Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Writing a spec episode - Part 2: Character

Part 1: Finding the Concept

Continuing my breakdown of how I write a spec episode, we pick up here after I decided to follow through with my idea of mashing up Awake's alternate realities concept with 13 Reasons Why's exploration of those left behind after a teenage girl kills herself.

The second season finale of 13 Reasons Why had Clay declare at Hannah's memorial service, "Hannah, I love you and I'm letting you go." This was visually underscored by showing Clay's imaginary Hannah walking out of the church and into the bright light. It's the last time we see Hannah in the episode, and following 13 episodes of Clay having conversations with Hannah in his head, it makes a statement that Clay is trying to move on.

Of course, that doesn't mean she's gone from his thoughts permanently, and late in the episode this is demonstrated during a heartbreaking moment at a school dance. The DJ plays "The Night We Met," the romantic song that Clay and Hannah first danced to a year earlier, and instantly Clay becomes lost and devastated. It's a brutally sad moment lightened only by the fact Tony and his friends seek out Clay and huddle with him as the song plays out.

So it seemed fair game to play Clay as trying to genuinely move on, but still emotionally vulnerable. Since I was setting the events of the my spec episode near the one-year anniversary of Hannah's suicide, it didn't seem unreasonable to show those reminders were getting to him more than normal. I wanted to show him talking to a therapist. Anyone who watched the first two seasons would agree that Clay is in definite need of some professional help. Considering that the arc of the "season" would have to deal with the possibility of Clay having a break from reality, it was a natural progression to have him talking to a therapist. It furthers the natural conflict between Clay's real world and the delusion he's escaping into.

Building off of that, the alternate world had to offer Clay temptations beyond just Hannah being alive. Though it would never be written, I imagined the first third of this season would slowly start building a case for the alternate reality as a real place. This would open the door to Clay being seduced by that world, if only he could just let go of the other world for good. This didn't mean making the Prime timeline completely unpleasant, but the alternate world needed to not just be a place attractive to Clay, it had to be a place he believed in.

For the purposes of the first episode, I just needed him not to reject the alternate reality. It's his first real backslide. He's spent months gradually accepting Hannah's death and now that wound is torn open completely. I decided he's spent most of the premiere trying to get his footing in the other world and by the end, he'd do... something to show he could easily go all-in there.

I also had to think about Hannah. If she was the same old Hannah, completely recovered and in love with Clay, there'd be no conflict, so I started brainstorming:

  • Her suicide attempt had to have changed her significantly. Does she want a fresh start? Reinvent herself?
  • If she goes back to school, what is she trying to prove?
  • probably regrets the tapes, especially if they got out. Maybe better if they didn't and thus, fewer would impacted.
  • She's a junior while the others are seniors.
  • Everyone at school knows about her and what happened. Some stare, some try to be supportive, some think she's a drama queen. Hannah feels constantly under a microscope, both from the good and bad intentioned people.
  • "It's a Wonderful Life" situation - Hannah's death and her tapes changed people, so if she lived they'd all be on different (not always better) trajectories.
  • Does she still love Clay?
  • Is she on meds? In therapy?
  • Did she meet someone else?
  • How to deal with Zach? Could be interesting awkwardness between them.
  • Did parents split up?
  • Olivia could be protective. Maybe Olivia's heard the tapes and is concerned how fixated Hannah was on Clay. Olivia doesn't like Clay here.
  • OR Hannah hesitant to start anything with Clay, Olivia likes him, thinks he's a "good one."

Some of these are good ideas but dead-ends. Remember, EVERYTHING this season has to be filtered through Clay because anything else throws off the mystery of which world is real. A lot of these notions could still be addressed, but at a remove.

Also, I still thought there was no better way to have the first switch immediately lead to Clay seeing Hannah alive, touching her, and feeling her scars. Since I was going with the Awake idea that he switches worlds every time he sleeps, that meant he'd probably wake up somewhere to find Hannah with him. So she had to be in his bed. And if I took that as a given, it meant that Clay and Hannah had to AT LEAST be friendly. We needed to believe she'd come to see him at night and fall asleep next to him.

If that was where I was starting from, I wanted to figure out a progression of that relationship that could define the episode. It could be either positive or negative, but this demanded a story where Hannah and Clay went from A to B.

With all of this in mind as my trajectory, I started thinking about the larger story, and that's where we'll pick up tomorrow.

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