The Doctor Who 50th Anniversary is TONIGHT, and so I thought I’d contemplate the idea of Steven Moffat writing Ten and, generally, people writing characters that weren’t originally their own.
Writing for other people’s characters isn’t as odd as you might think. It’s not just reserved for fanfic — you can see examples of it everywhere. Janine from EastEnders, for example, has probably been written by quite a few different writers — most TV characters will be, because that’s just how it is. And it’s not just in TV, film and fanfic that you get it — there’s multiple examples from the world of published novels. The first one that comes to mind is Patrick Ness’ most recent (I believe) book, which is based on notes and ideas made by the late Siobhan Dowd.
So it isn’t odd to write dialogue and stories for someone else’s characters… but how do you do it justice?
The short answer is that I really don’t know; it depends on how you make your own characters real. The long answer is that there’s a few things you probably should do, no matter how you write.
- Watch/read the things the character has been in; do they have any catchphrases or gestures that they use frequently? Are they sarcastic or serious? Sad or happy? Honest or deceptive? Are there any lines that they won’t cross? (For example, the Doctor — no matter which regeneration — will never pick up a gun, but Ten only once interferes with a fixed point in time and never crosses his own time stream, while Eleven is always trying to fix the universe, even if it means making the odd thing a bit messy.)
- Watch/read interviews with the original writer; what were they trying to portray? Who do they think the character is? Does this fit with your perception? If not, why? Is it your misinterpretation or their problem portraying what they want to show? If the latter, would it be more true to the character for you to write them as you see them or as the writer wanted you to see them?
- Watch/read the things that the character has been in again (if you can). Are you seeing it in a new light now you have more understanding of the original writer’s intentions? Is there anything more you can pick up since last time? How about relationships? How do they act around authority, friends, family? Who do they think they’re better than? Are there any other characters around them that they’re going to add in? If so, make sure to focus on how your characters act around each other (and don’t forget to do all this again for your other character!).
- Think about the story you want to write or look at your notes on it. Is your character likely to be in this situation? Do the decisions and actions you want them to take fit the image you’ve got of them from your research? If not, can you find a way to change these decisions without affecting the storyline too much? Is there a way to make the decisions and actions fit — for example, by pushing the character to their breaking point (Ten would never mess with a fixed point in time… unless he’d lost enough people that he refused to leave any more)? Can you add this into your storyline?
- Look at it again. Does the voice feel consistent? Does your character feel like the same one the original writer wrote? Do you need to change anything?
- Change anything that needs changing.
- Get another (or more) set of eyes who know the show/book/comic/psychic-paper-based-story. Do they think the character is consistent? Do they think anything needs changing? Do you agree with them?
- Change anything that needs changing.
- Rinse and repeat points 5-9 until everyone’s happy.
And that is all the advice I have. There’s a lot more there than I ever thought there would be — and, I have to sheepishly admit, I’ve never been this thorough in my own writing — but it is there.
But we still haven’t contemplated the thought of a Moffat-written Ten.
Going based on my advice above, Moffat’s probably pretty well-set. He was part of Russell T Davies’ era, so he’ll be aware of Ten’s gestures and oddities and how RTD wanted them shown, and he’s even had practice in writing Ten himself in Blink. We’ll just have to hope that Mr Moffat wants to make Ten consistent, and (which isn’t in the advice because it’s not something you can really teach) knows how to tell if Ten is consistent or not.
We’ll just have to wait and hope, won’t we?