Trying Something New – A Writers’ Room

Writing is normally a very solitary thing. You sit alone and create something while staring at a screen. You can go out and write in public (if you can write in a busy and noisy environment) but it doesn’t change that it’s still just you alone in your head.

As a writer of fantasy novels, I spend a lot of time writing alone and I’ve always envied the writers’ room style I’d often heard about that’s common to TV. A group of people get together in a room for hours and hours, they brainstorm ideas, then break it all down into story arcs, episodes and even character arcs. It’s a group mind meld where the power of many brains outweighs the creative output of one.

It’s good, but it’s not quite right

In recent years I’ve been co-writing comics with a friend of mine, Pete Rogers, and we have both enjoyed the process of writing together. I should say that obviously further down the line of making a comic book it does involve other people (and it’s the same with novels) but at that initial story-burst stage, where you are throwing stuff out there, it’s normally just you.

Every day I drive 2-3 hours to and from work, and as a result I consume a lot of podcasts. Several of those I listen to feature creative people in comics, TV and film talking about their projects, but also their process and how they got started in their industry. Once again I heard several examples about the joy of a writers’ room and the unusual dynamic it creates. That itch was still there and I wanted to find a way to scratch it. But I don’t work in television and have no experience in that business, and no-one was going to invite me onto their staff just because I asked.

A Writers’ Room

So the next logical thing was to try a writers’ room approach to creating a comic book. It’s not completely new and unheard of in the industry, but it is uncommon. At the most recent Thought Bubble convention I pitched the core underlying series to a couple of writers. They were intrigued by the initial idea and where we could go with it, and they said they were interested. Then they looked at me slightly askance and perhaps with some bafflement when I said I wanted to approach it with a writers’ room style.

A couple of weeks after TB we got together online for a group Skype call. As I came up with the idea, I would act as the showrunner, as it were, so although we all had equal ownership and it became our idea, there still needed to be someone guiding the conversation. I was nervous but shouldn’t have been. I was careful in who I had approached because as well as being creative they were people I knew I could work with. My writing partners on this project are Pete Rogers and Cy Dethan.

Setting goals

On the first call we laid out the initial rules of the story and its framework. We established some goals for the short term and scheduled to meet up a month later and carry on from there. In that first call, which was less than two hours long, we accomplished more than Pete and I had done as a partnership in months. When I came off the call I was buzzing with excitement and energy and keen to get to work on the series. From speaking to the others I know that it also energised them.

Since then we’ve had a number of calls and each time we’ve moved the story on quite a bit in a short space of time. We’ve created a story arc, broken down the themes and then more recently we all came in with several ideas and pitched them to each other. We all said which we preferred and now we have several strong ideas to turn into first draft scripts.

As a group we’ve accomplished so much already and it’s proven to be an incredibly rewarding experience. We’ve all forced each other to be better, but also we’ve helped each other improve on our initial ideas and tease out details. I can’t wait to see where we go with this first mini series but I hope it’s just the start of something much bigger.