Writing in your own voice

Marilyn script
“Hmm. Billy’s new script. Men dressing up as women to hide from gangsters? Sounds funny.”

When I’ve done script notes for writing colleagues, no matter what the genre is, I can usually tell who wrote it – because of the way it reads. Each writer has their own particular style, so each of their scripts has its own corresponding “sound”. Or I’ll get notes back on my material which often includes a comment along the lines of “this sounds like something you’d write”.

This isn’t just about dialogue. It’s about a writer’s overall style, or how they tell the story of their script. You don’t just want the reader to read your story; you want them to experience it. Which can be accomplished by adding that extra layer.

Everybody develops their own individual style, and it takes time to find it. The more you write, the more you’ll be able to hone your writing to reflect your own individuality.

Just a few things to think about:

-How does your script read? Is the writing crisp and efficient, or are you wasting valuable page real estate with too many lines of  your loquacious verbosity? Taking it one step further, do you use the same words over and over, or do you relish any opportunity to give your thesaurus a solid workout?

-How is your story set up and how does it play out? Is it simple and straightforward, or complex and full of deliciously tantalizing twists and turns? Are you working that creativeness to show us things we haven’t seen before, or is just page after page of the same ol’, same ol’?

-Is it a story somebody besides you would want to see? Just because you find the subject matter interesting doesn’t mean it has universal appeal. However, there is the counter-argument to that in which you could attempt to have your story include elements that would satisfy fans of the genre while also appealing to newcomers.

-Can’t ignore the population within the pages. Are your characters well-developed and complex, or do they come up lacking? Do we care about them, or what happens to them? Can we relate to them?

-What are your characters saying, or not saying (subtext!)? How are they saying it? Do they sound interesting or dull as dishwater? Very important – do they sound like actual people, or like “characters in a movie”?

Remember – the script is a reflection of you. A solid piece of writing shows you know what you’re doing. Offering up something sloppy is simply just sabotaging yourself.

Who hasn’t heard a variation on the line about a script being a cheap knockoff of a more established writer? While I can understand admiring a pro writer’s style, why would you attempt to copy it? It probably took them a long time to find their own voice, and by trying to write like they do, you’re denying yourself the opportunity to do the same thing for yourself.

Or to put it another way: they didn’t take any shortcuts to become the writer they are today, so why should you?

A route most circuitous

twisty road
Hang on! This’ll be a bit of a wild ride.

Most of my attention this week has been on one of my new projects. I’ll admit to originally thinking it would be a little easier to put together, which is most definitely has not.

I started out with the core concept and then proceeded to work on building the story around it. Since that initial effort, it’s probably safe to say I’ve gone through at least half a dozen variations on it. It was a constant state of flux, accompanied by me always thinking “Am I ever going to come up with something I like?”

For a few days, that was the dominant thought. But I knew the concept was solid, so it was just a matter of time and continuous trying before I found the one that worked. A new idea would spark, I’d ruminate over it a little, and if I thought it worked, would keep going. Suffice to say, there were a lot of starts and stops.

Again, I had faith in the concept. The right way to tell the story was out there, but my creativeness still hadn’t connected to it.

The story is in a specific genre, so there were several factors to keep in mind: how this world works, what’s expected, what could be twisted around and given a unique spin while still adhering to the “rules”, and most especially, any original ideas I could add in that reinforced the concept of the story.

As I racked my brain, more and more possibilities for each of those popped up. I doubted I could remember all of them, so I created a second document for the sole purpose of being an idea reference guide. That’s proven to be very helpful.

To also increase the chances this script could actually be produced, I’m putting it together with the plan of keeping things on the cheap: minimal locations, low number of characters, etc. A few of the original ideas threw some of those out the window, so they’d be cut and replaced with something a bit more on the practical side. Again, quite helpful.

As you’ve probably surmised, there was a lot going on both in my head and on the page. But as I continued push forward, with all the writing, cutting, and tweaking, it slowly started to come together.

I like how this new idea builds on that one from a few days ago, but with a great new twist, or modifying this scene in a new specific way does exactly what its previous incarnation did, but now in a more effective way. There’s been a lot of that.

It’s still a work in progress, but despite the delays, the whole thing’s slowly coming together. The plot points and the scenes between them are being filled in a way that works for me and the story.

There will definitely be a lot more work to do on it before I think it’s ready to transfer to script pages, but what was originally a big, jumbled and incoherent mess of ideas is gradually being organized into a well-structured, smartly-put-together (in theory), fun, and entertaining story.

Pushing my way forward (x2)

push
Really putting my back into this

This has been a most interesting week. Based on some quality notes, I wrapped up a polish of the dramedy spec (which is now in the process of getting notes). Feedback so far has been encouraging, which is nice.

So now the focus can shift back to developing the two new stories. With most of my recently-completed projects having been worked on for extended periods of time, it’s been a while since I was really starting out from the very beginning.

I’d totally forgotten how much I enjoyed the process of putting a story together. I know what the core concept for each one is, and now it’s all about finding the best and most entertaining way to tell them.

At times it feels like my mind is going in a thousand directions at once, so I’m constantly writing stuff down. A scene or sequence idea here, a line of dialogue there, plot twists, character development, turning the scene on its head; pretty much the whole kit and kaboodle.

Main storylines have been established, with the expected constant fine-tuning and adjusting, and as I work my way forward, the subplots are making themselves known.

Entirely new worlds (or maybe “settings” might be appropriate, since each story is on the smaller side) are being created, populated with unique and hopefully somewhat original characters.

While one of the stories is based on an old script, there’s a constant discarding of a lot of the original content and trying new approaches. Not necessarily “throw it all at the wall and see what sticks”, but kinda/sorta along those lines.

For the other, this is dipping my toes into a genre I enjoy, but wouldn’t call myself a major fan, so doing what I can to avoid tropes and cliches (of which there are apparently many). If that proves more challenging than anticipated, will do what I can to least go for the unexpected.

Added bonus – watching movies of that genre and style to get a better feel for both.

Sometimes I’ll read a writer’s account about what a chore it is for them to develop a story, or how much they loathe this part of the process. I don’t see it that way. Organizing the story and putting it all together is a key part of screenwriting. Too many times when reading a spec, you can tell when the writer didn’t put in the effort to get all the details of the story right before they started on pages.

I recently asked my online screenwriting newwork their thoughts on outlining versus a “seat of your pants” approach. The responses were overwhelmingly in favor of outlining. Granted, there are some writers who prefer the latter, but I’m not one of them. I’m a firm believer in having a rock-solid outline before starting to write the actual script.

But that’s what works for me. Others may feel differently regarding their own process. No matter how you achieve the end result, as long as you’re happy with it, then more power to you.

The whole creative process in developing a story is a beast unto itself, but I think all the long-term work I’ve done for other scripts is really paying off for these two. For now, it’s still a big and unwieldy mess, occasionally feeling very unorganized and all-over-the-place, but a little bit of work every day will gradually pay off. When all is said and done, I’ll have two new scripts.

Like I said – I’m enjoying it.

Pause. Refresh.

vintage date
We’ll get back to working on the script as soon as we’re done. Promise.

After having taken a longer-than-expected break from working on the comedy spec, I’m back at it now.

There were the occasional glimpses and minor touch-ups here and there, but I’d estimate it’s been at least several weeks, if not a little more than a month since I was really able to fully focus on it.

During that time (while working on another script), I kept thinking “what if I can’t think of anything new for this?” I also made a point of not looking at the previous draft of the outline; I didn’t want to unintentionally influence the new one.

But the moment of truth had arrived. The other script was done, or at least as much as it was going to be for the time being, and there was no more delaying the inevitable. I had to confront this monster head-on.

Having avoided looking at the previous draft for a while, some of the details were still there, albeit a little fuzzy. Somehow this enabled me to not automatically revert to thinking they were my only option. Instead, I took those details with the thought of “this is what could happen, but what would be a new and really different way of doing it?”

Applying that thought process, along with not feeling tied down to what it was before has really allowed me to come up with some entirely new ideas and approaches, many of which I would have never even contemplated before. Like chunks of an iceberg, elements of the previous draft are breaking off and drifting away, never to be seen again.

The core concept of the story remains intact, but more and more of how that story takes place are experiencing major changes. As of this writing, it’s somewhere past the halfway mark. As is usually the case for me, some elements that still need work, but a new and pretty solid and foundation is being laid.

Would I have been able to come up with any of this if I had dove right back in after finishing the previous draft? Highly doubtful. The material was still fresh in my mind, so it would have been significantly less likely for me to be able to not automatically go to it.

Taking this break, along with focusing on another project, especially one entirely different in genre, provided me with the opportunity to jump back into this one with a strong sense of revived creativeness. Even though it was still a bit on the daunting side, I came into it with a “You got this” attitude.

It also helped that I wasn’t being so hard on myself for not having every line be pure gold the first time out. This is still a work in progress, so everything remains in an ongoing state of flux.

For now, it’s coming along nicely, and forward progress is holding steady. As much as I would love for that to continue all the way to the end, I’m also a realist, so enjoying every productive day as they come.

I’d always heard the recommendation that after you finish a script, you should put it away, or at least not look at it for at least two weeks. That’s not a bad start, but I’d say a month might be better. That way you can give yourself the choice of going back and looking at what you’ve already done (which can be quite eye-opening in both good and not-so-good ways), or starting anew.

Now that I’ve done both, I can honestly say that both have proven equally effective in their respective ways, and I strongly suspect I’ll continue to go back and forth for future drafts of this as well as future scripts.

Setting out in a new direction

hikers
Aha! Just the path we’ve been seeking!

As part of the overhaul of the comedy spec outline, I’ve been trying to come up with ways to make this draft significantly different from previous ones.

I’d managed to work my way through one of the subplots, and was now focusing on another one. But something felt very…off about it. It felt too preditable, in a tropey, tired cliche kind of way.

So of course, it had to be changed. But to what? That required a little more thought.

I tinkered around with a few ideas. Since this IS a comedy, what would be funny? That inspired some new trains of thought, with ongoing emphasis on “different”, “unique” and “original”. Finally, totally out of left field, one popped and stuck.

Boy, did it.

The more I thought about it and considered the possibilities, along with determining if it fit into the subplot and the overall storyline, the more it seemed to work. I honestly couldn’t recall seeing this idea in a script before.

Okay. This new idea creates a new objective for the storyline, so now it’s all about the “how things develop/how we get there”, PLUS figuring out how to present it in a way that’s original, unique, and funny.

Some more tinkering occurred, and it was all slowly coming together. There’s still some more work to do on this part and the rest of the script, and that’s totally cool.

The finished product will be significantly different from what it was before, and that’s really what this overhaul is all about.

Sometimes it can be tough for me to discard ideas and elements from previous drafts, but have found that totally wiping the slate clean and starting anew, or at least really pushing myself to come up with new ideas, is paying off much, much more than anticipated.

-Can’t let today go without acknowledging the ongoing and unwavering support I’ve received from the woman I’ve been extremely fortunate to be married to for the past 23 years as of this Sunday.

Writers – never, ever underestimate the importance of a partner who’s there for you through good times and bad. They are one of, if not your most valuable resource, and make sure they know how much you appreciate them.

Happy anniversary to my wonderful K. Love ya, baby.