Bit of a shorty today as I’m steamrolling my way through several projects at the moment. This includes revising two of my own scripts.
As part of the effort to make the next drafts of both that much better, I’m trying to take the time to read scripts in the genres of both. Why not glean what I can from prime examples?
The learning truly never stops.
Added bonus – a lot of these are just fun to read.
This is one of those basic pieces of advice that every screenwriter, no matter their experience level, needs to heed on a regular basis:
Study them. Use them for the learning tools they are and wring every last bit of help out of them that you can.
Everything really is right there in front of you. 90-110 pages of primo learning material. Pages and pages of “See what they did there?” Take notes. See what’s there and NOT there.
Take it a step further and read a script of a film while watching that film. How do they compare? Lots of similarities? Lots of differences? Do the actions onscreen do justice to the words on the page?
Apply what you learn to your own script. It might help more than you realize.
Side note – DO NOT copy that writer’s style. You’re working on establishing your own voice. No good can come from trying to sound like somebody else.
After a gap of several years, I recently had the opportunity to reconnect in person with a respected colleague who has had more than their fair share of experience dealing with writers of all shapes, sizes, and levels of talent.
This person used to deal a lot with screenwriters, but now deals primarily with writers of manuscripts. Over the course of our conversation, I was asked about my scripts and my writing (What do I like to write? What genres are the scripts I have now? What kind of stories am I working on?)
As has been documented here before, my genre of choice is definitely adventure, along with hyphens connecting them to other genres (i.e. western-adventure, pulp sci-fi adventure, etc).
I gave a quick thumbnail sketch/five-second elevator pitch for the two completed and the one currently in revision mode.
You’d be harder pressed to find a stronger advocate for using your already-existing material as a springboard to jump into other mediums – primarily books and/or graphic novels.
It was their opinion that all three sounded like very original and fun ideas, which would make each a prime candidate for attracting attention. And this person has also been following the blog for quite a while, so their opinion is also that my writing is pretty solid. They cited examples of writers they knew who’d foregone the traditional route of trying to get in with one of the high-profile publishing houses and done it all themselves, each achieving respectable levels of success. Nothing to break the bank, but still some impressive numbers.
“A script is more or less an outline for a novel. And even though you’re not limited by page numbers, it still takes talent to create a novel,” I was told. “Your stories are original and unique, which makes them prime candidates for this. At least think about it.”
Believe me, I am.
My success in trying to get these scripts through to reps and production companies has been practically non-existent at best, yet I persist. I’m sure I’ll continue along that avenue, but this new alternative is definitely food for thought.
I’ve been told by more than a few people that my writing is very visual (which you would think would make it ideal for film), and that it really moves. In the past, I’ve entertained and even at times partially investigated the notion of applying my scripts to a graphic novel format (a great match), but am also not averse to trying my hand at converting it to pure prose.
I’ve no intention of stopping writing scripts. I like it too much. But I also like the pure act of writing by itself, so for the time being, all this talk about working in other formats is nothing more than speculation and conjecture.
You only get one chance to make a good first impression. And that also applies to a screenplay. If your first page doesn’t make us want to keep going, why should we? Chances are the rest of it is exactly the same.
The first page is your golden opportunity to start strong straight out of the gate. Show us from the absolute get-go you know what you’re doing. A lot of the time, I’ll know by the end of the first page what kind of ride I should be expecting.
Just a few items to take into consideration.
-First and foremost, how’s the writing? No doubt you think it’s fine, but face it. You’re biased. You want a total stranger to find it fault-free, so look at it like one. Is it easy to follow and understand? Does it flow smoothly? When I read it, do I get a clear mental image of what you’re describing? Does it show, not tell?
-Is there a lot of white space? Are your sentences brief and to the point, or do they drone on and on with too many words?
-Do you point the reader in the right direction and let them figure things out, or at least get the point across via subtext, or do think it’s necessary to explain everything, including what a character is thinking or feeling? Yes, that happens on the first page.
-If your protagonist is introduced here, are they described in the way you want me to visualize them for the next 90-110 pages? Does a notable physical characteristic play a part in the story? Are they behaving in such a way that it establishes the proper starting point for their arc? Are they doing something that endears them to us, making us care about them?
-If your protagonist ISN’T on the first page, does it do a good job in setting up the world in which the story takes place? Do the characters introduced here play any kind of role later on in the story?
-Are there any mistakes regarding spelling or punctuation? Are you absolutely sure about that? SPELLCHECK IS NOT YOUR FRIEND. A team does not loose a game, nor do I think they should of won either. Two glaring errors that your software will not recognize. But a reader will.
-Does it properly set up the genre? If it’s a comedy, should I be prepared to have my sides ache from laughing too hard? If it’s a horror, should I make sure the lights are on, even if it’s 12 noon? If it’s a drama, should I have a box of tissues within arm’s reach to dry the expected river of tears?
-Do your characters sound like people saying actual things, or are they spouting nothing but exposition and overused cliches?
Not sure about any of these? Read it over with as critical an eye as you can muster, or get help from somebody within your network of savvy writing colleagues. DO NOT go to somebody who doesn’t know screenwriting.
Think I’m being overly critical? Ask any professional consultant or reader, and I bet 99 out of 100 will say they know exactly what kind of read they’re in for by the end of the first page. And number 100 might also agree.
Then again, there’s also the possibility that the first page could be brilliant and it stays that way until FADE OUT.
Or the wheels could fall off anywhere between page 2 and the end.
Your mission, and you should choose to accept it, is to make that first page as irresistible as you can, grab us tight, and not let go. Make us want to keep going. Then do the same for page 2, then page 3, page 4, etc. Make us totally forget what page we’re on.
Take a look at the first page of your latest draft. Does it do what you and the story need it to?
-Didja notice the spiffy new look? Had to make some behind-the-scenes changes, and this is the result.
A most pleasant update to report regarding progress on the pulp spec: the point of no return has been reached (and even slightly surpassed).
Something incredibly significant has just happened to my protagonist, and everything between here and the end of the story is not only about answering the central question and everything connected to it, but also dealing with this important new development, which is also tied in to the main storyline.
From here on in, the stakes are consistently rising and my protagonist’s situation will continue to get more and more difficult.
As it should be.
Fortunately, a lot of these details were mapped out during the outlining process, which has once again proven to be extremely helpful. But even that’s not written in stone; one big sequence was deemed too similar to another, so the relevant elements of both were combined, which actually helped tighten things up on several levels.
To be perfectly honest, there’s not much I can gripe about regarding working on this script. It’s in a genre I love; this was always “something I would want to see.” I’ve made a real effort to make this an exciting read, both in terms of story and how it actually reads.
Like with some of my previous projects, I’m continuing to have a fantastic time writing it, and hopefully that excitement and enthusiasm will be evident on the page.
Sure, the ongoing plan of 2-3 pages a day has been slightly off, so it’s taking a bit longer than originally anticipated, but that’s par for the course for me. But every writing session, no matter how long or short, gets me a little more further along.
Today, the midpoint. Next up – pushing my way forward to the next plot point, which is about halfway through the second act of Act Two.
2017’s writing got off to a pleasantly rousing start with the commencement of the first draft of my latest project: the pulpy adventure spec.
Yep. After years of working on the outline, I finally decided to take the plunge and write the damned thing.
Seeing as how this is a genre near and dear to my heart, I dove into the opening sequence headfirst and just had at it, surpassing the original goal of completing at least 2 pages a day by two and a half times that amount. Add to that the 4 pages for yesterday, and that places me further ahead than anticipated. It’s not expected to maintain this kind of output on a daily basis, but no complaints so far.
That being said, upon reflection, the latest scene still leaves a little to be desired, so an impromptu rewrite is already being planned out and will be implemented straightaway.
A few alterations have also been made in regards to the overall writing process.
First, even though the outline needs to be rock-solid before starting on pages, the scene descriptions are sometimes a little vague. “Big fight happens!”, that sort of thing.
When that happens, the focus shifts to plotting out the beats of that particular scene. How do things play out so it tells the story and moves things forward? Is it accomplishing what it needs to? It’s quite helpful, and helps prevent a lot of frustration in trying to think up stuff on the spot.
Another is fully embracing the whole “just get it done” attitude. Write it down and move on. There’ll be time for all that fancy-pants editing and polishing stuff later. It’s also been noticed that sometimes the first idea is still the best.
And in what may be the most important development, seeing as how this is at its core my interpretation of the old pulp novels, I’m doing what I can do to really make it read that way. One could even argue that writing the western was just a warm-up exercise. The writing in this script might be a little more over the top than usual, but that could be exactly what it needs.
Even though it’s a screenplay, I take a certain pleasure in coloring things a slightly stronger shade of purple.
There’s no specific target deadline for completing this draft, but hopefully it won’t take too long. For now, I’m just enjoying the ride.