Featuring Tremontaine

Team-Writing in the World of Tremontaine

Delia Sherman and Liz Duffy Adams share their thoughts on Episode 7, "Into the Woods"

Delia: As soon as the Mighty Brain Trust that is the Tremontaine Summit, Plotting, and Deli Nosh Weekend came to the decision that most of Episode 7 of Season 3 should be set in the ducal hunting lodge at the dark midnight of the year, my eyes met Liz’s across the living room. We both knew, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that Episode 7 Must Be Ours.

It was the obvious practical choice—structurally, it makes sense for guest authors to pop in mid-season, when the plot arc has been firmly established by the staff writers, and preferably in an episode that differed in tone, focus, or setting from the rest. Which is pretty much Episode 7 in a structural nutshell. But that’s not why we wanted it and no other. No, not at all.

Liz: On the one hand, we were instantly attracted to the delicious compactness of getting a lot of characters into a country house for a whole episode. My instinctively favorite structure—for a play, or a serial episode—is the everything-happens-in-one-day; I love the sense of a single tracking shot (so to speak) winding in and out and around as a lot of characters and plot lines interweave and build; you can get so wonderfully moody and still build momentum. We soon realized the entire episode couldn’t be at the hunting lodge, but that we could bookend the city scenes, so that we start pre-dawn alone with Kaab, spend the day and evening out in the woods with Diane and her guests with all the color and action of that, and end late that night with Esha, alone in the dark. (Though originally it was going to be the reverse, for reasons we no longer remember!)

But the real reason our desire leapt at Episode 7 could be summed up in a word not generally associated with the world of Tremontaine: MAGIC.

Delia: Woah! Magic? In practical, political, down-and-dirty Riverside? Perish the thought! Except that Ellen and I had invented a whole mythological history for her country when we wrote The Fall of The Kings, and that mythos (which owes an artistic debt to James Frazier’s The Golden Bough and Mary Renault’s The King Must Die) revolves around winter sacrifices and deer hunts and the blood of sacrificial kings. Add to this that Episode 7 takes place at midwinter and involves a deer hunt, and magic (or its shadow) is the inevitable outcome. As for the fact that the kings are all dead, well, the ancient fertility rites Ellen and I came up with ensure that the royal blood runs strongly in every noble family in the Land. Of course, Liz and I never explain all this, because what happens at the hunting lodge is all about intrigue and political jockeying and influence, not rutting deer and royal sacrifice.

Or is it?

For me, one of neatest things about the whole slightly spooky, slightly mystical vibe we wanted to cast over the hunting lodge sections is how beautifully it dovetails with the spiritual and mystical dimension the core writers have brought this season to Kaab’s and Esha’s plots. The sex and the sword fighting, the plotting and revenge are part of a larger history and grow from deep roots. Framing the hunting lodge scenes with city scenes allowed us to play with some of these ideas.

Liz: We loved getting to mirror Kaab and Esha, two very different characters with a few unexpected things in common. Both haunted by their pasts, and threatened in the present; both strangers in this strange land, though navigating and surviving that strangeness in starkly different ways. And using the day, from chilly dawn to snow falling through the late night, to link the city and the country and all those characters, felt like a kind of earthly magic too.
Yet another kind of magic that Delia and I were the grateful beneficiaries of was the magic of collaboration—not only with each other (which is now almost second nature!) but with the core Tremontaine writers and editors. Popping in as guest writers means that, as deeply steeped as we may be in the Tremon-verse, we needed help getting the details right, in the wonderfully complex web of characters, relationships, stories, and world.

Delia: Frankly, we needed a lot of help. The plot had thickened considerably since the planning meeting (as plots are wont to do), the characters and their motivations more complex. Furthermore, the Kaab scene was picking up on hints and backstory and cultural details that hadn’t been referenced since Season One. Looking back at the Slack thread for our episode, I see questions about Kinwiinik politics, nomenclature, and possible seasonal holidays (answered by Joel); sword-fighting techniques (answered by Karen); card games and narrative continuity (answered by Racheline); structure and secondary characters (answered by Tessa). Paul Witcover gave us excellent advice about the spy traps Kaab should encounter, and both Tessa and Karen pointed out that we should flip the framing scenes so that the episode begins with Kaab and ends with Esha.

They also, Land bless them, gave us plenty of praise and encouragement, and even rewrote bits in their episodes to fit what we’d written—as we rewrote Micah’s interactions with Diane and Diane’s with Lionel to fit theirs. And all of us, combined, worked to make Lord Davenant truly attractive as well as truly horrible.

Liz: I think the story of this note is about falling in love with something—instantly, on instinct—as we did with the prospect of writing this episode. We just had a feeling about it. And the process of writing it was a real pleasure, even as trying to get it right was, as always, a rigorous and thorny puzzle. But moments of absolute bliss, when we stumbled into them—Lady Davenant’s secret lover, the king stag in the falling snow, a sudden wind blowing through Esha’s house—felt like love requited. We hope the readers shares some of that feeling with us. Because that is the final magic, the reason for it all.

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