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Wow, I put way too much time into this

April 2, 2009

More of my planning for the Clarion reality show, this one based off a website for pitching reality shows to producers. (It’s from a phase where I was one of those writers that didn’t write much.) Enjoy.
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  1. Title: Every writer knows the importance of title, but the options here are considerable. Anything from “Sci-Fi Writer” to “Who Wants to Be The Next Stephen King?” (or whoever)
  2. Station: That’s easy: Sci-Fi Channel [sic]. How many science fiction fans envision themselves as writers? How many of them are watching the channel anyway? Or at least skim past it periodically on the guide. There are other channels that could work (PBS, Fox Reality), but they don’t carry the same audience. It could be web-based pretty easily, but that’s probably plan B.
  3. Star Power: If it can make people tune in for ballroom dancing, it can do anything. While I don’t expect James Earl Jones or Harrison Ford, a drop-in from George Takei could be fun. Of course the real weight would come from authors. Household names would be best – writers that viewers would tune in (or at least Tivo) to see – but any writer with enough credits to elicit a two-minute bio would fit nicely. We’re talking Hugo winners, SFWA officers, anyone with a popular series, anyone with a story-turned-movie, or just folks with impressive resumes. Most guest instructors can expect to be Googled before and after broadcast.
  4. Characters: Who’s going to participate in this three-ring workshop? Most potential viewers can be considered potential applicants. A workshop run by the Sci-Fi Channel will carry whatever credibility the cameras might detract. [Oops, that’s SyFy now…so maybe not.] I’m working under the theory that sponsors will pick up the tab for venue, instructors, and photocopies, so every Clarion Dreamer who claims the money excuse is a likely candidate. The selection process would be as long and arduous as any editing task in the world, but slush readers can be found. The show could even include interviews with the best and worst applicants (a bit like Idol auditions) or snippets of video from applicants (which many reality shows use to select their finalists). Read some bad lines, have an improv troupe act out some rotten scenes, and generally insult the hard-working writers who bared their hearts and souls in their writing samples. That might be too mean…or just good television. I do think there should be a personality component to the selection process as well as a writing component. We do want people to watch, don’t we?
  5. Conflict: From all I’ve heard/read/dreamt about Clarion and its ilk, conflict will arise. One student gets singled out from the clique. Everyone hates Brenda’s story which she loves like it’s a kitten. The entire class unites against the instructor(s) for being too hard on them. The student who also teaches creative writing undermines the instructors by offering conflicting advice. The stress of writing and rewriting and reading and critiquing and not sleeping and aaaggh! Neighbors protesting the class’s inane (we’re all inane, especially in groups) behavior. Parents missing their kids. Wives missing their husbands. Students hating writing exercises. Week’s new instructor struggling to fit in with a tight-knit group. Hey, people watched The Real World for years, and all they did was live together to create drama. That’s going on, too.
  6. Comedy: Has there ever been a Clarion without a watergun reenactment of Normandy? Have you ever seen a writer react to an unruly character three hours before a deadline? Ever seen twelve nerds (yeah, I said it) get together without laughing (outside a chess tournament)? The director and producers will surely have their choice of odd conversations, frantic adult competition, and rambling gibberish to choose from.
  7. Viewer Empathy: Every good reality show has its viewers saying “I could do that,” or “I wish I could do that,” or “I’m glad that’s not me.” In that, this show is probably closer to The Apprentice than to any other reality show. The viewers want to envision themselves in that role, whether they could cut it or not. I suspect that every Apprentice contestant moved on to successful careers after the show. That’s our goal here.
  8. Viewer Participation: Involve your viewer. How can we do that? Have them download stories and critique along with the show. Offer bonus footage on the net of real critique sessions. Sell the writers’ best (or worst) work in an anthology at season’s end. While I’m sure there is a way to build a voting system into the show, I doubt it would be necessary.
  9. Winner: Let’s face it, the best reality shows have a winner at the end. The winner might be the first to finish the race, the person with the most votes, the person selected by the judge(s), the person hired for the job, the one who ate the most jellyfish, or the person least hated by competitors. Victory could take the form of a feature story in a magazine (or on scifi.com?), an agent, money, or a book deal. This winner can be chosen by faculty, participants, viewers/readers, or any combination of the above.
  10. Concept Flexibility: How many times has your favorite reality show received an overhaul between seasons? Voting on So You Think You Can Dance? did, as did Dancing with the Stars. The Mole suddenly started using celebrities. American Idol completely altered its final selection process. Although the Milford-model is fairly specific in its needs, I doubt any Clarion has been identical to any other. I doubt Clarion West and Odyssey follow the same flow chart. I know the professionals of the Milford Conferences carried on differently than a room full of novices would. Changes are inevitable. Besides, why does it just have to be short stories? Next year could be screenwriters or comic artists.
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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Bananas permalink
    April 2, 2009 10:22 pm

    Hi Oso,

    The problem with watching writers is that you can’t see the process of writing. The spats, annoying people, skulduggery, and meltdowns are secondary, albeit important facets in the cooking, modeling, and fashion reality shows. If the audience can see the creative process, they are likely to experience the vicarious emotions, including triumph at the finale.

    I would watch a show about monster/alien sculpture, drawing or painting for sci-fi shows…

  2. April 3, 2009 12:47 am

    @Bananas: Sure, you could show the creative process. Isn’t that a big part of what writing workshops do? Every writer has a process, there are different models that instructors teach (seven-point plotting, anyone?), and much of that could be shown, I think. Product and process go together.

    On the other hand, successful reality shows about craft and creativity don’t always demonstrate each step of the process in an intelligible way. People in my house love Hell’s Kitchen, but I don’t learn much about cooking from it. I just learned to fear Gordon Ramsey. So, no Harlan Ellison on the panel, okay?

    Oso, I think you should call it “So, You Think You Can Write” or “The Slush Pile.” I just hope this catches on AFTER next year, ’cause you and I are going to be there, and cameras make my chin look funny.

  3. osomuerte permalink
    April 3, 2009 1:21 am

    The creative process can be shown if the participants discuss it, and I suspect they will. Where are they stuck? What are they researching? But mostly I would see the commentary on the stories of other writers being a central theme.

    @Tracie: Harlan is a must (Gordan, Simon) for the enjoyment of the viewer, someone unwilling to mince words. I bet Harlan could make Simon Cowell look like Humpty Dumpty. But I love the title “The Slush Pile”.

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