Getting a feel for the tactile experience

That's not ink. It's writer's blood (or at least it sure feels that way).
That’s not ink. It’s writer’s blood (or at least it sure feels that way).

The early drafts of my western spec all clocked in at 132 pages. “Way too long!” I was told.

Tips and suggestions on how to tighten things up were provided and implemented. 126 pages. “Still too long! Cut more!” they demanded.

Sleeves were rolled up. Knuckles were cracked. The pounding of computer keys continued. 122. “Keep going!” was the response.

I slaved, toiled and labored until I couldn’t take it any more. 117. “Almost there!”

Feeling rather drained, I took the most effective step of all: I printed out those 117 pages, armed myself with the almighty red pen and got to work.

For some inexplicable reason, when I edit a script on paper, it’s much more effective than working with a digital copy. Lines of text I’d always ignored would suddenly pop as something to cut, modify or move around.

I’ll scribble out an alternative line of dialogue. Try out an impromptu reorganizing of the scene. Cross something out, then change my mind and write ‘keep’ over it. Use my finger to literally block out a line to figure out if the scene still works without it.

Just the other day I cut out half the dialogue in a scene with no significant impact. Would I have been able to do that if I wasn’t working with actual pages? Hard to say, but I’m inclined to believe “probably not.”

As I worked my way through the script, I found more and more opportunities to cut or edit. Of these 117 pages, there’s at least one red mark on just about every page, which includes the plentiful use of red lines through words and/or sentences, and lots of circles and arrows (as in “move THIS to HERE”).

Exhausting as it was, the red pen portion of the process is now complete.

Unfortunately, I won’t be able to digitally apply these edits for a couple of days. The US is currently in the middle of a big holiday weekend, which means extra work shifts for me. Love the holiday overtime, but it’s also less writing time.

I’m not concerned. It’ll happen soon, and I’m looking forward to seeing what the new page total will end up being, as well as the subsequent responses.

It goes without saying that “Yes!” would be ideal.

One thought on “Getting a feel for the tactile experience

  1. I have similar difficulties just reading screenplays, other than my own, off of the monitor. I can read short bursts; ten pages or so; but not an entire screenplay. I always print out these in full, which accounts for the hundreds of dollars spent each year in ink and paper.

    One technique which I employ- and teach others to do the same- involves simple math. If you use Final Draft, you can print out a report that tells you the amount of words, then divide this by the number of pages. You’ll get an average per page word count. If you target 150-180 words per page, you’re well on the right track for writing lean and mean, a characteristic often overlooked in a “spec script”, but is often described as simply “more white than black”. This method will assure you of more white than black.

    When I read other writer’s script, and they are not in FD (ofr only a PDF of the script), I copy and paste pages 1-10, 40-49, and 90-99 into word, and conduct a total word count there. This way I have a cross section of word count; writers tend to write more heavily in the beginning.

    Nowadays, I can write an entire screenplay, do the word count, and it always ends up between that 150-180 mark, simply because I’ve trained myself to write leaner. The one I completed last week averaged 179.

    These days, 120 page count is definitely on the high side. In an effort to turnover more seats in a given day at the theater, the page count has reduced to a more acceptable 90-110 pages, with horrors coming in at even less. Page count IS important, and it’s nice to see that you are cognizant about it and do your very best to reduce it whenever, and wherever possible.

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