I’ve written a few articles on dramatic webisodes: on outlining them, and my own experiences one and two. It only makes sense that I share some of my work with y’all so I can discuss what I did and why…
Darken House – “We Are the House” (pgs. 2-5)
For Darken House, the main star of the series is the environment. Much like the island of Lost, the mysteries and the identity of Darken House is the central pull of the show, especially early on as you get to know the characters. For this 4-page pilot, I knew that getting a sense of the world was more important than kickstarting the narrative or really digging into either character, so I focused on building a feeling while giving the readers the seed of information that would root the characters in the story: the image of Travis wandering Darken without any idea where he is, the voiceovers exploring Kanna’s unusual relationship with this mysterious world.
Once that feeling is cultivated, I’m able to use episode two, “Carpe Diem” (pg 6-14), to build a relationship with the leads and do an exposition dump, as Travis learns more about this world from Kanna.
Two years later, would I do it differently now? Reading it over, I’m still happy with the pilot. Episode two, I’d probably rewrite, as now the pacing and the flow of the conversation feels like it jerks around too much. It doesn’t quite feel natural as I thought it did.
Dead City Blues – “Dead City Blues” (pgs. 2-8) [WARNING: Some LGBT/sexual-content]
Again, Dead City Blues is very much grounded in a particular world, a very specific sense of place, so the pilot is very much about creating the world around the cast. That said, this time around we’re dropping in on the characters in the middle of their regular lives, so I was able to tell a more action-based story where exposition came out of their day-to-day conversations, which led to a much more dynamic pilot.
Whereas the pilot for Darken House spends its entire 4-page pilot creating a sense of place and barely touching on its central characters, I get to the chase much faster in Dead City Blues. I spend most of the first page offering a dialogue-less scene setter that establishes the setting, while also hooking the central character into that world: we’re introduced to a grimy, dark world and its tough, weathered protagonist Shane. The world we see tells us about what Shane’s gone through, and the physical description of Shane nails in what kind of a world he lives in: one where you get a lot of scars, and there you get used to letting strangers die.
Most of a page without dialogue is pretty indulgent, and knowing this was being written to be read, I allowed myself that. After all, every line of that page fleshes out the world and character, and I feel like it very much pulls the reader into the sad, hopeless world of The City.
By the end of page one we’ve met both Shane and his co-lead Kellan, and by the end of page two we know plenty about them: not only that they’re in a romantic and sexual relationship, but some of their dynamics within that relationship. The sexual, reckless Shane and the even-handed, organised Kellan. Their status in the relationship is introduced in their divergent physiques and threaded through their conversation: Shane’s ‘live for the day’ attitude against Kellan’s focus on keeping their stores full, Kellan’s desire to get out of The City versus Shane’s shrugged acceptance of their being trapped there. In two pages you get a sense of who these characters are, their interpersonal dynamic, and their respective relationships to the setting. To be honest, both from an exposition management point of view and from a writing point of view, this is one of my favourite scenes I’ve written.
Page four is a chance to flesh out this world a bit more in a series of quick anecdotes: the friendly nod from the bloody-faced vampire, the passionate couples ready to interrupt their romantic liaison to protect themselves, the bizarre street art that betrays a quirky sense of humour and acceptance of the world they’re in, and finally a market where the supernatural and the human societies are fully integrated, giving us a sense that humans are not merely victims of the supernatural in The City, as you might expect from the first page, but also cohabitants with it.
The rest of the webisode is focused on an action sequence giving us a chance to see Shane and Kellan in action, introducing the ideas of competition over resources, the kill-or-be-killed nature of The City, and the roaming undead that seem to work like wild animals, attacking out of nowhere. The moment where Shane shoots Jason without hesitation, I feel, is one of my favourite ‘characterisation through action’ moments. Though I’m rather fond of the final beat too, where Shane is so excited and aroused from the thrill of the fight, even without getting everything they’d intended, that he initiates sex with Kellan before they can even get home.
I feel like that sequence really sums up what life in The City is: a swirling mess of action and sex because all the ‘finer things’ have been left behind in the rush for survival. When the world is so actively hostile, elements like integrating with the more humanised supernaturals and the kill-or-be-killed atmosphere feel natural, and are emblematic of the series’ themes. Thus the final action sequence continues and wraps up the series’ point of view regarding the world of Dead City Blues and the lives of those within it.
Dead City Blues‘ pilot is, in fact, one of my favourite pieces of writing I’ve done. I like it because theme, setting and characterization all intertwine and serve one another instead of being separate, and because it manages to tell a story and deliver exposition at the same time. Later episodes, I’m still forming opinions about, but the pilot is one I’m proudest of.
These are the two strongest dramatic pilots I’ve released out into the world, and I’m quite happy about them. I hope you enjoyed this peek into my webseries portfolio, and that my commentary was useful and interesting. I definitely love the process of telling stories in these short bites, and am happy I’ve had the chance to experiment.