Saga of a Screenplay: The Idea Morphs

(Continued from part 1.)

Nearly a Knight, at this point known as Smoke and Mirrors, was stuck. We weren’t sure what was wrong, but we knew we wanted to fix it. There was a great story here and we wanted to get at it.

So it shouldn’t come as too much surprise that surrounding our work on A House for Marge in November, 2010, we began once again to explore Mortimer’s adventures with Annette and Buckle.

Things happened all over the place. Rebekah got to work developing characters. She fleshed out Annette very nicely, but Mortimer was a sticking point.

Finally, we realized what was up: Mortimer was unlikeable.

In our original idea, we had a selfish guy who couldn’t tolerate his nephew, was tricking his carnival boss so he could keep extra profits, and was pickpocketing castle guests right and left. And we expected everyone to sympathize with him. Of course it wasn’t working!

Armed with this knowledge, Rebekah jumped into salvaging the poor guy. In the process, he almost lost his nephew, but Buckle held on tight and never quite got erased. That was good, because he ended up providing one of the ways to sympathize with Mortimer.

What we did was reform Mortimer from a shady magician into a scrupulous magician. He was still a very calculating person, and he still had a chip on his shoulder, but his backstory was now completely different. Instead of working as a magician to get money for going back to knight school, he was a down-on-his-luck noble who’d been kicked out of the family castle. Now the reason for saving money was to buy back his father’s land.

The knighthood thing was still around, but it was a little different. Because Mortimer had lost his father’s castle, he was no longer a noble and therefore no longer eligible for knighthood. He was awfully sore about that, especially since he thought he could have made a better knight than any of the selfish people wearing armor in the kingdom.

I said that Buckle became a sympathy point for Mortimer. Well, I mean that he became a point for the audience to connect. Buckle is Mortimer’s sister’s son, and due to some familial issues, he’s traveling with Mortimer. But Mortimer really would prefer to be on his own, without the accident-prone Buckle bogging him down.

Mortimer was no longer trying to con the carnival guys like he was in the original concept, and that made them less useful. They were simply there to give Mortimer some people to travel with. So we made Mortimer their main crowd-drawing act… And the evil real magician whose plot causes Mortimer’s quest became the leader of the troupe.

This made things easier as far as realistically getting Mortimer blamed for the disappearing princess incident. In this revision, Mortimer is pinpointed by the evil magician and forced into participation with the scheme.

We also played with the idea of introducing another villain in the form of an unwelcome suitor who is after the princess’ hand. This guy never quite materialized, but in several story discussions, we thought about how he would be on a rival quest, trying to get to the princess before Mortimer. Ultimately, we tossed it because it felt wrong and there wasn’t space, anyway.

So now we had Mortimer straightened out, we thought. He’d become a likable, down-on-his-luck carnival magician who gets in trouble with a king. His cynicism toward chivalry gets in the way of his quest at first, but eventually he comes around and does the right thing, gaining his knighthood in the process.

And about there is where we left it. Something still wasn’t quite working, but it was better than where we started. It was time to let it rest a little while longer before plunging in to write a first draft.

(To be continued.)

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