Once upon a time

Work on Alba Salix continues. We’ve had a couple of test readings so far, which have been really encouraging. Four episodes of the first six-episode “season” are awaiting rewrites, and I’m bashing away at the outline for a fifth. We’re aiming to record in September and launch some time over the winter. And there are enough storylines in my head for a second season.

Along the way I’ve been learning a lot, like the art of intertwining various subplots. Not only does it add interest, but it’s practically essential to provide something to “cut away to” when it’s time to jump ahead to the next plot point. Otherwise, you’ve got to either add a music cue, or indicate through dialogue or narration that time has passed, or some combination of these. The result usually feels a bit sluggish and old-fashioned.

Another lesson: the first moments of a series should give a good idea of what the show’s going to be like as a whole. The first draft of the Alba pilot originally opened with a “once upon a time” intro that gave Alba’s backstory. As a twist, it intertwined three different tellings of the same story, but 1) it was slow, 2) it wasn’t anything like the rest of the episode and 3) it was confusing as all get-out, especially since all these characters were unfamiliar. Furthermore, Lila, one of the main characters in the fairy tale, didn’t appear anywhere in the rest of the episode, leaving the listener to wonder when she would return.

Much better to start with the action – specifically, an actual medical case. Here are the original opening and the new one.

First, the original. I might bring it back for a Season Two episode in which Lila actually does return. It makes a lot more sense if you already know that Gunther is the king, Parabel is the queen, and Alba is Parabel’s older sister. At least, I hope it makes sense… any thoughts?

(I’d also like distinguish the rooms acoustically, so that it’s more evident that the three tellings are happening at different times: Gunther’s narration would occur with the Palace ambiance, for example, whereas Alba would be telling young Willemina her version at the House of Healing.)


GUNTHER.  Once upon a time there was a king.

ALBA.  Once upon a time there was a witch.

GUNTHER.  The king fell afoul of an evil witch.

WILLEMINA.  That’s not the way Auntie Alba tells it.

GUNTHER.  Well, your Auntie Alba must have heard a different story.

ALBA.  The king planned to chop down all the trees near where the witch lived.

GUNTHER.  The evil witch put a curse on the king.

ALBA.  The witch turned his son the prince into a goat.

SOUND: Goat bleat

ALBA.  She did a good job, too.

GUNTHER.  The King sent out a proclamation far and wide, seeking anyone who could break the spell and turn the prince into his proper, handsome young self.

ALBA.  And, he said, if it should be a maiden of marriageable age who performed the deed, she would have the Prince’s hand in marriage.

PARABEL.  Once upon a time there were three sisters.

GUNTHER.  They heard the King’s proclamation and hastened to help.

ALBA.  The eldest was a brilliant and clever scholar. But the younger two were lazy and useless.

PARABEL.  The youngest was fair and sweet, but the older two were mean and horrible.

ALBA.  The three sisters arrived at the Palace at the same time, and walked in side by side.

GUNTHER.  The eldest sister stepped forward.


CROWD: Hushed, worried

SOUND: Goat bleat

ALBA.  (in scene)  Your Majesties, my name is Alba Salix. I bring a potion concocted using the fabled Karazamis Method, which dispels any curse of metamorphosis.

SOUND: Goat bleat


PARABEL.  But nothing happened.

ALBA.  (narrating)  The potion began to work its magic, but before it had time to take effect…

GUNTHER.  The middle sister stepped forward.

LILA.  (in scene)  Your Majesties! My name is Lila Salix. I come bearing a tailfeather of the Wanthrop of the Woeful Wood, which is said to cure all transformations.


LILA.  ** magic words, rhyming

CROWD: Hushed silence

SOUND: Goat bleat

GUNTHER.  But nothing happened. And so came the youngest sister’s turn.

PARABEL.  (in scene)  Your Majesties, my name is Parabel Salix. I bring only one thing – a kiss from one who loves Prince Gunther truly and with all her heart. Your Highness, if I may…

SOUND: Goat bleat


SOUND: Sweeping, happy magic effect

CROWD: All gasp

GUNTHER.  (in scene)  Why, hello there.

PARABEL.  (narrating)  And at that very moment, the prince became himself again.

ALBA.  (narrating, similarly)  By that time, the potion had taken hold, and the prince became himself again.

WILLEMINA.  That’s not the way Mummy tells it.

ALBA.  Well, your Mummy has her own version of events.

WILLEMINA.  She says it was the kiss that made him better.

ALBA.  Do you know what a logical fallacy is?

And the rewrite. Could perhaps use a joke in here somewhere, but a much better intro to the series.


PARABEL.  Good morning, Millie.

MILLIE.  Good morning to you, Your Majesty. Tea?

PARABEL.  Yes, please.

MILLIE.  Beautiful day out today. The girls are just off to their tutor.

PARABEL.  And where’s Gunther?

MILLIE.  His Majesty’s still in bed, I think.

SOUND: Wooden door opens

SOUND: Soft hissing

GUNTHER.  (emerging, sleepy)  No, not in bed. I’m awake.  (yawns)  Or almost awake. I swear, it must be something in that tonic Alba gave me for my…

SOUND: Tea service crashes to the floor

MILLIE.  (horrified)  Oh, my word! Your Majesty!

PARABEL.  Millie… oh, do take better care. Look what you’ve –  (screams)  Gunther!

GUNTHER.  What? Parabel, what’s the matter?

PARABEL.  Your hair! Gunther!

GUNTHER.  What about my hair?

PARABEL.  You’ve got a head full of snakes! Look in the mirror.

SOUND: Snakelike hisses grows louder and louder

GUNTHER.  Oh, for heaven’s sake. Get Alba in here!

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