Episode 3×17 brought on lots of dramatic moments and unexpected twists – from the events at the Gard, to the flashbacks to Edom, to the proposal that never was. For this week’s edition of our Shadowhunters Debriefs (a collaboration between SDN and Basic Shadowhunters Stuff) we talked to the woman who wrote the episode: Celeste Vasquez, writer on the Shadowhunters season 3 writers room and responsible for penning episodes 3×07 and 3×17. In the following interview she opens up about the script writing process, her favorite scenes to write and how Magnus and Alec felt about those emotional moments at the end of the episode.
When did you know that you wanted to be a writer? And what made you initially want to be part of Shadowhunters?
Celeste: I always wrote stories and poems as a kid, but I didn’t really pursue writing until I was in grad school. I was on a track to become an executive, but decided to give writing a try because I love doing it. It’s worked out so far!
I have to confess – I didn’t really know much about Shadowhunters before I met Todd and Darren. Seeing their passion and their love for the books and the characters made me excited to check it out. Once I did, I saw there were so many wonderful emotional stories to be told in the context of a crazy/cool world!
What is the process of writing a TV show script like?
Celeste: It’s very collaborative. The script starts in the writers’ room where a group of writers discuss and debate what the plot and emotional stories of the episode will be. Once we land on a general idea, we get more detailed and figure out the stories for each individual character. After we decide on the characters’ stories, we start talking about each individual scene and how they can best tell that story. Then, the writer will go off and write the outline. Once that’s approved by the network (and anyone else who needs to approve it), the writer will finally go off and write the script. I like to write a draft as quickly as possible so I can see if there are any plot holes or if something isn’t working. Then, I start re-writing. We rewrite a lot! Other writers take their time making sure every scene is perfect before moving on to the next one. There’s no right way to do it.
Which type of scenes are your favorite ones to write in general?
Celeste: Emotional scenes are my favorite to write. But fight scenes are the easiest thing for me to write. They’re fun!
Which part of the writing process is your favorite?
Celeste: Sitting in my office alone with my computer and writing. Or being on set.
What kind of stories and experiences are you inspired by?
Celeste: I get inspired by watching other TV shows, reading books, and articles. My family is also full of complicated and interesting people so there’s always a story to tell. I also take every opportunity I can to travel. Even if I can’t understand the language people are speaking, it’s inspiring to observe people who are different from me, in a place that’s different from what I know.
Is there a particular story you would have loved to tell, or scene you would have wanted to write, if the show had continued?
Celeste: Yes, but I don’t want to spoil what’s to come in 3B by revealing what it is. 🙂
Which is your favorite episode (or just favorite moment) from each season (up until the 3A finale)?
Celeste: Anything with Lilith.
Did you have a favorite character whose scenes you enjoyed working on the most?
Celeste: Maia. And Magnus, too.
Was there a character that challenged you more than others?
Celeste: Simon is fun, but challenging to write. You have to find the perfect balance of humor and honest emotion.
Was there any scene that you remember being particularly difficult on Shadowhunters? If so, why?
Celeste: The flashbacks with Maia and Jordan in 3×07 were difficult because we wanted to show how much they loved each other and how hurtful it was when he turned her. It was messy and complicated and we spent a lot of time talking about how we would do it. We didn’t want to make Jordan a total villain even though he did a horrible thing.
What was your favorite thing about being part of the Shadowhunters’ writers’ room?
Celeste: The people I got to work with. James the dog. Free pretzels.
What do you think was your most important contribution to the Shadowhunters’ writers’ room?
Celeste: I feel like I brought a lot of heart and emotion to the table while other writers were better at the genre stuff.
Is there anything you have pitched that made it into the show that you’re really pleased about?
Celeste: A lot of things! But one of my most notable contributions was pitching that our heroes use Cain to get rid of Lilith in 3×16.
Shadowhunters comes with its own, quite extensive vocabulary. Was it difficult for you to learn the Shadow World lingo and were there any terms that were particularly hard to memorize?
Celeste: I have a terrible memory! All of the cups and the swords and the blades. And I think iratze is the only rune I know by name.
What was the most important thing you gained from your experience working on Shadowhunters? What are you most proud of?
Celeste: It was my first official writing job and I learned so many valuable lessons from Todd and Darren about writing and story. I love 3×07 dearly and I’m really proud of it.
What is your favorite memory from working on Shadowhunters?
Celeste: There are too many! Every single day eating pretzels with the other writers was a delight. Being on set with [directors] Josh Butler and Shannon Kohli, working late into the night was so much fun.
If you could have sent the characters from the show into another TV/cinematic world, which one would you have liked to send them to?
Celeste: I’d like to see how they’d survive in Jumanji.
Favorite flavor of La Croix?
Celeste: Melon Grapefruit forever.
How was episode 3×17 ‘Heavenly Fire’ initially plotted out, and was there anything major that ended up changing from the initial concept to what we saw on our screens?
Celeste: This episode was tricky. We had a lot of emotional storylines to service while also wrapping up the Heavenly Fire conspiracy. Initially, we wanted the conspiracy to be wrapped up over the course of two episodes, but there were some stories we needed to get to that required our heroes to have the Heavenly Fire so it ended up being one. But, for the most part, we knew we wanted Isabelle to be awesome and get to the bottom of things at this secret facility. We knew from the start of the season that we wanted to ‘cure’ someone. We went back and forth about who it should be, but we thought it’d be emotionally satisfying for it to be Raphael.
What was your favorite moment from the episode and why?
Celeste: There are a lot of moments I love, but there was something special about Raphael becoming human. It makes me emotional every time because it’s something he’s always wanted. And the entire Jonathan/Lilith flashback story really makes you feel for Jonathan. No matter how evil he is, you can’t deny that he’s broken. Also, meeting Helen Blackthorn and revealing that she’s half Seelie was a really fun nod to the books.
What was the most difficult part of the episode for you to write?
Celeste: All of the facility scenes were difficult to write because we didn’t have a specific space picked out until much later in the process. We didn’t know what it was going to look or feel like so we had to invent it and then adjust once we found a space that worked. That, and there was so much information that needed to be explained about the facility, what was happening there, and who was behind all of it. It was difficult to make all of that fun and interesting. Hopefully we succeeded.
Can you talk a little bit about that scene in the end where Magnus is drunk and has a breakdown? How did you approach writing Magnus in this emotional state? And what was going through Alec’s head?
Celeste: Much like the Downworlders who were being stripped of their powers with Heavenly Fire, Magnus lost a part of himself when he lost his powers. He discovers the gray hair and it reminds him of all his inadequacies and his potential mortality. Simply put, he’s depressed and the only way he knows how to deal with it is by drinking. This scene is about him finally admitting that to himself, and to Alec. It’s not an easy thing to do when you’re used to making everything better with magic. Obviously, Alec was very disappointed when the proposal didn’t go his way, but he sees that his boyfriend is suffering and he wants to do anything in his power to help him.
Were there any changes on the day of filming this scene? Or anything you can share about the filming?
Celeste: The filming of this scene was really emotional. Harry and Matt really brought their A game and Shannon Kohli directed them brilliantly. We played around with Magnus’ level of drunkenness to make sure it wasn’t too broad or comical. We tweaked some lines here and there on the day to create a better flow. Otherwise, it was pretty much as scripted.
There were a lot of plots to juggle this episode, from the infiltration of Aldertree’s secret program, to revealing some painful backstory about Jonathan, to Alec planning his proposal to Magnus. Why did you guys decide to have the proposal storyline as an undercurrent?
Celeste: Shadowhunters are always dealing with life and death situations. We felt like it was a fairly normal thing for Alec to plan this proposal while also doing his job as Head of the Institute. Especially because Jonathan was securely in their custody. After what happened in 3×16 [with Magnus almost dying], Alec didn’t want to lose Magnus again and didn’t want to let another day go by without telling Magnus how he really feels. Alec’s love for Magnus is urgent.
Anything else you want to add that we haven’t included in the other questions?
Celeste: I love the passion that the fans have for this show and I’m really grateful for it.
We hope you enjoyed this interview! Big thanks go out to Celeste Vasquez for taking the time to talk to us. If you’d like to catch up on our previous Shadowhunters Debriefs, check out our website or Basic Shadowhunters Stuff!
Shadowhunters airs on Freeform on Mondays at 8PM EST and is available the following day to stream on Hulu and Netflix International.