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.
I’ve been writing screenplays for quite a number of years, but only in the past, say five to six have I shown some significant improvement.
More than a few readers who’ve read my last three scripts have commented that each one displays a step up in quality a compared to its predecessor. Which is very nice to hear.
Feeling pretty confident in my skills and material, I submitted some of them to a few of the high-profile contests (or at least the ones that really matter). The results were less than encouraging. Don’t get me wrong. Top 15 percent in the Nicholl is nice, but it’s still falling short of expectations.
You can have the most incredible script you’ve ever written, enter it in a contest, and chances are it might still go nowhere. Contests are just one way in.
But I digress.
I figured there was nothing more that could be done with the scripts, so I might as well file them away and move on, using them for occasional query letters.
While my scripts may not be similar to those that win contests (can you imagine me writing a coming-of-age story set in 70s Reno?), they’re still fun, entertaining reads, and my passion and enthusiasm for them continue to burn strong and bright.
Like with my writing skills, they’re good, but can still be better.
That’s why I’ve decided to do what I can to make that actually happen. I’ve already gotten several sets of notes on some of my scripts, and most mention the same issues, along with some potential fixes.
As always, I have the luxury of picking and choosing which suggestions to implement, and I sincerely hope the end result is a collection of scripts of decidedly higher quality.
It’s been quite an effort for me to get my writing to get to the level it is now, and spending a little more time on trying to make it better will be definitely worth the effort.
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.
It was quite an undertaking, involving lots of rewriting, editing and reorganizing, including plenty of self-imposed stress, but the latest draft of the pulp sci-fi is complete.
It could definitely benefit from a little more work – another draft or two would make it that much better, but it’s exactly the kind of fun thrill ride I set out to write, and I really like how it turned out. One of my guidelines has always been “Write something you would want to see.” Man oh man, would I want to see this. And based on some of the notes I received from my squadron of trusted colleagues, so would they. Such an encouraging thing to hear.
Quick side note – I absolutely could not have gotten this script to this point of development without those exceptionally helpful notes. Thanks, chums! Each and every one of you has once again proven yourselves invaluable!
Networking. Worth it like you wouldn’t believe.
So for now, I’ll be taking a little break to let that script simmer for a bit as my focus is redirected towards revamping the outline of the comedy spec. Thrilled to say that even that seems to be coming along nicely, including a most productive writing sprint that got me to the next plot point. Always a good thing.
As much as I hate setting up deadlines for myself, I’m really hoping to have a decent first draft done by the end of the year – at the very latest. If I can maintain a pace like I have over the past few days, no reason I wouldn’t be able to type FADE OUT by Thanksgiving.
A little self-serving project status update for today…
Work on the comedy spec has been put on hold so I can polish up the pulp sci-fi in order to make a fast-approaching contest deadline.
Luckily for me, I’ve been very fortunate to get some high-quality feedback on it from trusted colleagues, and a lot of what they’re saying has been proving most helpful.
Several readers had the same comments about several sections. If one person had said it, their suggestion might be worth considering. Since it was a bit more than one, action had to be taken.
Among the notes was that a few scenes were simply too clichéd and unoriginal, and that their tropey-ness, along with being kind of dull, was more or less counteracting the high-octane action of the rest of the script.
Changes had to be made.
The objective of the scenes and sequences in question was still the same, but the execution needed some major work.
I went through several options with a mindset of “What haven’t I seen before?”, and came up with one I thought adequately fit the bill. That triggered a few more ideas, which upon a little more figuring out, could actually be connected to other parts of the story.
A little more tweaking and suddenly it all clicked into place. By having A happen, that would result in B, which leads into C, which both reinforced an integral part of the overall story while further developing a character several readers had felt was somewhat lacking in substance.
It was quite an exhilarating sensation.
There’s still more work to do for the script, but I felt quite psyched about having gotten this far, along with looking forward to implementing a few more of those much-appreciated notes.