From The Writers' Room Featuring Bookburners

Brian Francis Slattery on writing Bookburners S3E4: “All in a Day’s Work”

The assignment in writing “All in a Day’s Work” was to have an episode modeled after “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”—in which we get to see Asanti and her crew trying their hand at using magic, and then to have it get a little out of control. Not so out of control that it can’t be contained, but just enough that it causes some trouble, and serves as a bit of a reality check on Asanti’s plans to explore magic further. Some episodes in Bookburners are dramatic, earth-shaking, super-intense. This one wasn’t supposed to be.

At the same time, I enjoyed writing this episode for its sense of foreshadowing, the way it lays down a few basic principles that we planned to use for the rest of the season. Without getting too specific, one of the real pleasures of working with the Bookburners team, especially now that we’ve been at this for a while, lies in being able to further develop the world we’ve created for ourselves. If Season One laid the groundwork for the Society and Season Two for the world outside it, this season is the one where we as a team really got to move the pieces around—and make some moves that we couldn’t take back.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. For all the ways that “All in a Day’s Work” was designed to be a lighter one-off, two surprises lay in store for me as I wrote it. First, that it offered more of a glimpse into the world of magic that I had initially anticipated. (There’s a bureaucracy there, too?) And second, on the emotional front, I found myself digging deeper into the people we meet in the apartment building than I had anticipated.

As a writer, I’m wary of emotionally manipulating readers. I don’t like jerking tears, or prodding and prodding until the reader laughs. I try to give readers space for their own thoughts and feelings, their own interpretations of what’s going on, mostly because those are the kinds of things I tend to like as a reader myself. But sometimes I also find myself quickly invested in characters who don’t necessarily need to get a lot of screen time. I want to explore then more, find out what makes them tick, and I end up getting pretty attached to them, even though I know I’ll never see them again.

So it went with the people in the apartment building, the people who, just for a while, see what it would be like to realize the potential that lies within them, and then have it taken away again. For them, even when the magic leaves, the taste of it remains.

This emotional state has been described before by writers way better than I am. Maybe the best example is in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, when Nick Bottom, a weaver and amateur thespian, awakens from his enchantments after a night among the fairies of the nearby forest. He’s no longer a donkey (into which he had been transformed), but his head is filled with sights and sounds that weren’t there before. He doesn’t know if they’re memories or dreams. But there they are, and they have changed him, maybe profoundly, in ways he knows he doesn’t even quite understand yet.

I can’t write anything like the wondrous speech Bottom has at that moment. But it was a rare surprise to find myself somewhere on the edges of that literary vicinity, and then to make my own pulpy homage to something that has inspired me for a long time. Not bad for a day’s work.

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