Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The DWPFF Journey - Part 5

So in the last installment, we talked about my "Rikki Tikki Tavi" pitch being accepted into the project and how thrilled I was that it had made the cut. I started sending the editor, Chris Stevens, ideas for how to expand on the pitch and give the story more of a "future spin", as I was still concerned that my pitch was sorely lacking in future elements. Part of that growing concern was brought to the forefront when I visited the Digital Webbing message boards and read through the other ideas being pitched for the book. Some of them were absolutely stellar story ideas with interesting twists that I genuinely felt put mine to shame. As I trudged back to my own little story, I realized I needed to make some major changes if it was going to carry my weight.

I was looking for some guidance, and so I brought up some of my concerns to Chris. Unfortunately, I'd failed to account for the fact that Chris was in the midst of managing the creative vision of numerous other creators as well. He didn't have the time to walk me through my story step-by-step. He could review a finished story, and tell me what worked and what didn't so I could revise it if needed, but it would be impossible for him to tell me what worked and what didn't before I'd even started scripting.

But starting the story was what was concerning me so much. I didn't want to write a story when I wasn't sure if the ideas I had in mind were any good or not. When I thought about it, and compared it to the other ideas that were out there, a story about a kid getting sick and a robot fixing him up just seemed kind of small and inconsequential. These reservations continued to grow in my mind to such a degree that I actually emailed Chris directly and told him I thought it'd be a good idea if I pulled my story from the book. To his credit, Chris didn't beat me about the brows over it. He told me what sold him on the story was the sick little kid, and that he thought it could be good, but if I wasn't into it 100% he couldn't make me be. I told him that I just wasn't sure a story about a sick little kid would work as a "future tale" when all I could think of to give it a futuristic slant was to set it in some kind of hi-tech hospital. That's when Chris took me by the digital lapels and told me to stop being an idiot. I'd never know if the story would be any good until I at least attempted to write it, and he was absolutely right. I was putting the cart before the horse and psyching myself out before I'd even began.

A couple days later Chris emailed me again to let me know he'd divided up some of the editorial work to ease his load. My story had been assigned to a guy named James Powell, the primary reason being that Chris confessed that he was more of an instinctual editor than anything else. He could tell you if something worked or it didn't once it was out there, but that was it. James had a bit more of a hands-on approach, and that was exactly what I needed. While I felt a little strange emailing James concerning everything I'd talked about with Chris, I wanted to get things rolling as quickly as possible so we could hit the ground running.

Emailing James was like a breath of fresh air. First of all, it was nice to be able to talk about everything I'd been thinking about from the very start of the process. And James' response was really refreshing too. He immediately gave me some key points to focus on, including the fact that a small, but still major, part of the original "Rikki Tikki Tavi" was that the family had saved the mongoose from death. That was one of the primary reasons the mongoose was so willing to fight tooth-and-nail for the family. He also mentioned the fact that the mongoose had been a sentient being in the original story, and one of the biggest decisions I had to make as a writer was in deciding whether or not my own mongoose would be. James also keyed on trying to add a hint of desperation to the ingredients of the story. If we could establish that the family had tried pretty much everything and that they were down to their last resort, we could give the story even more emotional volume.

Working with James' comments gave me some newfound confidence in the project, and I developed another pitch a couple of days after we traded emails. Here's what I came up with, raw and uncut...

In the future, only the rich are cared for because only the rich can afford it. At one point a cheap/easy to reproduce nanobot was developed that could have changed all that, but it didn't work. So now the poor suffer without proper care. Maybe the developer of the nanobot is the father of the kid that gets sick, and he turned it into the boy's pet. Then, when the kid gets sick, the nanobot is used as a last resort (or maybe steps up to the plate itself) and over the course of the story we discover the nanobot evolved to grow to love the family/boy. All the nanobot needed was to be taught to love to be able to do its job properly. The boy is saved, and now the poor can be taken care of by the nanobots.

Looking back at this pitch, I don't think it's terrible, but it definitely has problems. The first problem is that I think I pulled away from the "family aspect" of it and incorporated society as a whole instead. The original story is all about the love that a pet has for the family that saved it, and this pitch is trying to expand too far beyond those boundaries. Still, I liked the idea of an advanced machine evolving the ability to love. I felt like there was a correlation to the original in that Rikki Tikki Tavi was a wild animal that was tempered somewhat by the gratitude and love he felt for the family that cared for him. So that part, at least, worked, and I got more solid feedback from James.

He mentioned that I'd really have to think about the journey the nanobot was going to undertake within the boy. How would I depict that effectively? How would the family members on the outside be able to monitor what was going on within? James really felt that the story hinged on how I managed to pull that off, and I was in total agreement. He also expanded on the idea of the family saving the nanobot. He suggested giving the nanobot more personality by showing emotions such as sadness regarding its inability to function correctly, gratitude regarding it being saved from the incinerator, and eventually love for the boy as it fought to save him. The emails that James sent with these suggestions were the building blocks for the first draft of my "Rikki Tikki Tavi" script. Next time we'll talk about how I used the advice that James gave me to write my first script, and how I just totally and completely missed the mark.

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