Last week, work on the comedy outline wrapped up a bit earlier than expected, so while I wait for the notes on that, I’ve decided to venture back into some territory I’d considered over and done with.
Although it’s done alright in some contests (and I suppose top 15 percent in the Nicholl isn’t too shabby), I really think it can be better. Plus, more than a few opinions and comments from totally non-biased outside parties confirm this.
As one set of notes so succinctly put it, “Don’t get me wrong. The story’s a lot of fun and the structure is solid. It’s the characters that could use more development. Nothing too drastic, but just enough to flesh them out a little more.”
Makes sense to me.
On top of that, a recent conversation with another writer, who is starting on their new western script, included mention of how I should read the script for UNFORGIVEN – even though that and my script are worlds apart.
I downloaded it and started reading it. Just a few pages in, and it absolutely confirms I need to step up my game. There’s no reason I shouldn’t strive to present that kind of quality, even in a script that would most likely be labeled a “popcorn-tentpole” kind of story.
Luckily for me, I’ve always enjoyed working on this story and am actually kind of psyched about jumping back into it. I thought it was pretty good before, and now hope to make it even better.
A few more sets of script notes have come in. Comments in general are favorable (Thanks, everybody!), along with lots of suggestions about potential fixes. Nothing too drastic, but just enough to slightly alter things and still achieve the same results. Nevertheless, it’ll require a fair amount of rewriting.
Which is totally fine by me.
As much as I like what I’ve written, as do a lot of my readers, both sides know it can always be improved – especially my side. As the writer, it’s not as easy for me to recognize what those improvements could be and where they should go, which is why I ask for feedback. The readers start with only what’s on the page and use their knowledge and experience to deduce what works and what doesn’t, and then pass it all back to me for analysis and selective implementation.
A less experienced writer might be hesitant or even reluctant to do anything drastic that could change anything about their script.
Me, not so much. I know what the story is, and if somebody points out something that doesn’t work or suggests a different way to present it, I’m not going to say no. In fact, I’d probably be grateful for it. I might not always agree with what somebody says or suggests, but I still appreciate it and can totally see why they said it. Sometimes it might even inspire a totally new approach. Whatever works.
Used to be I would dread having to rewrite, but due to an effort of trying to write on as regular a basis as I can, which also involves rewriting, I’ve gotten to the point where I now actually look forward to it. (Helpful tip – the more you write, the easier it gets – albeit to a certain degree. Overall, it’s still tough.)
Will later drafts of my scripts be exactly the same as the first? Of course not. That’s the whole point of rewriting: to make it better than it was before. And that requires making whatever changes are necessary.
I recently got to sit in on a friend’s script review group where a new writer received some pretty brutal notes about their script (which I believe was also the first draft). If they wanted it to be better, they had a lot of work to do. They had this somewhat annoyed look and said “Guess that means I’ll have to rewrite most of the script.”
Well, yeah. This is no “one-and-done” kind of operation.
If you think the first or second draft of your script is perfect as is and doesn’t need any more work, then good for you, but I sincerely hope you never, ever show it to a writer with more experience because you will be severely disappointed with what they have to say.
As for me, I’ll be keeping busy with the usual hacking, slashing, and overall rehashing of my scripts. And enjoying every second of it.
-If you’re a fan of sci-fi adventure, then please consider contributing to writer/producer Marc Zicree’s crowdfunding project Space Command: Redemption. Among the cast of sci-fi luminaries are Doug Jones (HELLBOY), Robert Picardo (STAR TREK: VOYAGER), Bruce Boxleitner (TRON, BABYLON 5) and Bill Mumy (LOST IN SPACE), Space Command: Redemption is “a bold, new sci-fi adventure with a retro feel and an optimistic view of the future.” Donate if you can!
Amidst all the hubbub currently surrounding my ongoing rewriting efforts, I’ve been extremely fortunate to have received some high-quality feedback on each of them.
(Incidentally, concurrently working on three scripts may be a good exercise in productivity, but it sure is an exhausting one.)
Among this trio of projects is a round of notes on the pulp sci-fi.
Some great stuff being provided by my legion of savvy readers, which includes a comment made by more than one person.
But first, a little background…
As I mentioned, I refer to this script as “pulp sci-fi”. To me, it’s reminiscent of old-timey adventure (Flash Gordon, Doc Savage, etc), which is the kind of story I enjoy reading. It’s also the filter through which I wrote it, and had a great time doing.
What’s been extremely interesting is how people interpret that phrase.
A few readers tended to share my same opinion/viewpoint, and felt the story and script reflected that. Others thought calling it a “pulp” story indicated it would be somewhat darker and grittier (which it really isn’t). And there’ve also been some who weren’t sure if what’s on the page was supposed to be taken at face value or if I was intentionally satirizing the genre.
Quite a wide variety of opinions and reactions, all of which are perfectly valid. But the responsibility falls squarely on my shoulders to provide the story with the tone I find the most applicable.
Don’t underestimate the importance of tone. This may not be the best explanation, but I see it as the story’s attitude; how it presents itself. The writing should reflect not only the components of the genre, but also the emotions the story seeks/needs to invoke in the reader.
So while I offered up what I considered to be a fun romp of a tale through the fantastic, maybe with tongue slightly pressed against cheek, that’s not what how others saw it.
Admittedly, I probably could have cleared up a lot of the confusion at the outset by adding something like “It’s pulpy sci-fi in the vein of MEN IN BLACK, HELLBOY, and THE ADVENTURES OF BUCKAROO BANZAI,” as opposed to leaving it open to interpretation. For all I know, someone saw “pulp sci-fi” and thought, “Oh, like BLADE RUNNER.” Which it most definitely is not.
Laying down that kind of foundation lets the reader know what to expect before they start, but then it’s up to the writer to consistently maintain that tone for the entirety of the script.
You want to be a working screenwriter more than anything. ANYTHING.
So much that you find yourself occasionally succumbing to lapses in good judgment and common sense, resulting in actions that might initially seem sound and sensible, but in retrospect, become more of a “what the hell was I thinking?”
You want to make a good impression, and overstepping the boundaries of courtesy is a surefire way to have that NOT happen. Sadly, too many aspiring writers tend to ignore that and just plow forward, not taking into consideration the fact that they’re most likely sabotaging their own career before it even gets started.
So presented with the best of intentions, let’s go over a few of the basics:
-This is all on you. You want to be a working writer? Then you need to do the work. All of it.
There are no shortcuts.
The writing, editing and polishing. Researching reps, producers and production companies on IMDB Pro. Networking. Making and maintaining connections. DO NOT approach a total stranger either online or in person and have the first thing you say be “Hi. Can you help me?”
–Be patient and courteous. Everybody’s got stuff going on in their lives, so they might not get to your script right away. Much as you want a fast turnaround, you’re not a priority to them. DO NOT be pushy and bombard them with constant “Did you read it yet?” emails. Send it, give it 4-6 weeks. If you haven’t heard anything by then, send a friendly reminder (“Hey. Just wondering if you’ve had a chance to read MY SCRIPT. Thanks.”)
-Once you do get the comments back, send a thank-you note. If you agree with what they say, or think it makes some good points, say so. If the comments are negative, or at least not what you want to hear, DO NOT respond by arguing why they’re wrong. “You just don’t understand my genius” is never a good idea. They’re doing you a favor and providing their honest opinion. Just say thanks.
Rememeber: there are a lot of other writers in the exact same situation as you, and each and every one of them is spending just as much time figuring out some kind of plan to help them reach that goal.
Use your head while being polite and considerate to help you make a better impression.
-I’ve written about some of these topics before. Feel free to give ’em a look-see.
With the holiday shopping season now fully underway, you might be stumped as to what get that special screenwriter in your life, or maybe you’re a screenwriter with a desire to treat yourself.
Worry no more! Here’s a list of some holiday deals being offered by some well-known and exceptionally talented script consultants, along with a few books penned by some very savvy and creative scribes.
Keep in mind that a lot of these deals are time-sensitive, with more than a few expiring on November 30th, so act fast!
Need help showing up to write? Feeling blocked? Lost your writing mojo? Join the Called to Write Coaching Circle, Jenna Avery’s signature online program designed to help writers write every day. Save $50 on your first 28-day writing session with coupon code MAXIMUMZ. Find more and register here: http://justdothewriting.com. Next session starts on December 3rd, last day to register is November 30th.
–ScriptArsenal. 20% off Regular coverage, Comments-only coverage and Studio Notes – thru Thursday the 30th. Promo code “THANKS20”
-The fine folks at The Be Epic Experience are offering big discounts on all their services, starting at $100 off, through January 1st.
–Phil Clarke of Philmscribe. Use promo code BLACKNEWS via www.philmscribe.com/contact to get 20% off the Annotation, Analysis or A&A services for a 2018 consult through the end of November. Phil is based in the UK, so exchange rates and fees do apply.
–Steve Cleary. 30% off all screenwriting services. Make sure to mention this blog when contacting him.
–Barri Evans of Big Big Ideas. A special deal on her logline service just for readers of this blog. Using the code Maximum Z Pie in the subject line, send her an email that includes your script’s title, genre, and logline, and she’ll provide you with free feedback.
–Namita Kabilas of the NK Network. For a limited time only, join the Screenwriters Training Hub – your very own flexible online mobile screenwriting resource with access to regular monthly training videos, worksheets, expert tips, e-books, audiobooks, hosted webcasts on good writing AND one-to-one mentoring with Namita all for just $79 a month. Namita is based in the UK, so exchange rates and fees will apply.
–Jim Mercurio of A-List Screenwriting. Half-price on his 6-disc instructional DVD set and his Snapshot Evaluation script read service through November 30th. Plus, every order includes a complimentary copy of Jim’s Killer Endings DVD lecture.
-Phil Parker of Stories by Phil. 20% off script services, which includes a 30-minute Skype session. Phil is based in Australia, so exchange rates and fees will apply.
– Looking for a laugh? Half-Loaded by Don Holley. Don wrote the cult comedy National Lampoon’s Loaded Weapon 1, and this memoir chronicles his “wildly unlikely odyssey from obscurity to success and back again.”