A Little Bit On The Side – Part One

by limebirddennis

bit on the side part 1

We all know that it’s only the lucky few who can make a living solely from the writing of novels and short stories. Most writers, even critically acclaimed ones, earn a living in some other profession. However, writers can also make a crust by branching out into other forms.

As a child, I loved science fiction series on the TV (I still do!). It was only later that I learned that some of my favourite episodes had been written by some of my favourite writers.

For example:

Theodore Sturgeon

More known for his short stories than his novels (16 collections published during his lifetime). You should try It (1940), Microcosmic God (1941) which was voted one of the best science fiction stories of all time by the Science Fiction Writers of America in 1970, Killdozer! (1944) and Slow Sculpture which won the 1970 Nebula Award for Best Novelette and the 1971 Hugo Award for Best Short Story.

Sturgeon wrote two scripts for the original series of Star Trek; Amok Time (where Kirk must fight Spock to the death in an ancient Vulcan ritual) and Shore Leave (the one where McCoy meets the white rabbit).

Harlan Ellison

Another writer more known for his short stories than his novels, perhaps the discipline of writing short stories more easily lends itself to writing scripts for TV… You should try “Repent, Harlequin!” Said the Ticktockman, which won the 1965 Nebula Award and the 1966 Hugo Award, and I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream which won the Hugo in 1968.

Ellison wrote two episodes of The Outer Limits, Soldier and Demon with a Glass Hand, both originally broadcast in 1964. In the 1980s he successfully sued for screen credit in relation to the similarities of the movie The Terminator to his scripts.

He also wrote, what is for me, the best Star Trek episode The City on the Edge of Forever (the one where Kirk falls in love with Edith Keeler (played by Joan Collins) in the 1930’s but must let her die to repair the timeline). This was the most critically acclaimed episode and it won the 1968 Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation.

There were many more authors who also wrote for TV, but, today, I have concentrated on memories from my own childhood; both authors wrote far more than I have mentioned (and I really do recommend that you search out some of their work!). In Part Two I will be looking at science fiction authors who made a little bit on the side by writing ‘novelisations’ of TV shows and movies.

Do you have your own examples of favourite authors who have written for TV?


23 Responses to “A Little Bit On The Side – Part One”

  1. Branching out is a must for so many writers. I didn’t realise some of the ST episodes some of them had written. I agree about The City on the Edge of Forever being the standout episode from the original series. Quality episode. 🙂

  2. Great post Dennis, it never occurred to me to wonder who might write the episodes of the tv shows I like. Now I need to go back and look at all of the “Lost in Space” episodes and check them out, they along with ST lit the sci-fi fire in my very young head!

    • Thanks for the comment Neeks.

      I’m one of those people who watch all the way through the credits (I have to grab the DVD controller to stop my wife from jumping to the next episode 😉 ) Irwin Allen wrote nearly half of the Lost In Space episodes, As far as I remember there were no ‘famous’ science fiction authors who wrote for it (but I could be wrong!)

      • Well the name Irwin Allen sounds very familiar though, he was famous in his circle I’m sure! I’m all out of Jack McDevitt books, I read them all. I’m going to start over with the Engines of the Gods series. 🙂

  3. I’m not sure what the ideal job is for a writer when he or she isn’t writing, but I was lucky to work as a journalist for many years and that certainly honed my skills. I learned to write quickly and meet a deadline … even when I wasn’t particularly excited about the article I was writing on school budgets or whatever. Of course, the challenge is always to block out some time for one’s own writing. My goal was always to write a page a day on my WIP just to keep it fresh. Life doesn’t always cooperate and you can’t meet that goal every day, but those pages do start to add up 🙂

    • Thanks for your comments David.

      There could be two arguments, either an author could work on something that allowed him/her to write while working (a car park attendant etc.) or they could work on something that either hones their skill (like a journalist as you mentioned) or knowledge (many science fiction writers work in either the science or technology fields).

      In the cases above, they were only really writing in a different form, moving from short stories to short scripts, so they were very lucky!

      I totally agree that making time for one’s own work is a must! I was never good at keeping a notebook with me, but now, with smartphones, I find it easier to snatch chunks of writing time and then email the bits to be copied into the magnum opus at home.

  4. I continue to find it difficult to write for a paycheck and get “my own” work done. I take the Paycheck deadlines very seriously and have never missed one. My own work suffers from letting everything else, including family obligations, get in the way. It is strange to say this, but now that my parents are both dead, I feel a sense of urgency, a drive, to make my way in areas I’ve neglected for so many years. In the examples you’ve mentioned above, switching from short story writing to script writing is not an easy task. I think they require a different set of skills, and writers don’t often have both sets. It’s impressive.

    • Thanks for the comment Jilanne.

      I wasn’t implying that writing great short stories and scripts is easy, just that they would probably have found it easier switching between the two (and writing full time) in comparison with someone working on a building site (say) and then trying to write at night.

  5. Great post Denise! I don’t know of any off the top of my head but I always LOVE when I find out these little tidbits, a favorite author writing a show or penning a screenplay, or a favorite actor doing the directing or what not.

  6. Great post, Dennis! Being a fellow science fiction/”Star Trek” fan (thanks, Dad!), I was already familiar with both these names (and their episodes), but it’s always a good reminder to branch out beyond our “comfort zone,” no matter what it is we do (writing, drawing, painting, film, coding…I could go on forever!).

    I, too, love to watch credits. It’s fun to see names I recognize! Mostly, that happens with the visual artists (I actually get excited when I see an Ernest Dickerson or Roger Deakins come up in the credit list), but I grew to know many writers that way, as well. Many moved between TV and comics, like Bruce Timm, J Michael Straczynski, and Paul Dini…but they’ve also branched into video games, as well. Going off on a brief tangent, writers really should respect the video game industry more than they tend to do. Some games – Spec Ops: The Line, and The Walking Dead come to mind – have excellent characters and storylines. On the flip side, games with great visual aesthetic but poor story elements could truly benefit from a strong writer at the helm. Traditional writers tend to pooh-pooh the gaming industry, though, for whatever reason, and it’s a real shame.

    Looking forward to your follow-up post, as novelisations were part of my reading bread and butter while growing up. 🙂

    • Thanks for the comment Mayumi.

      I totally agree with you about video games. A perfect example would be Matt Forbeck who seems to split his time evenly between designing and writing for games and writing fiction (I would recommend his “Amortals” which was published by Angry Robot books).

      I haven’t played The Walking Dead, but I remember J C Hutchins raving about it a couple of weeks ago, I guess I should find a friend who has it and steal it!

  7. I’ve never really thought about authors writing TV episodes, I don’t tend to notice things like that! I only tend to look at the credits on programmes, or films for that matter, if there is something particular I wanted to see, like the name of an actor, or what a particular piece of music was. So I’m pretty rubbish with things like who wrote what! I should really take more notice…

    • Thanks for the comment Vanessa.

      You are not alone, most people don’t really look. I always do (although I drew the line at watching to the end of the Lord of the Rings credits which were looooooong!)

  8. Great post, Dennis. I am only vaguely familiar with those names. I guess actors have to do this, too. More and more often I see big film stars in television series or even commercials. What’s nice is that writers, actors, and such can continue to follow their path, albeit in a different setting. Like you say, branching out. One has to be open and willing to do this, however. Sometimes I’m sure ego can interfere. 😉

    • Thanks for the comment Kate.

      If you haven’t read any Sturgeon or Ellison I would recommend that you search some out!

      On the ego thing, I think that, in the field of science fiction, that TV is such a force nowadays that authors would fight for the opportunity to grab a whole new audience…


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