Embryonic TANKBORN (How a Script Became a Book, Part 1)

- by Karen Sandler

I think the question authors are asked most often is “Where do you get your ideas?” Unless I’m being flip (“Mail order. Three for a buck for the hackneyed ones, a couple hundred for a really stellar concept), I find it a hard question to answer. That’s because a novel is so complex, with so many moving parts. Ideas were required for many, many aspects of my YA science fiction novel, Tankborn. The characters, the plot twists, the setting, all the various details of world building.

But if I back away from the details (which is hard for me to do) and answer the question more broadly, I have a very quick answer to where I got the idea for Tankborn. Tankborn came from Icer. In a way, Icer was the book embryo that became Tankborn.

So, what, you ask, was Icer? Those of you who have read some of my interviews might know that I used to write screenplays (movie scripts). Icer was the first screenplay I ever wrote. When I lived in L.A., I used to take writing classes through UCLA Extension (UCLA was also my alma mater, where I got my MS in computer science).

One of the classes I took was a screenwriting class, sometime in the early 1980s. I took notes in a steno notebook, which included the scribbled notation at left which is the very first time the concept of a “tankborn” was committed to paper. I didn’t call these still-to-be-created beings tankborns yet, but that scribbled note was the genesis of the idea.

If you enlarge the image, you’ll see that I originally named the character Jeffry Rose and her age was 28. Jeffry Rose was a futuristic inter-planetary investigator I featured in a couple of SF stories back in the late 70s, early 80s. As I developed Icer, Jeffry Rose became Kayla Hand (the surname because of the strength in Kayla’s hands). Then that surname was dropped in later producer meetings.

The instructor of the screenwriting class liked my story concept so much that after the class ended, he coached me through a “beat outline” or “beat sheet” to help me finish the script. As an example, to the left is a sample beat sheet (click for a larger image) for part of a Star Trek: TNG (“The Children”) that I also wrote back in that era (more details on that below). I probably completed the original Icer screenplay in the early to mid-1980s. Here’s how I described the gestation tanks in the opening of a very early version of Icer. I’m leaving out the dialogue that’s intercut in this description:

The cells finally begin to resolve into a fetus, almost too small to be recognized as human. A larger fetus, and we see it’s floating not in the womb, but in an alien green fluid. The fetus spins slowly, until we see its face. The eyes open wide. They’re colorless, the iris solid white.

We see another fetus, turning slowly beside the first, its eyes colorless as well. A third fetus with wide, staring white eyes. We pull back to see another fetus, then another, all immersed in the green fluid of a gen-tank.

Note that the white eyes was how the genetically engineered slaves were identified in early script versions. Later a producer pointed out that white eyes would make it difficult for actors to convey emotions, so the identifying white eyes became a tattoo of a DNA strand of the characters’ cheek.

Icer went through innumerable re-writes over the years as it was optioned by a couple of different production companies. That process was pretty interesting, but I think I’ll leave that story for another post.

During the time I was writing Icer, I also played around with television scriptwriting. The usual way of things is to write a sample script for a current, very popular TV show (in my case, it was Murder, She Wrote, which was very big back then). The idea was not to sell that particular script but to use it as your calling card to get work.

But Star Trek: The Next Generation was different. For ST:TNG, anyone could submit over the transom. I ended up writing two for the Next Gen series.  For the first of the two ST scripts I wrote, “The Children,” I plagiarized myself, borrowing the “tankborn” concept. ST scripts had five acts that were preceded by a teaser. In the teaser of “The Children,” the crew transports down to a planet to respond to a distress call and discovers something strange in a lab. Here’s how part of it reads:

As Riker still stares, the shot WIDENS to include Tasha and Beverly, with similar expressions. Then we see what fascinates and appalls them, the source of the green glow: Five tanks, filled with an eerie green liquid. And inside each tank, suspended like a fetus in an amniotic sea, is a child, each one identified by a nameplate on the tank.

The Trekkers out there can tell from the crew names what era of ST:TNG this episode might have fit into. An agent submitted the script for me, but sadly, they passed, saying they were working on an episode that was too similar. They encouraged me to re-submit, but by the time I wrote a second script, the original producer had departed the show, and the new one didn’t like my work.

More later on Icer.

Comments are closed.