A long (train) ride comes to an end

March 3, 2017
caboose

Fittingly apropos

A good number of years ago, I came up with an idea for a script.

“Write something you would want to see.” This definitely fell into that category.

There were so many angles and aspects to it I found appealing. The concept kept drawing me in, compelling me to tell the story in the most entertaining way possible.

To say I’ve really thrown myself into it during all this time would be an absolute understatement.

I couldn’t even tell you how many iterations and drafts this story has gone through; let’s just say a whole freakin’ lot.

Notes? I’ve probably received enough to make two books, or at least a really long pdf. Some were good, some weren’t, and some seemed to exist in an alternate dimension where opposites are the norm.

I’d finish a draft, thinking, “Okay. This is IT.” And if you’ve been following this saga, you know how it turned out each time.

There were lots of times of feeling totally burned out, thinking there was nothing else to do. Or receiving comments like “Why keep messing with it? It’s good enough as it is.”

But something kept nagging at me, saying “This can still be better. Keep going.”

So I did. My faith in the story was still strong. I knew I could make this work.

The tweaking/fine-tuning continued, aided by a few more sets of notes courtesy of very qualified readers. My red pen was working on overdrive. Cut this. Move this. Switch these around. Expand on this. Changes and fixes were made, until…

“The End” had once again been reached. But this time it felt different. I won’t say “complete”, but you get the idea.

I’ve been extremely fortunate in connecting with a lot of exceptionally talented writers over the years, and there’s one whose critiquing ability I hold in very high regard. I asked them to look over the script, adding that this was for the most prestigious screenwriting contest of them all.

The last time they read it was two years ago, so there was some extra intrigue regarding what they’d think of this draft. Approval from one’s peers plays a bigger-than-expected part in helping a writer develop.

They liked it.

A lot.

I’ve been writing screenplays for quite a while, always striving to improve both my skills and the quality of my material, all as part of the effort to become a working writer. Reading their notes helped solidify my belief that this could actually happen.

Final preparations are being made to submit the script to the aforementioned prestigious screenwriting contest. Is this draft better than previous ones? Definitely. Has its chances for this contest improved? God, I hope so.

Even if nothing happens with this or the other high-profile contests, I still have a script I consider well-written and exceptionally entertaining. At this point in time, I don’t think there’s any reason to do any more work on it. So now it enters into that category of “calling card scripts”, ready to be sent out at a moment’s notice.

In the meantime, my attention is currently being split between several other projects in various stages of development. And based on how much my writing improved working on this script, I’ll speculate that the quality of these newer ones might just end up being pretty darned good.

 


Required: a second pair of eyes

February 14, 2017
reader

It’s “should’ve”, not “should of”, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a participle that dangled this much

I’ve been doing a lot of script notes the past few weeks, and most of them haven’t been early drafts. These are long-in-development projects, and I can really see how the writers have poured heart, soul, blood, sweat and tears into their efforts.

These scripts shows tremendous skill applied to the usual fronts – story, characters, plot development, etc.

But there are two categories that sometimes get overlooked:

Spelling and punctuation.

And yes, each does count.

I’m quite a stickler for both, and have had more than a few writers thank me for pointing out such items as a missing comma, or how a character has nothing to “lose”, not “loose”.

I would imagine that after having read through your own script countless times, reading fatigue can set in, and you might overlook things you might ordinarily not. It happens.

The solution: get yourself a solid proofreader. Preferably someone who knows scripts. You’d think that would be a given, but there are some writers out there who don’t take that path. Do so at your own risk.

I recently read a draft that was riddled with misspelled words and poorly-written sentences. When I pointed this out to the writer, they were surprised because they’d used a proofreader who was a writer, but not a screenwriter. I believe that to be the wrong approach on several levels. (And the fact that the spelling and punctuation were still bad after their proofing makes me seriously question their qualifications to begin with.)

After you’ve read a lot of scripts and written more than a few of your own, you develop an eye for it. But your own skills can only take you so far, hence the potential need for a proofreader.

Some might claim “My writing’s fine. I don’t need a proofreader!” I’m not saying everybody does, but what’s the harm? I read scripts from writers of very high quality, but they’re still human and sometimes they make mistakes too.

Wouldn’t you feel better about your script if somebody whose skills you trusted took a look at it? It’s very possible they might spot something you missed.

“But where/how do I find such a generous person willing to give up their precious time in order to help me out?” Once again, let’s refer to that all-powerful word: networking.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with paying for a proofreading service. Some people swear by it. But you also can’t go wrong in asking someone within your circle of trusted colleagues; preferably someone who knows what they’re talking about.

So whenever you think your script is ready, put together a list of writers of skill within your own personal network. Five is a good number. Politely ask each one if, time permitting, they’d be willing to take a look at your script. And definitely make sure to offer to return the favor. If they say yes, great. If they turn you down, thank them, say “maybe next time” and seek out another name.

While all the elements of storytelling play a vital role in writing a script, never underestimate the importance of making sure a word is spelled correctly or a sentence is properly written. Because people will notice when they aren’t.


Why, and why now?

February 7, 2017
studying

A pair of questions to study thoroughly

An associate of mine is in the early stages of developing a low-budget film. Call it pre-pre-pre-production. The script is part of that (as in “about to be written”), and I was asked to take a look at the outline and offer up my two cents on it.

It wasn’t bad. The structure was a little wobbly, but not too far gone, and a few other minor issues, but overall, I’d call it a fairly solid attempt.

I totally got what kind of story they’re trying to tell, but reading this outline definitely raised some important questions.

Two, to be specific.

First: why is this happening?

I don’t mean this is in a negative way, like “why are you even bothering?” Quite the opposite.

More of a “does what happens in this scene adequately follow what’s come before it, and does it do an equally good job leading into what comes next?” sort of thing.

As it reads now, it felt more like a lot was happening because the story required it to, rather than letting it all unfold smoothly and organically. There wasn’t enough setting things up in order to pay them off later. Almost like each scene is saying “This MUST happen HERE, logic be damned!”

A should lead to B, which leads to C, and so on, but then you also find out that not only did A lead to B, but it also resulted in H.

Second: why is this happening now?

This applies more to the primary storyline. Things are taking place, but I never really got a sense of how or why it all started. A lot happens after whatever event triggered it all, but there’s no indication of exactly what that trigger was. When I asked the writer about it, even they admitted they didn’t know and were having trouble trying to come up with something.

A writer needs to know every part of their story; what things were like before it started, how it started, what happens, and how it ends. Sometimes you can even throw in what happens next. No matter what approach you take, all of these elements play a key role in the telling of that story. If one of those elements isn’t there, it just gums up the whole works and you’re left with an incomplete story.

The writer was very appreciative of my comments and was looking forward to finishing the latest draft in order to provide answers to the questions I’d raised. It’s probably safe to say we’re both quite interested to see how it all turns out (although I suspect I come in a close second).

 


Bursting at the seams – part 2

January 31, 2017

Image result for MARK RUFFALO HULK GIF

On one hand, progress for the pulpy adventure spec is moving along nicely. Still maintaining a daily output of about 3 pages.

But on the other hand, this thing feels like it’s growing exponentially, continuously getting bigger than I originally anticipated.

A lot bigger.

Like “rise out of the bay, tower over the skyline, ready to wreak havoc and terrorize the populace. Call the military!” big.

That’s pretty big.

Part of this stems from me having a one-sentence description of a scene in the outline, not really taking into consideration I’ll need at least a page, maybe two, to execute it. Hence the feeling of overstuffedness.

There have been times where I’d be in the middle of a scene, but then think “Too much!”. This would be followed by the immediate deleting of what I’d written so far and starting anew, but with a mindset of “Same, but a lot less this time.” It happens; just not all the time.

No problem whatsoever if you start with a scene that’s initially three pages long, because you know the next pass will involve whittling down to one (or a little more). Getting it written in the first place is the hard part; everything after that – much easier (for some, anyway).

I freely admit I tend to overwrite, but that’s usually limited to the first draft. Once that’s out of the way, the red pens are produced and much killing of darlings commences.

Sometimes it’s very frustrating that my initial effort isn’t what I want it to be, but isn’t that the point of a first draft? There’s a reason it’s also known as “the vomit draft”. You just throw everything on the page, and then go back for ongoing cleanup work. The guiding principle here – you do what’s necessary to get it to that desired end result.

Will there most likely be some drastic changes somewhere down the line? Undoubtedly. If that means starting with a first draft that’s way too big, so be it. It’s not like this is what the final finished project is going to look like. Better to have an oversized script ripe for editing than a scrawny one that needs to be bulked up.

So for now, the slog continues. Scenes may go on too long, but it’s cool. This is a fun story and I’m enjoying writing it. I know it’ll take a while to get it to where I want to be, and that’s fine by me. All part of the process.

But better have the military on standby, just in case.


Now it gets really interesting

January 24, 2017
desert

First few steps are always the toughest. Good thing I came prepared.

Let’s pause now for your humble blogger-in-residence to proudly proclaim that Act One of the first draft of the pulpy adventure spec is complete.

Whoopee.

But you know what that also means.

Yep. Time to buckle down even more, strap myself in, and jump feet-first into the intimidating arena commonly known as Act Two.

I’ll also admit it’s a little thrilling, too. There was a particular charge in working out the action sequences and story set-ups in Act One, so I’ve a strong suspicion the continuing build-ups for the former and the gradual development of the latter will be equally, if not more so, fun to write.

(and believe me when I say this is the kind of story that automatically requires a sense of fun)

Maybe it’s from continuously trying to improve as I go, but working on Act Two doesn’t seem as intimidating as it used to. Not to say that it comes easily; just slightly less insurmountable. I spent a lot of time on the outline, so confidence in that is pretty solid.

I read a lot about how a spec script might have a phenomenal Act One, but then things fall apart in Act Two for a myriad of possible reasons: the characters don’t do much/nothing really happens, or the overall story’s too thin, so a lot of Act Two is empty filler, and so on.

The only writing process I know is my own, and I always strive to make sure the story feels…complete? Full? It comes down to “I know what has to happen to tell this story,”, and while the first act is all about setting it all up, the second act is about fleshing everything out.

We get a closer look at the characters and how they’re progressing through the events of the story. We can see how they’re changing from when they were first introduced. Plot threads of all sizes get further developed. The central question is continuously asked (oh-so-subtly, of course).

It also involves steadily-mounting complications for your protagonist. They’ve got a goal, and it’s our job to throw all kinds of obstacles in their way that just keep making it harder for them to reach it. Again, a lot of it happens during our second act.

Act Two really is where the meat of the story takes place, so stuff needs to happen that not only holds our interest, but makes us want/need to know what happens next, and even that better be that much more intriguing.

 

As you’d expect, our work is cut out for us.

So off I go. Dispatches from this formidable excursion as they develop.

See you on the other side.


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