One of the questions I keep hearing about Tremontaine is “but how does the writing process work?” to which the short answer is “Well, first we were all locked in a room together for three days.”Serial Box serials start with a writer’s retreat, where the team gets together and figures out who the characters are, what the story is about, and who is going to write what. For Tremontaine, this was complicated by the fact that we were playing in an existing sandbox, and, like any good creator, Ellen wanted to give us free rein while also maintaining control and consistency over a world readers have known for decades.So we went into the retreat, held in Ellen and Delia’s New York apartment, with Ellen’s draft of the pilot and some verbal sketches of our new characters, including Micah and Kaab (whose name was originally Chalchi). Other possible characters – including a swordsman – vanished as Rafe took shape and we realized who we could use that readers were already familiar with. Most of this happened on our first day.
Which meant we came back into day two needing to figure out what on earth the first season of Tremontaine would be about, while also making sure each of main characters had personal objectives beyond just supporting the narratives of other people.Overall, the Tremontaine writers are a loud, aggressive group. We shout when we get excited, flap our hands when we get really excited, and aren’t fantastic about letting each other finish our sentences. And while that can be frustrating for everyone at times, it’s also a positive, because it means we’re all putting the story and our potential vision for it, ahead of pretty much anything else.Deciding what Tremontaine would truly be about got intense. Sometimes we worried our idea were too complicated, odd, or complex. And every time we hit one of those doubts, we all looked at each other and doubled down. This was a room that loved anti-heroes.After surviving day two and figured out what Tremontaine was about (and because it’s a mystery, I still can’t tell you), we had to decide what part of the story would happen in each episode. This involved a lot of notecards on corkboards and borrowing the Friends episode naming convention of “The one with….”Who would write what was a process defined by of how many episodes people were contracted for, what we thought would be easier for our guest author Paul Witcover to step in on (as he wasn’t a part of this room), and what people’s particular strengths and interests were. Some episodes everyone wanted. Some episodes no one wanted. And much later, after all the episodes were written, many of us found our experiences with them were different than we anticipated. Writing, of course, is always like that. There’s fun, serendipity, and really hard work lurking in all sorts of places.Most of all though, in a process like this there is knitting. Each episode has to not just lead into the next, but each episode has to successfully seed small details needed later in the plot. So while each story is absolutely that of its lead author(s), we all went to each other for help on things. What do Tess’s living arrangements look like? How should fighting styles differ between characters? What is the physical and political geography of Kaab’s homeland? Are household servant roles modeled on the 19th century or the 17th century or something else entirely?During the weeks and months of Tremontaine we read each other’s drafts, offered feedback, reminded people of items we needed set up for our own episodes, and consulted experts on a wide range of topics including math and cards. We also enlisted outside readers in places, including regarding Micah’s experience of the world. Many of us had written ASD characters (or characters our world would perceive as ASD) before Tremontaine, but we wanted fresh eyes, especially because of Micah’s affection for numbers.But before any of that could happen we had to, on the last day of the retreat, name the series. I’ll share some of those discarded names after this season concludes, as at least one of them is a spoiler, but the discussion went on for hours. And hours. By then, half of us were lying on Ellen and Delia’s floor eating bagels and moaning in pain. Would the retreat ever end? Would our serial ever have a name?Eventually, Ellen asked, “If it’s about the duchess, why can’t we just call it Tremontaine?”We decided the duchess would be very pleased with that turn of events indeed.