What you want VS what the story needs

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Sometimes it takes a little more evaluation

Over the course of several drafts, the core elements of my scripts remain more or less the same. There might be a few changes here and there, but to me, the end result is pretty darn close to what I originally intended.

As part of the development of those drafts, I get notes from trusted colleagues and professional analysts. Everybody has their opinions, of which there were many, and I can pick and choose which ones to use.

I was still presenting my stories the way I wanted to tell them, but is that the way they should be told? Was I falling into the trap of “I’m the writer, so what I say goes! End of discussion!”?

I recently got notes on one of my scripts that offered up some keen insight regarding the antagonist’s storyline. This included the reader’s frustration about what they perceived as a lack of knowing the character’s goal and the reasoning behind it.

At first, that was pretty surprising to hear. But as is usually the case, I took a step back and looked at the big picture, trying to be as objective as possible. Was it really not as apparent as I thought?

And as is also usually the case, their comments were spot-on. I had never made any big changes to how that storyline was written because I saw it as being “just fine the way it is”, which also happened to be the way I wanted it to be.

Which was counterproductive to how the story needed it to be. It wasn’t working within the context of the story itself.

Was it my writer’s ego that prevented me from seeing this through all the previous drafts? Maybe a little. I’ve seen this kind of thing before in other scripts, but just couldn’t see it within my own material.

I knew the script wasn’t perfect, but there’d always been this nagging thought in the back of my mind that it still needed work. Something had to be changed, but I couldn’t identify what. This could also explain why I always felt compelled to keep working on it.

But with those notes, I now had a much firmer grasp of what the reader was talking about, and could begin to rectify the situation.

It took a little time to work through it, including some significant edits and rewrites. It  also entailed cutting some scenes that absolutely broke my heart to see them go, but were totally necessary. All part of the process.

I know I’ve said all of this before, but looking through the latest draft, the script really does seem different now – in a better and much stronger sense. The characters, especially the protagonist and antagonist, feel more developed. The story reads as more concrete. I’m very happy with how it turned out.

Once I was able to put what I wanted aside and focus on what was best for the story, it all came together a lot better than I expected. My hope is that this kind of self-analysis will be a bit easier for me to figure out for future drafts of other scripts.

Can’t wait to give it a try.

Change is inevitable. Embrace it.

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All that red is a really good thing

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!

A small matter of interpretation

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“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

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.

What would Miss Manners think?

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Treat them the way you’d want to be treated

Believe me. I get it.

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.

Psst! Your desperation is showing

You don’t know me, but can you help me?

Make Emily Post proud

You make it sound like a bad thing

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That’s the gist of it

In a few conversations with writers and industry-connected folk, I’ve mentioned how I occasionally do script notes for friends and read for contests.

Sometimes I’d get a “That’s really nice of you.”

And once in a while, the person would look puzzled, and ask, with what I presume was in all sincerity, “Why?”

The way they utter that monosyllable carries a strong tone of “Well, that sounds like a genuine waste of time.”

To which I say, “Why not?” I consider myself a nice person, and try to help other writers out when I can.

Too simplistic? Let me elaborate.

I like reading other people’s stuff. In the case of doing notes, I’m either asked, or it’s reciprocal for them having given me notes on my scripts. That’s the least I can do.

(It should also be pointed out that a few cookies-for-notes transactions have taken place, with both parties being quite satisfied with the results.)

With a lot of the material I read being from experienced writers who know what they’re doing, the scripts are often quite solid from both craft and storytelling perspectives. This in turn helps me hone my analytical skills, which I can then apply to my scripts. Or at least attempt to.

Plus, screenwriters should always be reading scripts.

Regarding the contests, I’ve entered enough of them over the years with the hope I get a quality reader or readers, so I see this as a kind of giving back. It’s very time and labor-intensive, and I’ve had to endure more than my fair share of poor-to-horribly-written scripts. On the other hand, every once in a while you find a true rose among thorns.

I’m just trying to offer up the kind of help I could have benefitted from when I was still learning the basics. And even today, having made some progress on all fronts, I still seek out, as well as offer up when asked, advice and guidance. So far, no complaints.

I’ve never claimed to be an expert, but I do what I can. If that means setting aside some time to read something and offer up my two cents, so be it.

And I don’t see anything wrong with that.