Thursday, January 19, 2006

How to Fake It

A lot of the e-mailed questions I get pertain to my 'House' spec, as in how did I prepare to write the medical stuff? How did I pull off that stuff without being a doctor?

Look, I don't pretend to think I can fool a doctor with the stuff I write. In fact, a doctor would probably laugh at me for most of what I write. But then again, you aren't trying to fool a doctor (certainly not with a spec). You are trying to fool an agent or a showrunner. It's all about faking it.

Right now, I'm on a steady diet of 'Cold Case' -- 4-6 hours of it a day, plus one or two scripts read a night. You immerse yourself in the world. When I wrote House, I lived House. I would write with the show on in the background, rather than music. Normally I find any sound distracting when I write, but in this case just having the episodes playing continuously as I wrote helped the character voices seep into my skull. As for the technojargon, thanks be for the Net. I can't imagine trying to 'fake it' while looking up periodicals and books at the library (my hat is off to all of you who had to research the old fashioned way in order to pull this off. I remember those days writing school papers, and I salute you). Now I can search for 'sphincter of Oddi dysfunction' and find everything I need to know to make my characters sound believeable. I went one step further to buy a differential diagnosis handbook so I could cross-reference symptoms to find possible conditions, but that was just me being anal retentive. I probably could have done it without the book.

For the police procedural, again, you aren't trying to fool a cop. If you were actually staffed on a show, you'd have access to 'experts' who can help make your dialogue accurate and more realistic. On 'House' they have like 2 or 3 doctors consulting for all the medical stuff. If you know a doctor or can call an expert to pitch them your ideas and get their input, you'll go far, but even if you don't know someone (or are too afraid to cold call) you can still do it. It just takes time to do the research.

Speaking of which, I have to go back to researching deafness...

4 comments:

Bill Cunningham said...

If I remember correctly (and that happens less and less as my hair goes) there are a bunch of 1-800 numbers available through the WGA main number. Each line covers research or expertise in a different area: police procedure, medical, military, forensics, government, spy, etc...

They used to publish those numbers on the inside back cover of WRITTEN BY magazine.

Also, I would study other shows similar to COLD CASE (other police procedurals) to see if you can find another route to tackle a 'cold case'.

It seems to me that they want to read a spec by someone who knows their show so well that they can add to it in a new way. Same voice, new song to sing...

Kira said...

I'm a big fan of the Howdunit series of books. These handy paperback guides are gold for procedurals (or mystery novels), and cover subjects from crime scene investigation to missing persons to poisons.

In fact, the writers' reference section of any sizable bookstore has all kinds of useful tomes, such as depictions of life in Victorian households and guides to Regency etiquette.

MaryAn Batchellor said...

One of my granmother's favorite sayings was "fake it 'til ya make it".

Imran said...

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Hope to see you there