Wolfblood Season Three: Endings And Beginnings!

So Wolfblood season three has come to its dramatic conclusion! We really tried to do something different this season – to widen the Wolfblood world and to bring some resolution to a lot of long-running storylines and character relationships – and I hoped you enjoyed watching it as much as we enjoyed writing and making it.
After three seasons, we’ve reached that inevitable point where the original cast begin to think about going off to work on new projects. Indeed, that’s already happened. As you will have noticed, Aimee Kelly, who plays Maddy, decided to leave the show at the end of season two to return to college.
Without Maddy to lead the pack, the show has changed dramatically – and you know what? That’s exactly what should happen. Change is the lifeblood of drama. All of our favourite moments in TV series, if we really think about them, are driven by change. Any show that churns out the same plots and the same character arcs season after season will stagnate and die.
If we are recommissioned for a fourth season – and as yet, there’s no word about that – I dare say that some other cast members will decide to move on as well. (And no, there’s no point in bombarding me with questions about who’s going and who’s staying! I don’t know at this stage, and I wouldn’t be releasing that information yet even if I did…)
So if the fourth season does happen, it will introduce new characters – and some familiar ones, of course! – and new situations and new facets of the Wolfblood world.
I look at this as being an exciting new adventure – and if we get the chance to set off on it, I hope that you’ll come along!

UPDATE –  all the latest news on season 4 is here https://debbiemoon.wordpress.com/2015/09/28/wolfblood-season-four-casting-news/

Wolfblood BAFTA Nominations

Wolfblood season two has been nominated for two awards at this year’s Children’s BAFTAs – best drama, and I’m nominated for best writer! The awards will be announced at a ceremony in London on Sunday 23rd November.

None of this would have happened without our fantastic team – production staff, crew, cast and writers – and I’m hugely grateful for all the hard work they’ve put into the show.

However, we’re also nominated for another award – and that’s where you can help! The BAFTA Kids Vote is a separate series of awards that are voted on electronically by kids aged 7 – 14. And you can vote for Wolfblood in the TV category! Go to http://www.baftakidsvote.org/vote/ to cast your vote for Wolfblood, and all the other categories too…

Keeping Things Fresh

Another subject that people on Twitter have asked me to cover in the blog is how to keep a long-running show “fresh”. After three seasons of Wolfblood, I suppose I should know a few things about that…

One of the things that CBBC have always pushed us to do is never repeat the same theme or story engine from season to season. The first season of Wolfblood was driven by the jeopardy of discovery: “Will the people around us find out our secret?” It would have been easy to repeat that threat in the second season – after all, it’s the obvious jeopardy in this kind of story, and there were still plenty more people to discover the secret! But it would have locked us into telling the same stories with different characters. So we moved away from that, exploring the wider Wolfblood world instead – and in season three, drawing our characters into a conspiracy on a scale they’d never faced before.

Another key to keeping the show fresh is to develop the minor characters. While the K’s as a unit function as fantastic comic relief, when we get one of them on their own, we can tell terrific character stories with them. The same applies to Jimi, Liam and Sam. The whole ‘werewolf hunter’ plot in season two began as a subplot to develop Liam’s character, and evolved into a key story element for the whole season.

Finding ways to use the adult world in a story without diminishing the child characters also gave us new stories and new emotions to explore. Tying the new characters strongly to the child characters – Rhydian’s mum, Jana’s father and pack – made them part of the regular characters’ stories, but great performances have made them popular characters in their own right.

It’s also easy to get stuck using a character in the same way all the time. Alric, Jana’s father, worked fantastically for us as a threat throughout season two – but the last time we brought him back, we decided to reverse all that and show him as a broken man who’s lost everything. Immediately everyone’s relationship with him changes and there are new stories to play. So look for logical, compelling ways to use characters in different ways.

Finally, don’t be afraid to break the format now and then. The season two episode “The Mottled Poppy” was essentially a haunted house story, completely different to anything we’d done before, and I think it helped show aspects of the characters and elements of our world that we wouldn’t have been able to show in a ‘normal’ episode. We couldn’t tell those kinds of stories every week, but once in while, they help keep the show interesting and dynamic.

Anyone else have any tips? What great techniques have you seen your favourite shows use to stay fresh and exciting?

The TARPIS Theory

…and no, that’s not a typo! Stick with me…

So, let’s talk action sequences.

Some people say you shouldn’t put too much effort into your action sequences, because the director and the stunt coordinator will inevitably throw them out and design their own. But that, frankly, is a load of bull poop.

Firstly, the job of every sequence, every scene, every word on the page is to sell your script – and a half-assed version of anything, even an action sequence, isn’t going to sell anything to anyone.

And secondly? If you write the most exciting and original action sequence imaginable, I guarantee you that the producer who buys your script will want to see some version of it in the movie.

Think of the inevitable changes to your action sequences as being, in effect, another rewrite. When you write the second draft, you know there’s going to be a draft three, four, and probably five – but that’s no excuse for slacking off on draft two. You still deliver your best. Write the best damn action sequence you can, and worry later about whether it’s going to change or not.

So how do you write a great action sequence? You remember the magic acronym: TARPIS.

Now, you’ve all heard of the TARDIS, right? And what does that stand for? Time And Relative Dimensions In Space.  Excellent. Ten Doctor Who points to everyone.

Now, what you need to do in order to create a great action sequence is to shift one of those words a bit. Because action scene writing is all about

TIME AND RELATIVE POSITION IN SPACE

Action scenes are all about who’s where, in relation to whom, and how long they have before the next disaster strikes. In that car chase, where is the hero’s car? Where is the villain’s car in relation to him – falling behind, or catching up? What vehicles and other obstacles lie between them? How much distance does he have to cover before the lights go red in order shake his pursuers? And, maybe, what’s waiting round the next corner that we know about and he doesn’t?

It’s knowledge of all these variables that creates tension. If we don’t know precisely what’s happening, how can we be worried for the characters? The instant the audience loses track of any of the variables, you lose them.

So your job when writing an action scene is be absolutely sure what the obstacles and dangers facing your characters are, and then find ways to convey them clearly and effectively to the audience – ways that build tension and convey the characters’ fear, desperation, wants and needs.

The Scene By Scene Outline

The scene-by-scene outline, or step outline, is a major part of the television development process. Every script moves from an initial, less detailed outline to a scene-by-scene before reaching script stage. This allows the writer and the script editor to examine the structure of the episode before adding the additional complication of dialogue, and to ensure that the number of scenes is workable for the shooting schedule.

As an example, here’s a snippet from the scene by scene outline for Wolfblood season one, episode five:

EXT. FIELDS – NIGHT – 22:08 

Wolf-Maddy and wolf-Rhydian bound away into the night, playfully enjoying every second of the full moon…

INT. CORRIDOR/ THE K’S ROOM – HOTEL – NIGHT – 22:45

Shannon goes to bed. She peeks in the open door of the K’s room – they’re flapping round and chattering – and Maddy’s bed is still empty. This is deeply suspicious…

EXT. TOM’S ROOM – HOTEL – DAWN – 06:00 DAY TWO

Tom has fallen asleep propped up against the bedroom window, looking for Maddy. And there she is, sneaking back to the hotel – but luckily he doesn’t wake up until she’s gone…

INT. HALLWAY – HOTEL – DAWN – 06:05

Tom tiptoes downstairs – to find Rhydian explaining himself to Mr. Jeffries. “I must have been concussed after all, sir – I don’t remember anything after leaving the quiz, and then half an hour ago I woke up in a field!”

Jeffries is suspicious, but he settles for threatening a trip to hospital the moment they leave the island. Rhydian says he’ll make sure the Vaughans take him for a check-up… Unable to prove Rhydian’s done anything wrong, Jeffries stalks away.

Tom asks Rhydian a few questions of his own, playing matey with him – “You can tell me” – But Rhydian’s defensive. He particularly denies that Maddy was outside with him last night. Suspicious, Tom watches him pad upstairs to shower, bare feet leaving muddy footprints.

 

As you would expect, it’s a basic summary of each scene in order, without dialogue as such. These are fairly short scenes – dialogue-heavy or complex physical scenes like chases or fights would require more detail – but you get the idea.

They’re normally a feature of TV writing, but I’m increasingly convinced of the advantages of a scene-by-scene outline for all kinds of writing, including movies. And here’s why.

It forces you to be specific. It’s fatally easy in an outline to write, say, “Freda searches the house for the stolen money”, and then get to script stage and be unsure how to tackle that. In the scene-by-scene outline, you have to decide which rooms she searches in which order, what she finds and doesn’t find, and how she reacts to it all. No more fudging details.

It encourages you to be visual. When you know you’re not writing any dialogue yet, your creative mind compensates by supplying visual ways to tell the same story. I find I have a far stronger idea of what a scene’s going to look like and feel like if I write a scene-by-scene outline first.

It speeds up the process. The agonising thing about writing a brief outline is that it’s not a ‘real’ story. It’s a sort of extended TV Guide blurb, and it’s nowhere near as fulfilling as writing real scenes. The agonising thing about jumping straight to script stage, though, is that it’s so slow that it’s easy to lose the energy and the dramatic thread of your story. The scene-by-scene outline falls halfway between the two. It’s close enough to a script to feel satisfying and fun to write, but without dialogue or the full detail of description, you can get it down on the page much faster, allowing you to keep up the momentum at this difficult stage.

It forces you to define how the story advances in each scene. Yes, that scene in the Hagia Sophia is going to look wonderful – but what actually happens in it? What is the scene for? What changes during it? If you don’t know what to write in the scene-by-scene outline for this scene, chances are you don’t need the scene.

It gives you a real sense of the shape of your story, without the distractions of beautiful dialogue. The scene-by-scene outline is all about plot, and this is your last chance to get the plot sorted before you layer all that lovely dialogue and get over-attached to the current version of things…

So if you have trouble moving from the ‘good idea’ stage to the ‘first draft’ stage, scene-by-scene outlines might just be the tool for you!

The Ashbless Loop

In the novel The Anubis Gates, by Tim Powers, a literature professor, Brendan Doyle, is offered a trip back in time to see Samuel Coleridge Taylor give a lecture – only to become stranded in 1810.

However, this does put him in a position to begin investigating the mysterious poet William Ashbless. Little is known about Ashbless: all he left behind were his poems, which Doyle loves and has memorized, and a few recorded appearances in or after 1810.

Using his knowledge of history, Doyle begins turning up at places where Ashbless should be. But Ashbless doesn’t show. Indeed, the things that history records as happening to Ashbless start happening to Doyle instead. When he meets and falls for the woman Ashbless marries, Doyle realises – he is Ashbless. He will spend the rest of his life dutifully doing the things Ashbless is recorded as doing, “writing” the poems from memory and submitting them for publication, and in time, going knowingly to meet Ashbless’ violent death…

Which begs the question – who wrote the poems?

The poetry of William Ashbless is uncreated, existing forever in a closed loop in time, printed and re-printed that one day it can be memorized and taken back in time. An Ashbless loop.

And you know what? Some television episodes are like that. A closed loop in time.

I was watching one last night. A major character is accused of a crime (that, ironically, he did commit), and faces the death penalty unless he’s exonerated. At the end of the episode, sure enough, the evidence against him is proved to be fake, and his life is back to normal.

Okay, kudos for the irony that, despite the evidence being fabricated, he actually is guilty –  but apart from that? You could omit this episode from the series, and no one would notice.

Why? Because nothing is changed by what happens. Does the character change his ways? No. Do other people look at him differently, for good or ill, because of these events? No. Is the driving plot arc of the series affected? Not at all. Everything carries on exactly as before –

And the audience can tell. There’s a palpable sense of disappointment whenever they come to the end of an Ashbless loop episode, even if they’re not sure why. The episode feels a little empty, a little… pointless. And they’re slightly less likely to tune in next week.

Which is really just another way of saying – even in the most episodic, least serialized of shows, your story-of-the-week should change something. It should have consequences for someone. It should matter.

Writing High-Concept Television

Recently I had a question from blog visitor petergosiewski about how to go about writing high-concept television, and I thought it was probably deserving of a complete post. So here we go…

In many ways, writing and selling high-concept television is like writing and selling any kind of television – it’s a combination of novelty, familiarity, clarity and luck! But there are specific difficulties with trying to sell high-concept ideas, and specific strategies that might help.

Be simple. In Inception, Eames says that in order to incept an idea into the subject’s head, you have to implant the simplest form of the idea. And pitching an idea to a producer is very much like performing inception. Until you have the simplest form of the idea, you won’t be able to sell it, and you probably won’t even be able to write it.

Wolfblood has evolved a fairly complex mythology, with wild packs, ancient traditions, ‘fixers’ helping out their fellow Wolfbloods, and all kinds of other rich details. But none of that was there at the beginning. The simplest form of the idea – the thing that sold – was basically  “A teenage girl who’s secretly a werewolf meets a boy with a very different view of their shared secret”.  In order to create the richness, we had to start with a simple foundation and build our way up from there.

As always – if you can’t describe your idea in one sentence, it isn’t ready yet…

Be character-focused. Whatever your concept, it has to be grounded in specific characters in order to be relatable. It’s how the concept affects those characters that will keep people watching, not the concept itself. No one watches a soap opera because they’re interested in (for example) the moral complexities of euthanasia: they watch because they want to see what lovely kindly Joan will do when ailing husband Fred begs her to help him die.

This means you want to find the characters who are most affected by the concept, and who are put through the greatest physical and emotional stresses by it. In the earliest version of Wolfblood, there was no Shannon – but we quickly realized we needed a character who would be profoundly affected by the secret Maddy had been keeping, someone whose whole life had been shaped by their secret, even though she didn’t know it yet…

Be sure that your concept will sustain a series. This is partly about the ‘story engine’ of your series: is there a murder each week, a secret to protect, a new enemy to fight, a life to save? Producers sometimes ask something like  “What’s the plot of episode two of season three?” – in other words, will we still be able to generate stories out of this universe at that stage?

But it’s also about finding a concept that has enough richness and flexibility to grow across series after series, and for each character to react to it in unique and interesting ways. This will sometimes require a radical shift in your story universe: Battlestar Galactica discovered new stories and new sides to its characters when it stranded most of the human survivors on a planet under Cylon rule for several episodes, for example.

Avoid the traps of destiny. Beware the ‘chosen one’ as a concept: you’re then completely at the mercy of your lead actor. If he or she decides to quit, your show’s over. Destiny and fate are probably also best avoided in any form –  audiences warm to heroes who forge their own path, not simply do what destiny has already predicted that they will…

Make sure your idea can be achieved on a budget. In Wolfblood, we can’t afford to show the characters in wolf-form every episode. What we can do is show them using their ‘wolf powers’ – sight, hearing, sense of smell – to overcome problems and save the day. That’s basically what makes the series achievable on our budget. So where are the low-budget elements of your idea that you can achieve every episode?

Appeal outside your genre. I know every nice girl loves a vampire these days, but there was a time when teen girls wouldn’t watch supernatural drama. But they watched Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Why? Because it had a competent, witty heroine who was kickass in the face of danger, yet struggled as much as they did with family, friends, school, and love life.

So how can you use casting, humour or subplots to expand your audience beyond the usual fans of your genre? The wider your appeal, the longer you stay on the air.

If anyone has any other thoughts on high-concept television, feel free to chip in…

Sheriff Of Nottingham Syndrome

Yesterday I was at a BBC Writersroom event for action-adventure writers, listening to Adrian Hodges speaking about the BBC’s upcoming show The Musketeers. He had a lot of interesting things to say about reinventing familiar characters, about establishing the tone and world of a story, and about creating stories from a book with surprisingly little plot.

However, the thing I found most interesting was what he called ‘Sheriff Of Nottingham Syndrome’ – the way some shows trot out their supposedly all-powerful and scary villain every week, only to have him roundly defeated by the hero yet again.

The way I see it, there’s an understandable tension here. For your major villain, you cast the best actor available. You want to use him as much as possible. He wants to actually have something to do – something interesting, inventive, something that stretches him. The audience think they want to see him as much as possible –

But the more often they see him, the less effective he is. Because every time your supposedly all-powerful and terrifying villain is defeated by the hero, he becomes less scary. Eventually he becomes a buffoon, a figure of figure who the hero runs rings around, as the Sheriff becomes in many Robin Hood stories. Now you’ve got a dissatisfied actor, a bored audience, and all you ever did was give the public what they said they wanted…

Is there an answer to this? I think it might lie in something I’ve alluded to before – one of the show rules on Leverage, which co-creator John Rogers calls “Sterling Never Loses”.

Recurring villain Jim Sterling is used sparingly, which helps avoid Sheriff Of Nottingham Syndrome – but more importantly, he’s used cleverly. Whenever he appears, he wants something specific that runs counter to what our heroes want – and he always gets it.

Our heroes don’t go to jail, and they get what they want too, or some of it – but not by defeating Sterling. Though they may start the episode in opposition to his wants and needs, they end up working alongside him, or around where he isn’t looking, not directly against him. This allows both sides to walk away with what they want, each having benefitted from the other’s involvement: honour is satisfied, and the simmering conflict between them is saved for another day.

It’s an elegant solution to a perennial problem. And not a bumbling Sheriff in sight…

Writing for CBBC

So, I was one of the speakers at the CBBC Writers Day on Friday – a day for working writers who are already working for, or might want to work for, CBBC or CBeebies. As well as a range of guest speakers, the commissioning and development staff talked extensively about what they were looking for. Here are the highlights –

What kind of ideas is CBBC looking for?

We want to find enduring fantasy and adventure stories with strong, memorable characters and unusual settings. Young Dracula and Wizards vs. Aliens have proved big successes, but what could be next?

Is there a show like The Dumping Ground, not set in a school or care home but that has a similarly broad and refreshable cast? Perhaps there’s a show that could be built around characters currently in our dramas, or an older-skewing ensemble show.

We are also looking for low cost comedy ideas that might possibly include CBBC talent and could be set-based (as in Hotel Trubble) or out and about (Scoop).

Any top tips?

Immerse yourself in our content.

Demonstrate a passion for writing for our audience.

Think about how kids watch TV and the different ways you can tell stories (with interactive and online elements)

We can cover social issues within a show as long as it’s done in an appropriate way for our audience

Make sure your idea not only reflects the lives of 6 to 12 year-olds but entertains them too.

Don’t be afraid to pitch something a little different; we are actively looking for bold and original ideas that we haven’t seen before.

Don’t let production issues limit your ideas, but we find shows with a precinct and/or multi-protagonist shows work well for us.

It’s difficult for us to achieve ideas driven by complicated special effects, and we have a couple of period dramas on our slate already, so are not looking for any more

Don’t be disheartened if your idea doesn’t go to commission. The needs of the channel constantly change, and development is about having an ongoing relationship with you and your work.

Things I Learned from… Agents Of SHIELD

If ever there was a show that seemed destined to succeed, it was Agents Of SHIELD. (Yes, I know it’s S.H.I.E.L.D, but honestly, life is too short for that amount of punctuation…) Great creative minds behind the concept, great writers, great cast, and the publicity boost provided by the cinematic Marvel Universe and Marvel Comics. And we haven’t even mentioned the enduring popularity of Clark Gregg’s performance as Agent Phil Coulson…

So why is it a bit… uninspiring? Well, I think there may be a problem that goes to the heart of SHIELD itself.

Superhero stories are empowerment fantasies. They allow us to imagine what we’d do if we had the powers of the X-Men, the money and physical strength of Bruce Wayne, the intellect and technical skills of Tony Stark. They’re about self-actualisation, about everyone taking charge of their life and world and making them better.

SHIELD stands for the exact opposite of that. SHIELD’s job is to tell superpowered individuals to hide their abilities. To seize radical new technologies and lock them in a vault. And in one episode, to require a scientist to spend his entire life locked in a moving truck, alone and effectively a prisoner, because of SHIELD’s fear of what he might invent.

SHIELD is a reactionary organisation dedicated to keeping technology and superpowers away from everyone, even those who might use them for good. It’s the equivalent of a nuclear superpower telling another country it’s not allowed to develop nuclear technology. “We can have nuclear power, because we’re the good guys. But you can’t be trusted with it. Why? Because we say so.”

And who wants to watch that?

I’ll tell you the show I’d like to watch – and actually, it would be a show far more in keeping with Joss Whedon’s usual ethos…

I’d like to watch the show where a band of superpowered individuals with varying – and in some cases, dubious – motives band together to take down SHIELD, destroying this sinister organisation that wants to control humanity’s access to the fruits of its ingenuity and imagination.

A Marvel Universe without SHIELD would be a far more dangerous place. But despite that, it would be a universe far more free and worth living in.