The Magic of Team-Writing a Novel
This episode brings Tremontaine Season 2 to a close.
I can’t wait to see what happens next!
No, really. When Serial Box describes Tremontaine as “a collaboratively-written” prequel to Swordspoint, that is not hyperbole. A few weeks after the end of Season 2, our writing team is scheduled to meet in my living-room in New York City, to thrash out the plotline for Season 3 (coming Fall 2017). Of course each writer has some ideas already — but they can differ wildly! Wackiness ensues, but I promise that there will be a Season Outline soon, fueled by bagels, chocolate, and camaraderie.*
Less than three years ago, we didn’t even know if it could be done. As I had the thrill this summer of going over the manuscript for the print version of Season 1 (coming in May 2017 from Saga Press), I flashed back on the amount of work and sheer nerve it took for the original core team of Malinda Lo, Alaya Dawn Johnson, Joel Derfner and me to essentially create from nothing both a format and a way of working together to shape a long and complicated story. I admired the narrative subtleties and nuances that shouldn’t have been possible and yet sprang into being — and lived all over again the nightmare of whether the murdered Ben had been found wearing a vest, a waistcoat or a jacket.
Season 2’s team brought in new writers: the multifaceted MaryAnne Mohanraj and Vincent Applethorpe’s self-described ex-girlfriend, Tessa Gratton. We all stepped together into an existing system, slightly tweaked through analysis of past mistakes, and it functioned beautifully this year — so beautifully that when I screwed up both my deadline and the season’s timeline in my Episode 13 draft, Joel and Tessa stepped in and saved my sorry ass — and Tremontaine’s Season 2 finale.
I thought I had it all right, I swear. It’s not like I hadn’t gone over Episodes 2–12 with a fine-toothed comb as they were written, to make sure they adhered to the rules of my “Riverside” world. As I drafted Episode 13, whenever I wasn’t sure of something I checked in on Slack and got rapid answers from my busy teammates.
And such writing! I was terribly clever! I organized the narrative so that everything took place in a single day, alternating amongst the characters. And, Lo! It was finished. Sure, there was the bit that read:
“FUNNY THINGS HERE.” NOTHING REALLY RELEVANT OR EARTHSHAKING, THOUGH MAYBE MAKE THE READER THINK THEY ARE? Meh. Just need motivation for Micah to get into Diane’s room.
BLICKETY, BLICKETY, THE VOTE TO RECEIVE AND CONSIDER THE PETITION PASSES UNANIMOUSLY . . . BUT WHAT ABOUT DAVENANT? WHERE IS HE?? CAN THE VOTE EVEN PASS WITHOUT HIM?
WRAP UP THE SCENE
But besides those trifling omissions, it was a done draft. With some pride, I turned it in to the group for them to check over before it went to editor Juliet Ulman.
And the word came down from on high: It was a mess! Timeline out of whack. Important thing left out. Critical character shunted to sideline just because I didn’t feel like giving him screen time….
So our truly indefatigable Show Runner and Cat Herder, Racheline Maltese, set up a Conference Call with Joel & Tessa (Mary Anne being excused because her Episode 12 revisions were due the same weekend, so she had her own problems!).
Let me help, Joel said staunchly. Just tell me what you need, and I’ll draft it for you and you can do what you want with it. Oh and by the way, would you mind if I gave you an alternate version of the Court of Honor Scene with Davenant actually in it?
Let me help, said Tessa, despite the fact that she was on a teaching retreat and had a novel for Tor due in five days. Sure, I’ll draft you something about Tess and the Salamander since it was my idea in the first place . . . .
Which is why this story, like the series itself, should be credited to more than one author. I revised and trimmed and polished for the final draft, but they created, weaving threads that they themselves had spun in previous episodes: Tess and the Salamander, Diane and Micah (and that infernal Moebius Strip Mary Anne had thrown in), Florian’s punishment (well, actually I think the Shunning was my bright idea on the conference call, but Tessa drafted that powerful scene) . . . .
It’s a new twist to our still-developing process. I enjoyed the hell out of it, and, more important, it Felt Right.
I can’t wait to see what happens next.
*A process so ably described by author/show-runner Racheline Maltese here.