Saturday, July 15, 2006

The "Bear" Necessities - The Genesis of "Dear John"

Somehow Ian Farrington heard of me and liked some fan-fiction piece I’d written called “Clarke in Action”. “Clarke” is a comedic piece, and I think that’s what Ian liked in my “style” of writing.

So, I received an email.

The initial brief I had for my story stated that a) it must be set in 1956, b) Edward (not named at that stage) should be 50 and “well to do” c) he has a son (not named at that stage) born in 1950, d) I had to use the Eight Doctor, e) I should write for two “unknown” companions, “a bloke and a girl”, both around 20, f) I could have my own plot, as long as it was continuity free and g) Edward can’t recognize the Doctor but the Doctor will know him, but won’t let on.

Oh, and “Something light or comedic could be nice”.

This was my first pitch for a professional commission. I didn’t want to lose this opportunity and so I started working on ideas straight away.

As Edward was nebulous and the companions a mystery, I immediately focused on the son. I would be the first writer to actively use him and as such I could have a relatively free reign. Without giving anything away about his later development in subsequent stories, I really wanted to create a “good boy”, one that it was easy to see why Edward would love unconditionally, family blood notwithstanding.

So, I had a “character piece”. Obviously I needed an event.

The Birthday Party idea came quickly and would lend itself to “something light”.

Plot wise, I wanted to toy with how much Edward may know about alien technology at this stage in his life. The first draft was destined to centre around an alien artifact.

So, rather nervously I sent my first ideas to Ian. While he liked the focus on the boy and the Birthday Party he quite rightly told me to forget the artifact – overused in so many Who plots before.

So, I had a party and a boy. But no plot. And still no commission. I had to think of a plot asap.

“Something light or comedic could be nice”. Yes, Ian … I’ll remember that.

While I was striving to think of plot, the companions started to worry me. Who were they? What were there characters? What could I have them say or not say? I was given a brief “outline” of certain traits from another writer and just went with that.

By luck rather than design I drew them close to who you now know them to be – and Lizzie, thanks for your kind words about “my” Gemma.

So, the plot… “Something light or comedic could be nice”. Yes, Ian. I know …

Rethinking, it was all well and good just having a “good boy” but he needed to be interesting. Or someone that someone else would find interesting. Who like? The reader? Yes, but not at this stage. Rather someone in the story. Someone like … an imaginary friend.

Within the space of a bus ride home, I had the plot, with a number of contingency ideas for the friend thrown in.

Thankfully, Ian embraced the one I wanted to go with and I was commissioned.

With a party in my head, I think I wrote the first draft in two days. Tweaks and drafts ensued, but the core of the story remained pretty much the same from beginning to end.

I wanted to the title to reflect the focus on the boy and as soon as he was named as John by the group, “Dear John” seemed the obvious choice. It summed up what the story was about quite nicely and once again, thankfully Ian liked it and the name stuck.

As for “something light or comedic could be nice”. Er, yes, well … there’s a joke in there somewhere, Ian. I think.



Blogger Lauren Swartzmiller said...

Nice to see something of the evolution of this book, and this story in particular. The ideas do crop at the oddest moments in the strangest places after staring at humble beginnings for a while, don't they? I look forward to reading this creation by a former fellow hobby writer in the night as well as all the stories that make up "The Centenarian". The best of success. -----> Lauren

10:35 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've had the honour of reading a prelimenary draft of this piece and have to say it sets a high benchmark for the others to follow! A great read and Who fans need not worry...the atmosphere and quality are both excellent. This tale keeps within the Who universe and would make a great episode in itself. Who (sic) knows? They may even do just that!

Great work John, and I look forward to reading the rest of the book on it's release!

-----> Neil T

12:03 am  
Blogger John Davies said...

Thanks Lauren - I really hope you enjoy the book when you get it.

And thanks Neil. Neil is a great friend at work who was intrigued about this book when I started plugging it quite shamlessly recently (heck, I even have the cover printed out and stuck to my desk!). I must say his comments are very heartening here as while he is aware of Who, he is by no means a "fan" and so if he enjoyed the preliminary sketch draft I just hope those who are more Who-savvy will as well.

10:39 am  

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