Thursday, April 7, 2011

Public revision

Writers revise ALL THE TIME. If you’re a writer of any stripe, you know this—or if you’re a student, we beat it beat it into your head: nothing is perfect the first time.

When my son pulled up the pilot of BONES this week, one of his fave TV dramas, I got to thinking about writing besides the printed stuff. Think what kinds of revisions the writers have gone through since 2005, when the pilot aired--tons of them. And lots of it has been (gulp) PUBLIC.

In the pilot of BONES, our main character is socially unattached (a continuing character feature), but also kind of sloppy and rude. Her relationship with her FBI partner isn’t very defined, nor are the relationships she has with her coworkers. Is she likeable? Maybe. Will people watch it again? Maybe. A show’s pilot is, of course, the writers’ first draft. I’m sure there’s a heap of stuff that get revised before a show goes on the air, but it’s still a rough draft.

The writers very obviously revised her as the show went along, though sometimes in subtle ways—her hair, the jewelry she wears. And those little things tell us a lot. In the pilot, she has messy hair. Now it’s pretty sleek, and her clothes are less sloppy. Her demeanor is kinder. Yes, she’s different because we’ve been watching her since 2005, but she’s also different because writers wanted to make her different. They had to try out different versions of her to see which one was best for the show. All of it in public.

Imagine if you write for TV. You and your team scribble and plan and tweak, but your pilot sucks. Back to the drawing board for the next episode, and you try something else. Suckage. Then you tweak again and this time it’s better. But then—-whoops!—-the dialogue is even suckier, and you have to change the dynamic between Character X and Character Y, or they’ll always sound like your aunt and her dog Mr. Jingles. Back to the drawing board you go.

By the sixth season, you're more comfortable. You’ve hit your stride, and people like your show. But you also know (another gulp) your rough draft is something my kid can yank out of the Netflix file drawer. Eeek. I am grateful to all things holy that nobody can do that with my rough drafts.

Just a note: when I was looking for a photo to go with this post, I searched Google images for “revision”. I got tons of photos of boob jobs. Not a way I’d define the word, but OK.


  1. This made me laugh. And yes, I am over the moon grateful that my rough drafts hit the trash bin or stay buried in my computer. Although I'm willing to bet I've put a lot of rough-draft material out there live on the blog that I can't take back! Sometimes I cringe when I read my earlier posts.

  2. I think every blogger cringes reading old blog posts. But sometimes I smile and think "wow, why I am I not that witty every day? I'm so awesome!" Granted, I don't do that very often. : )