From The Writers' Room Featuring Bookburners

Margaret Dunlap on writing Bookburners S02 E09: “The Village”

So, it’s funny. On one hand, I feel like “The Village” is the most TV-esque episode I’ve ever written for Bookburners. (Keep in mind, I got my MFA in writing for film and television, so this is not a bad thing. I really like TV.) It’s really visual; I get to do fun intercuts and transitions; the setting has a kind of Prisoner-esque vibe, and as a Star Trek fan, I was thrilled to write a plot that is basically my take on the malfunctioning holodeck story. And all that meant that while I was writing, I got to pull out more tricks from my screenwriter toolbox than I generally do for Bookburners, which was cool.

But on the other hand, what makes “The Village” really work is a device that is nearly impossible to pull off in television or film, which is Liam as unreliable narrator.  He isn’t deliberately unreliable; he believes that what he is remember is true. It’s just that we—the readers—know better.BB_SII_Ep_09_ebook_600x960

Which, for a writer, is pretty damned convenient. I can let everyone know in about two sentences that someone is messing with Liam’s head and then we’re with him for the journey, rooting for him to figure out what’s actually going on and escape Christina’s clutches.

If I’d written this story for actual television, we would have had to come up with some special effect or visual cue to show the moment that Christina convinces Liam’s brain that he’s been living in an alternate past.  And even with that, half the audience would still be wondering: Yeah, but is he just faking that he believes all of this because he knows Christina is listening?

When I came aboard the Bookburners writing team, an explicit part of my job description was to be the person in the room who knew how a writers’ room was supposed to work, and I take some pride in being the person who introduced everyone to the joys of multi-colored index cards. But the learning definitely goes both ways. Witness the following conversation that I had with Max as I was writing the first draft of this episode.

Me: So, Liam will talk to Sal, and of course he doesn’t recognize her. But do you think the audience will?  I mean, there’s no camera, they can’t see her, but… do you think I can pull that off?

Max: Oh, Margaret… (even on the other end of the phone, I can hear his head shaking) That is the kind of trick we get to pull in fiction all the time.

Me: …Oh. Okay, then. Good to know.

*Cue twenty more minutes of the two of us discussing use of gas lighting and point of view in science fiction television and fiction.*

And that’s what I really love about this episode. I got to use my screenwriting skills in a new medium, and I added some new tricks to my toolbox too.

< >