jealous or frustrated, take a closer look.

The idea of an Overnight Success is misleading and a myth. No one just pops up one day, is found by chance, and suddenly makes it big (and even if they do, it’s very, very rare). That person has a story.  Probably one similar to yours when it comes to being an artist.  Maybe they struggled for years to write, act, sing, and get their work out to the public. Perhaps they did have a hard time for a decade or more as they worked a day job and created at night.

It’s all a matter of perspective.

The hype over an Overnight Success is a marketing gimmick.  If you watch or read biographies about famous people, most of them struggled and worked hard to get to where they are now. Even an Overnight Success had to fight and claw their way to get that title.  

The best way to fight against having envy or jealously over someone deemed an Overnight Success is to find out the real story.  Don’t rely on social media or those making them into something that looks good on a glossy magazine at the grocery store checkout.

Who is this person?  Where did they come from?  What were their goals?  What were their struggles to reach those goals?  What path did they take?  What setbacks did they encounter that eventually led them to be named an Overnight Success?  

Finding the real story and discovering the truth can help you in your efforts to write, act, sing, or create.  You can see what tools and tactics they used.  How they found a balance between work, family, and being creative.  This is an opportunity to learn from this person, not become discouraged by their sudden Overnight Success.

Because you’ll quickly see that is never the case.

So, the next time you see a story where people are fawning over a sudden Overnight Success, take a step back and find out how long it took them to be awarded that title.  I’m sure that “overnight” was years or even decades in the making.

Next week, I’ll explore another Myth.  See you then!

Wings Wednesday – The Value of Comfort Entertainment

We’ve been through a lot this past year. Some, sadly, more than others.  Between lockdowns and stay-at-home orders, closed businesses, and quarantines, it can be a challenge to find any sense of normalcy in our world’s current state. 

But when things get stressful, when things don’t make as much sense as they once did, I often reach to sitcoms as a quick remedy.  Sure, the problems outside still exist, but for that half-hour – or a full season of episodes – you can escape to a happier time when things didn’t seem so grim.

As humans, we all tend to gravitate toward the familiar: familiar sights, sounds, voices, people, objects. We find comfort and peace in them. That’s why many people put up their Christmas decorations early in 2020 and started listening to Christmas music in November; it reminded them of better times that these we’re currently in.

For me, Wings is one of those shows. A sitcom that delivers laughs, entertaining characters, and leaves me happier when the credits roll than I was before. Call it Happiness Therapy.  Call it Escapism. Or just call it Entertainment. Either way, sometimes watching a show you know can be a nice respite from the disorganized chaos of our current world.

We all have a favorite TV show, movie, book, or podcast that we use to escape.  My favorite sitcom list is too vast to mention here, but Wings has always been one of them, ever since I saw my first episode at the gym in 1998.  When a show almost makes you fall off the treadmill from laughing too much, you know you have a keeper!

And each time I moved for college or work to a new place, it was the shows that I knew that helped get me through the rough patches and challenging days.  Sometimes getting a laugh from a show I’ve seen dozens of times can be the best medicine.

So, as we soldier on into January 2021, take a moment to think about that show, movie, or book you enjoyed in the past. Maybe it’s a comedy like I Love Lucy or The Office, or even a drama like Lost or Firefly.  And in those moments this year when you’re feeling down, check out your favorite episode or season and give your mind and your emotions a much-needed break.

This is the final Wings Wednesday post.  I truly enjoyed interviewing Dave Hackel and talking about the series.  I hope you enjoyed these posts as well.  

Oh, and if you’re curious, here’s a shortlist of my favorite escapist shows: I Love LucyWingsFrasierTwo and a Half MenPerfect StrangersFull HouseThe Munsters227Married…with ChildrenCurb Your EnthusiasmSeinfeld, and the list goes on and on.

What are some of your escapism shows, movies, books, or podcasts?  Leave a comment and share below.

How Not to Play the Guitar – A Writing Analogy

Happy 2021! I’m sure by now you’ve thought about some goals you’d like to achieve in the new year. Whether those goals are big or small, it’s always good to have something new and exciting to look forward to as the calendar turns back to January.  

For many people, this may involve taking up and new hobby or learning a new skill, which can lead many down a fascinating rabbit hole of reading and research that may not be as productive as they may think.  

Let’s start with an example of this: You want to learn how to play the guitar in 2021.

A great goal. You’ve thought about playing the guitar for a while. You’ve seen people you know, and also famous people do it so effortlessly that you want to enjoy making music as much as they do. You go online and decide to buy several books about playing the guitar.

You wait for the books to arrive, eagerly awaiting the guitar-playing wisdom each book will reveal. Upon their arrival, you read three, and all three present different methods about how to play the guitar.

Now, this whole time, despite having the guitar, you haven’t picked it up once. Sure, you’ve looked at it, thought about playing it, but every time you read a book about playing the guitar and feel confident about playing, you still feel you need to find the “best” way to play.

And so, you read about playing the guitar. And the guitar sits there, alone, un-played.

Now, you’ve finished the books. You’ve highlighted paragraphs, bookmarked pages, told people about the books and how exciting guitar playing is…and suddenly you feel an unforeseen pressure. Not to pick up the guitar. It’s the pressure that with all the tips, tricks, tools, and methods you’ve just learned, your brain is suddenly overwhelmed. 

Now that thing you wanted to do, that wonderful music you wanted to create, your passion for actually learning is stamped out because you spent so long reading and not doing, and you psyched yourself out of it.

This can happen to aspiring writers, too. In fact, anything creative can have the excitement and adventure of discovery killed off by reading about it instead of doing it.  

I’m guilty of this, too.

I’ve written many screenplays and have dozens of screenwriting books. Each one has a different methodology of how a screenplay’s structure is composed. While the outcome is the same – a 110-page screenplay – the rules set forth by each author differ. Read a few of these books in succession, and you’ll be confused and terrified to break the “rules” you’ve read about screenwriting.

Put the books down.  

Do you have a story you want to write? Do you know the basics? Beginning? Middle? End? Do you have characters and a setting to go with those three pieces? A central conflict? If you do, great. Sit down and write it out. No books. No rules. No worksheets.  

Just story.

Now, as you expand and craft the story, if you need guidance about how to craft good dialogue or how to show and not tell, these are when those books can come in handy. They should be seen as reference guides to help your writing, not tutorials on how to write.

We are all storytellers. We know the basics. We’ve seen movies, TV shows, plays, short films, documentaries, and read novels. As a writer, your job is to take what you already know about how stories work and make it your own. 

Much like the guitar analogy, writers must do the work to get the experience. We all start as amateurs or beginners, but you will get better with time, patience, and actual hands-on practice. While reading about it or listening to interviews is fine, don’t let that take away from doing the work yourself. Those books and interviews will always be around.

Whether it’s writing, playing the guitar, sculpting, or running a marathon, take the time to invest your time in learning by doing. Future you will be grateful.

See you next week!

Wings Wednesday: Television Academy Foundation Interview with Wings Co-Creator, David Lee

Whether writing a novel or a TV series, the creative process can involve a multitude of ideas and concepts that evolve over time. What we see on the page or on the screen often differs a lot from what the creator initially had in mind when they set out to create their story.  

Below is a clip from a Television Academy Foundation interview with writer David Lee who co-created Wings and Frasier with David Angell and Peter Casey. Listen to how the concept of Wings and its characters evolved from an idea, to initial script, to the final pilot.

Do you have story ideas that you feel need to evolve and change to make your writing stronger and more compelling? Don’t be afraid to take risks and make the necessary changes to get your story to work!

Are You a Writer Who Reads?

I love to read. If I see a book I think I would enjoy, I either buy it or add it to my wish list. My coworker buys me books for my birthday and Christmas. If there’s a topic I want to learn more about, I don’t Google it; I try and find a book about the topic instead.  Reading has always played a significant role in my life and my education post-school, and it’s an activity that I enjoy.

One of my favorite authors, Stephen King, has said: “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” I have a feeling King knows what he’s talking about.

If you’re a writer, I encourage you to take the time to read.  Not books about writing, which I’ll talk about next week, but a wide variety of fiction and non-fiction books.  

Read Outside Your Genre

If you are an author who writes primarily in a specific genre – Young Adult, Romance, Thriller, Mystery, etc. – I encourage you to read novels that aren’t from your chosen realm. While it’s essential to know and understand your genre’s tropes, themes, and other elements, it’s equally important to see how different genres work within their various story conventions to see what you can learn. You can often glean some new bit of story structure or character development idea from a novel outside your chosen area of expertise.

Read Different Authors 

We often get comfy with a couple authors we enjoy and stick with them. Dare to pick authors you may not be familiar with and read their works as well.  Your favorite author isn’t going anywhere.  

Read Books from Other Decades

We are creatures of habit. Most of the time, if it’s a book that’s a current best-seller, or one on display at Target, it’s the book we grab to read. However, it’s also important to delve into the past and read authors whose work lives long after their passing. The classics have inspired authors for generations, and by looking at these works, you can learn new aspects of storytelling that you can possibly apply to your work.

Read History, Autobiographies, and Biographies

The real world can offer up some great story ideas, and you can learn a thing or two along the way. Real human beings, human behavior, and human drama can sometimes be more engaging and fascinating than fiction, and these types of books can give you a fresh perspective on topics you think you know about.

Read to Learn

As you read, observe how the author crafts their chapters, characters, and story arcs.  Look at how they format certain things.  For example, I’ve seen text messaging and phone calls formatted in many different ways in novels, depending on the author. 

If you found yourself up until 3 in the morning not wanting to put the books down, ask yourself why? What was it about the story, the characters, or the pacing that made you have to keep reading?  These are elements you can analyze and apply to your work as well.  

Always Go with Variety

If you’ve plotted out your 2021 reading list, consider adding books and authors you usually wouldn’t read. Maybe an author whose work you don’t enjoy, or one whose opinions bother you. Look at them less as annoying reading assignments and more like learning opportunities. Each book you open can inform your own writing methodology and how you create your worlds and story.  

And all you need to do is turn to Chapter One and start reading.

As a writer, how do you decide what books to read?  Leave a comment and let me know!

Wings Wednesday: Interview with Television Writer Dave Hackel – Part Two

In Part One, television writer Dave Hackel talked about his career and his time working on Wings. In this post, I’m excited to bring you the second part of the interview, where he talks about writing one of my favorite Wings episodes, “Murder She Roast,” which is Episode 21 of Season Two.

The Story:

When Joe’s (Tim Daly) house has to be fumigated, Brian (Steven Weber) gets an offer to stay with Fay (Rebecca Schull).  While at her home, Brian watches his favorite show, Fugitives from Justice, and the subject of the episode – a woman who has left a trail of dead men in her wake – has many similarities to Fay.

Freaked out, Brian shares his newfound info about Fay with Joe and Helen (Crystal Bernard), which they quickly dismiss. But as Brian’s paranoia about Fay’s possible true identity mounts, are his suspicions about her crazy, or is he really staying with a serial killer?

Meanwhile, Lowell (Thomas Haden Church) begins selling a gadget called the Car-B-Que. Will Roy (David Schramm) take the bait and buy one, or is this just another idiotic thing Lowell has ventured into?

My Take:

I love this episode. It’s interesting to watch it now in the context of our cultural obsession with true-crime series and podcasts, and the idea that you could see or hear about someone you might know on one of those shows seems more possible than ever. 

The cast takes the solid material and runs with it, and the entire set-up and pay-off of the main storyline is exceptionally well-crafted and delivers solid laughs throughout. 

And I’d really like to know a little more about the culinary science behind the Car-B-Que, especially how it cooks chicken so fast. 

“Murder She Roast” never fails to make me laugh. Wings is reliably funny and always can get a smile or a laugh no matter the episode. Whether it’s a line of dialogue or the line’s delivery, “Murder She Roast” is great stuff.

The Interview:

I was honored to be able to ask Dave Hackel about the inception and writing of the episode in question. His answers are below:

Ian Dawson: How was the initial story pitched?

Dave Hackel: As conceived, “Wings” was a show about two brothers.  Obviously, other great characters made up the initial ensemble and others were added along the way.  The production staff had to service all the actors/characters and some were easier to come up with stories for than others.  Rebecca Schull was and is a marvelous actor, but Fay was often difficult to create shows around…especially in the early years of the show.  The network wanted stories about Joe and Brian so when trying for a Fay episode, we had to find ones in which the boys were prominent, as well.

So, our job was to come up with a story in which Rebecca could shine and still give Tim and Steven good parts to play.  “Murder She Roast” was clearly inspired…if not liberally borrowed…from the classic Alfred Hitchcock story about the woman who killed a man with a frozen leg of lamb, then cooked it and served it to the investigating detectives.  I suggested that we might be able to come up with a story that cast doubt on Fay’s character in a similar way.  Of course, we ended up with — certainly in that last block comedy scene in Fay’s kitchen — an homage to Hitchcock’s story.

ID: Were you assigned to write the episode, or did you pitch the episode and then were sent off to write it?

DH: All of the above.  I came up with the basic idea then, as will most of the episodes, the entire staff worked out the story and I was sent off to write it.

ID: How long did you have to write an episode?  Did you craft an outline or beat sheet first that was then hashed out in the room, or did you jump into a first draft with an outline?

DH: As with all of the episodes, first you work out the story in the room, then the writer — in this case me — was sent off to write the outline — usually around ten pages of prose that broke out the story beats into scenes and included many of the jokes that were pitched in the room.  Then, after a week, I turned it in, met with the staff, went over the story, made changes and then I went off to write the first draft of the script.  That usually took about two weeks.

ID: How did the storyline/episode evolve from pitch to shooting script?  Did the B-story with Lowell and Roy change at all, or were the A and B stories pretty much set from the start?

DH: All the beats, A & B stories, were worked out before I started to write the script.  As was the case with all of the episodes, stories were adjusted, edited and hopefully improved throughout the week with the help of the writing staff and, of course, the actors and the director of that episode, Noam Pitlik.

ID: Do you recall what the initial reaction to the episode was at the table read?

DH: I believe the script went over quite well at the table read.  Those initial readings were usually a great deal of fun for all of the “Wings” episodes.

ID: As the credited writer on this or any episode, do you get final say on any changes that are suggested by the actors, director, or other writers?  Do remember if there were any network notes that you had to deal with on this episode?

DH: The initial writer doesn’t get the final say on an episode.  Once it’s turned in, the script becomes fair game for everyone to work on and improve.  That includes the actors, director, writing staff, as well as anyone in the crew who comes up with a good idea.  It’s an incredible amount of work to produce a new episode every week, so any input that makes it better is appreciated.

ID: What was the biggest challenge you faced in writing or during the taping of the episode?

DH: Time is always the enemy on a television show.  How to get it done in five days while, at the same time, working on editing last week’s episode and coming up with new ones to round out the season.  “Murder She Roast” was no exception except for the fact that we also had to find time to shoot the footage on the “news” program that Brian initially watched.  We went onto Paramount’s back lot and did those sequences as well as filming Maury Povich playing the part of the newscaster.

ID: Looking back at the episode now, is there anything you would change.

DH: Oh, I’m sure if I viewed the episode carefully, I could find jokes that could be better — sharper, funnier — and perhaps a shot here or there to improve.  That’s the case with every show.  But I remember being quite happy with the finished product have always appreciated that, when people are asked about their favorite episodes of “Wings”, “Murder She Roast” is often mentioned.  

I appreciate Dave Hackel taking the time to talk about the writing of “Murder She Roast.”  You can find this episode and other episodes of Wings on Hulu, buy the complete series on Amazon (or watch on Amazon Prime), and watch via the PlutoTV app on the 24/7 Wings channel (channel 456).

You Finished Your Manuscript! Now What?: Part Three – Feedback & The Final Edit

Welcome back. Now your manuscript is looking good. You’re happy with what you have; you’ve worked out all the problems, did an exhaustive grammar and spelling check, and made sure that continuity is solid throughout the story.  

Now, it’s time to let someone else read your work. I know, I know. This can cause a lot of anxiety for many writers. How will my work be perceived by outside eyes? Can I trust their opinions? Can I trust their judgment? Who do I ask?  

Let’s talk about it.

7a. Finding the Right Feedback Partner

I believe a feedback partner is an essential part of the writing process. If you’re in a writing class, it can be easier to find someone willing to read your work in exchange for reading theirs. But if you’re flying solo, it’s time to look at your circle of friends and see if any of them might be willing to read your work.

I highly recommend not using family members for this process. With family, it can go one of two ways: heaps of praise that don’t help you strengthen the work; or criticism that leads to a rift in the relationship. Best to avoid both scenarios and let them read the work once it’s 100% complete.

Do you have a friend who has taken an interest in your writing? Is there someone you know who has asked about what you’re working on? Maybe you know someone who has read something you’ve written in the past, and their feedback helped improve the work? This is definitely a person to ask.

If they say yes, pay them for their time. Trust me, it’s worth it. Now, they have a reason to sit down and read the manuscript: money is coming! How much? It depends on your budget, but start low and then if you like their feedback, pay them more the next time they read it.  

7b. Tell Them Exactly What You’re Looking For

Once you find your feedback partner and offer them payment, tell them what you want them to do. Be specific. “Here, read this” won’t be helpful to you, and it won’t help them focus on what you are looking for.

You can be general – “Does the story work from start to finish?” or “Did the story hook you and keep you reading?” – or, you can be specific – “When you’re reading, can you see if my main character’s arc is strong enough?” or “Can you tell me if there are any moments that don’t work, and explain why you think they don’t?” By giving your feedback partner goals, they now have things to look for and can provide direct answers to items you may have questions about.

Once you’ve set the parameters, give them a reasonable deadline (2 to 4 weeks), then leave them alone. This can be tough. You want to know where they are, what they’re thinking, and what they think, but butting in can ruin their reading flow and also break their concentration if they are reading when you contact them. If they contact you and give you a general comment (I really like the opening chapters), don’t interrogate them. A brief response is fine, but that’s it.

Your goal once they have the manuscript is to keep them reading.

7c. They’re Done and Ready to Give Feedback. Now What?

I FaceTime with my feedback partner, but you can do a Zoom call, Skype, or a regular phone call. I prefer this to receiving pages of notes from them (unless you specifically ask for that). Schedule 30 minutes for a meeting, and then let them talk first. They will likely give their overall impressions of the work and deliver positive feedback at the outset.  

All good things.

Now, you can dig deeper. Have the initial questions you wanted them to answer ready, and have them delve into those. I like the phone/video chat discussions because you can discuss any issues or problems they had with the story. Staring it pages of notes is impersonal and one-sided. Take the time to have the dialogue.

This is also the time to take off your creative hat and put on your editor hat. You need to listen to what they have to say, answer their questions, and not get upset or offended if they didn’t like some aspect of the story or didn’t understand something. This is your opportunity to ask them for specifics about why they didn’t like something, why they feel they didn’t understand something, or why it didn’t work for them.

Listen. Clarify. Move on.

If you agree with their view on the specific item, change it. If you don’t, keep it the way it is. But I’ve learned that if you allow your feedback partner to be honest, so they don’t just tell you what you want to hear, they are pretty spot-on with finding issues that need fixing, clarity, or plot holes.

And that only helps strengthen your story even more.

Answer all their questions. If they wonder about something, or a character, or a moment that isn’t clear, write it down to look at later.

Once the session is over, pay them immediately if you are using PayPal, Venmo, or another payment app, process what you’ve heard, then get back to your manuscript the next day.

7d. Putting the Feedback to Good Use

If you liked their feedback, ask them if they want to be your feedback partner. If they yes, that’s great. If not, you have their feedback and can use that to make the next draft stronger. Take the time to go through their comments and see where they can be applied to make the story, characters, other aspects better.

I suggest giving all their feedback strong consideration. Sometimes there’s something in the story we’re holding onto that we really think works, but it falls flat to a reader or takes them out of the story. Be mindful of these comments. If your feedback partner makes it a point to say that something in the story took them out of the story, definitely consider cutting it. It could save your story in the long run.

7e. Back for Round Two, Three, Four…

Once you have made the changes – and probably made more on your own as you went through – send it back to your feedback partner with new questions for them to answer. Repeat the process as many times as you, your feedback partner, and your budget allows.  

BLOGGER’S NOTE: There are editing/feedback services available online that you are free to use if you don’t want to ask a friend. As a self-publishing author with a tight budget, these services can often get a bit pricey, so doing a little DIY for your first few books can be a less expensive way to get the job done. But, if you want to use these services, I encourage you to do so, just do some research to find one that fits your budget and will do a professional job.

8. The Final Edit/Polish

At some point, your manuscript will be done…or done enough. It’s tempting to always want to tinker with a line of dialogue, a description, or other minutiae, but you have to tell yourself that it’s ready to publish at some point.

The way I know is when I stop thinking/obsessing over the story. My mind moves on to other projects, and this manuscript is no longer at the forefront. That’s when I’m pretty sure I’ve done all I can to make this story the best it can be at this time.

It’s time to let go and let others enjoy what you’ve created.

I hope you found these posts helpful. If you are a writer who has any advice to add, please leave a comment.

You can read about my self-publishing experience with The Field by clicking here.

See you next week!

Wings Wednesday: Interview with Television Writer Dave Hackel – Part One

I love sitcoms. I Love Lucy and FraiserThe Mary Tyler Moore Show and BeckerGreen Acres and WingsAll in the Family and Married…with Children. These shows, along with hundreds more, have given millions of people laughter, comfort, enjoyment, and quotable lines for generations. They have ranged from multi-camera series like Lucy, to single-camera series like The Andy Griffith Show. The situation comedy has had its ups and downs, but one thing is for sure…it’s here to stay.

Long before the advent of television, radio was where situation comedies began their evolution. Radio comedies like My Favorite HusbandThe Adventures of Ozzie and HarrietFibber McGee and  Molly, and Father Knows Best were pioneers in the sitcom format. Many of the ones mentioned here would be adapted to television. What had worked in one medium would translate seamlessly into another: the situations and the comedy.

These shows work and deliver continuous laughs thanks to the hard work and dedication of those who write them.  They understand how to craft an effective joke and understand the value of a strong story and dimensional characters that can help elevate the comedy.

One of my favorite series is Wings, which celebrates its 30th anniversary this year. I had the honor of interviewing television writer Dave Hackel, who wrote many of my favorite episodes of Wings, and also worked on Fraiser (another favorite of mine), and created Becker (another favorite of mine, too).  

In Part One, Hackel talks about his time working on Wings. In Part Two (posting next Wednesday), he talks about the writing process for one of my favorite episodes of Wings, “Murder She Roast.”  

Enjoy!

Ian Dawson: Talk a little about your writing career before Wings.

Dave Hackel: My television writing career began a little over ten years before “Wings.”  I’d worked on comedies, dramas and variety shows.  After having the opportunity to try my hand at those different formats, I found I was most drawn to writing comedy and put all of my efforts toward finding work in half-hour sitcoms.  Little by little, a was able to gain a foothold in that area, writing a number of single episodes for different shows and going on staff for a few others. 

ID: How did you get the opportunity to write for Wings?

DH: I’d done the first year of “Dear John” at Paramount Studios before meeting Casey, Angell and Lee.  They’d sold the pilot of “Wings” to NBC and were putting together their staff for the first season.  I was looking to make a change and submitted a few scripts as writing samples. They liked what they read, we all seemed to like each other and they asked me to come on board.

ID: What was a typical writers room week like on the series?  

DH: We filmed on Tuesday nights, so production weeks began on Wednesday morning.  The new script was read around the table with the cast, the director, the entire staff as well as representatives from both the studio and network.  After the reading, the cast and director would go to the stage to begin rehearsing and the rest of us would discuss the script and decide what worked well and what needed to be rewritten.  We’d see a run-thru of the show at the end of each day, learn what we’d fixed and what still needed work.  The staff would then begin that day’s new version of the script.  Sometimes there’d be just a little work to do – writing new jokes, smoothing dialogue and responding to specific problems that the actors and director had pointed out.  On other days, whole scenes would be thrown out and redone.  Each day’s rehearsal was a learning process and hopefully each day’s work would improve the script so that the best possible version would be ready to put before an audience by the following Tuesday evening.

During the day, before rehearsal, the staff would be working on upcoming scripts.  Finding new stories, working as a group to rewrite others that were in the pipeline and making sure we had a new script in shape for the following Wednesday morning.

ID: How were ideas pitched?

DH: At the beginning of each season, we’d throw out many ideas for shows.  Everyone would participate.  Sometimes we knew of a overreaching theme for the season and pitch to that, sometimes a story would emerge as we wrote to various actors and their characters strengths. When trying to fill a season, literally everything is possible fodder for an episode. We writers would mine our lives for stories — little things that had happened to us, memories from our childhoods, something funny our friends did or that we’d overheard a stranger say — everything was fair game to be expanded upon to make an episode.  We had good characters to write for and also the airport setting allowed for interesting characters and their stories to walk into the terminal or off an incoming flight. 

ID: How were episodes assigned to be written?

DH: Sometimes a writer would come in with an idea they especially liked and wanted to write. Other times the tone of a story might be better for one writer to tackle than another.  Other times it was as simple as “Who’s next?”  With an entire season of episodes to complete, all the writers were usually busy on a script.

ID: What were the table reads like?

DH: Usually, the table reads were a lot of fun.  Lots of laughs.  But the staff was working during the reading.  We all knew that the rest of our day would be devoted to fixing any problems the became evident during the reading so we were all taking notes about what worked and what didn’t, what attitudes might need adjusting, what scenes might need to be reordered or, in some cases, eliminated. 

ID: How much input did the actors have in crafting and defining their characters?

DH: The actors had a lot of input.  They were welcome to bring up problems and ideas to the staff, but mostly their input was realized by their performances.  Slowly but surely as a series grows, the characters evolve.  Ideally, a level of trust gets established between the actors and the staff as we write to the actors’ strengths.  Subtle changes get made from all departments.  For instance, an actor might respond to or request a certain type of wardrobe that helps establish the type of person their character is.  Notice Joe Hackett’s button down, put together look vs. Brian Hackett’s which was crazier, more colorful and casual. Tim Daly’s performance helped define Joe and we all wrote to it.  Steven Weber’s performance helped define Brian and we wrote to that, too.  So, working together the characters grew, as did the stories about them.

ID: What was one of the challenges you faced as a writer on Wings?  

DH: One of the biggest challenges was that we had so many characters to service in each script.  Six to begin with.  Then seven, when Tony Shalhoub joined the cast.  And another when Farrah Forke came aboard for a couple of seasons.  Then Amy Yasbeck later.  If one character was heavy in one show that naturally meant someone else’s would have less to do and being fair to both the actors and the show overall was always a concern.

ID: What was your favorite part of being a writer on Wings?

DH: Wings was a very “joke heavy” show.  And, luckily, we had actors who could deliver.  So it was especially gratifying to write funny lines and hear the immediate response from the three hundred people in the audience.

ID: What is your favorite episode of the series?

DH: That’s a difficult question.  I like some more than others, of course, but a favorite?  Of the ones I wrote, I liked “Four Dates That Will Live In Infamy” and “Murder She Roast” the best. Another I really enjoyed was “Das Plane” with William Hickey as the guest star.  Another was “Joe Blows – Part One.”  Thankfully, there are really too many good episodes to choose from.

ID: What was tape night like on the set as a writer on the series?

DH: Rewriting on a sitcom never ends.  On shoot night we all followed along carefully and constantly threw in new and improved jokes for additional takes.  Anything that could improve a moment — a line, a word, a pause  — we’d try anything and everything to get the best possible show.

ID: Did you have a favorite character you liked writing lines for?

DH: Enjoyed them all for different reasons.  Brian, Lowell and Antonio were the most fun to write for — each had a very unique voice and approach to comedy.  

ID: How long were you a writer on the series?  When did you exit the series?  After your exit, did you then move on to work on Frasier?

DH: I was with the show for, I believe, 95 shows.  When I left, I created a short-lived series with Grub Street called “The Pursuit Of Happiness.”  After it was cancelled, I consulted on “Frasier” one day per week for a time before creating “Becker.”

ID: How did being a writer on Wings prepare you to create your own series, Becker?

DH: It was invaluable training.  Casey, Angell and Lee brought the “Cheers” way of doing things with them and adapted it to their shows.  I liked the way they laid out the season and the individual shows and tried to emulate that production method with “Becker.”  Obviously, each show takes on it’s on a style of its own, but the basic “bones” of how to organize a season, I learned on “Wings.”

I really appreciate Dave Hackel taking the time to answer my questions, and I hope you enjoyed his insight into the inner-workings of this great series.

 Check back next week to see Part Two of his interview about writing the Wings episode, “Murder She Roast.”

You Finished Your Manuscript! Now What? – Part Two: Continuity

6a. Checking for Continuity

Have you ever watched a movie or TV show and noticed the drinks levels on the table change between shots? Or maybe in one shot, a character is wearing a jacket, but in the next – in the same scene – the jacket vanishes? Or even a cup magically changes colors in a scene?  Or a character’s name changes between seasons?

All of these are issues with CONTINUITY, “the maintenance of continuous action and self-consistent detail in the various scenes of a movie or broadcast.” The Script Supervisor’s role in film and TV is to catch these issues before filming is complete and editing begins. But, as I’m sure you’ve seen on your own, this doesn’t always happen.

Of course, in Hollywood, finger-pointing can take place to explain away these issues.  But when you’re the lone author of a novel, a short story, or other work, the responsibility for continuity within your story lies on you. And even though the above definition cites “movie or broadcast,” continuity is equally essential when editing your novel.

6b. Why Continuity Matters 

As a writer, your job is to keep the reader focused on the story and keep them turning the page. This means the story needs to flow, allowing the reader to effortlessly move through the story and not get pulled out because of something that should have been fixed during the editing process.  

As I mentioned in Part One, read and reread your manuscript, strengthening the story, characters, and dialogue and checking for spelling and grammar errors.  On top of that, it’s important to make sure that character names, descriptions, settings, and other permanent aspects within the story are consistent from start to finish.

I like to write varying drafts of different chapters, and sometimes I combine different versions to create a more exciting version of the sequence I’m writing. In doing so, this can cause continuity issues to crop up that need to be addressed to avoid confusion for the reader.

For example, if I write a version where the detectives show up in a black sedan but leave – thanks to a later version of the same chapter – in a green Prius, the change is jarring and pull the reader out of the story.  

The same is true with clothing. If you write a version where a character enters the room and takes off their coat, and then later in the chapter they take a pack of gum from their coat pocket in another part of the house, they either can transport locations, or there’s an issue that needs to be resolved.

Once you make a choice, stick with it.

6c. Tips to Monitor Continuity

One of the easiest ways to keep basic continuity within the story is to have a basic spreadsheet or written list of all the named characters (first, middle, and last), their ages, and a basic description. If the characters drive, add the make, model, and color of their vehicles. If there are homes, workplaces, or major locations in the story, give brief details on the sheet to ensure paint colors and basics are consistent.

Also, be conscious of all characters’ actions during a chapter. What did they do? Did you have them put something down or pick something up? Did someone exit the room? Did they suddenly reappear, or just vanish from the chapter altogether?

If you’re like me and love to do multiple drafts of chapters and sequences, be aware of these changes, and make sure that what has already been established earlier is crafted into the newer version of the chapter or sequence.

So, now you’ve edited, you’ve polished, and you’ve checked your manuscript for continuity. You’re confident in your story, the characters, and the manuscript as a whole. It’s time to release your child to someone else to read and get feedback from.  But who?  Who is this person, and why should you entrust them with your creative work?

We’ll explore these topics and more next week!