The process of overhauling the low-budget comedy has proven to be quite the challenge. Notes from reliable sources had pointed out a few problems in need of fixing, and that’s what I’ve been laboring to rectify the past couple of weeks.
It hasn’t been easy.
One challenge was to let go of “what came before” in the previous draft. Sometimes it’s tough to wipe the slate clean and start anew, and this time was no exception. Once I set up how things play out, it’s not easy to push it aside and do something different.
Which isn’t to sat I haven’t been trying.
Even though you can’t force inspiration, I knew I could think my way through this. So, as has happened many times before, I stepped back and took a look at the full picture.
What was it about the previous draft that wasn’t working? Start with that and figure out ways it could be done differently. Let the imagination run wild and the creativeness flow.
First, I broke it down on a scene-by-scene basis. What’s the purpose of each one? Does it advance story, character and theme? And since it’s a comedy, is it funny? (That last one has been particularly challenging).
It’s been tough, but not insurmountable.
I’d managed to work my way into the first part of Act 2, but then hit a wall. Nothing was working.
I won’t say I was feeling desperate, but it was quite an effort to not pick up my laptop and fling it across the room.
But rather than engage in aggravated assault of electronic devices, I opted to give it one last try.
I went back to the notes. Many of the comments said more or less the same thing, especially regarding one in particular. I’d seen it before, but this time, something really resonated.
One of the most powerful tools in the writer’s bag o’ tricks is the Great What If? Use it wisely.
So I applied it to my problem. If THIS wasn’t working, WHAT IF I tried something different? And what better way to do something different than the total opposite?
And as it has many times before, there it was.
The more I applied this to the rest of the story, the more of it came together. It’ll require a little more rewriting for now, but gosh is this a lot better than it was before.
Forward momentum has resumed. Updates to be released accordingly.
-Bulletin board update! Filmmaker Diane Harder has a crowdfunding project underway for her short Penny Foster. Donate if you can!
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.
When I write out a scene, I have a pretty solid idea of what needs to happen in it; how to make it follow the one before it, and lead into the one after it.
Sometimes it ends up the way I intended, and sometimes it needs a little more punching-up.
And a lot of the time, that punching-up involves making things more complicated, which does a simultaneously effective job of upping the conflict, which was already a necessity.
This whole process most recently came into play while working on a scene in the pulp spec. I’d planned out what was supposed to happen, and on the surface, it seemed okay.
And then I wrote it, but it wasn’t the same as I’d envisioned. It was still missing a vital component, and I couldn’t determine exactly what.
Did it successfully connect the scenes before and after? Was there conflict? Did it advance the necessary elements? Yes on all counts, but it still seemed off.
I read through it again. It was tight and efficient, and did what it was supposed to. But this second read also revealed the hidden problem that was nagging at me.
It was too tight and efficient. The protagonist accomplished what they were supposed to, but it needed to be tougher for them to do so.
So back I went to the planning-out stage, tossing in a few more wrinkles to make it that much harder for my hero. Although they still achieve their goal within the context of the scene, this time I made sure they really earned it.
Plus, the new complications really emphasized the overall nature of the story, which is always good.
This isn’t to say that every scene has to have some kind of monumental obstacle to your protagonist, but the journey towards their goal shouldn’t be an easy one. It might not even be a physical thing; maybe your hero has to overcome an internal or emotional problem.
It may be easier for you to keep things simple and straightforward, but unfortunately that makes for dull storytelling. Making things more complicated for your protagonist may complicate things for you in putting it all together, but it will definitely make for a better story while also improving your skills as a writer.
Don’t hold back. Put both yourself and your protagonist through the wringer. You’ll both be better for it.
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.
To say the past week and a half has been a little hectic would be a slight understatement*. And of course, it involves writing and the opportunities that come with it.
Long story short – Somebody wanted to read one of my scripts. But I hadn’t finished writing it yet. So I wrote, edited and polished it. In ten days. Without taking time off from work.
As you can probably guess, I’m equal parts exhausted and exhilarated at having done it.
While I catch my second wind, here’s the extended version:
A little over three weeks ago, I connected with somebody who works for a production company. They mostly do TV, but are looking at expanding into features.
Emails and pleasantries were exchanged. They took a look at the blog, liked what they saw, and asked for a list of my loglines “to see if my boss might be interested.” So I sent it. This was on a Friday afternoon.
A vital piece of the puzzle to keep in mind – just before all of this occurred, I’d gotten the outline of a long-dormant comedy spec to the point where I felt ready to start on pages. Which is what I was doing while all of this interaction was occurring.
The following Monday morning, the response came in. “Do you have scripts for X and Y? Would love to request if so.”
Naturally, X was the long-dormant comedy spec that so far I had written all of 8 pages, and Y was still in outline form (which I’d already been considering producing in another medium).
My initial thought was panic. Neither script was available, but I didn’t want to blow the opportunity; I wanted to be able to send them SOMETHING. Sooner, rather than later. What to do, what to do?
After a little evaluation and weighing all my options, I wrote back that I was still working on the latest draft of X (which was true), and could have it for them the following week. I’d considered saying a few weeks or a month, but that seemed too long. Regarding Y, I said pretty much what I mentioned above – it was an outline, but they could take a look at it if they wanted to.
They were cool with both options, and were looking forward to reading them.
I’d just thrown the gauntlet in my own face. What had I gotten myself into? Was I totally insane for thinking I could pull this off? Would I be able to pull it off?
Only one way to find out.
I had a script to write, and had to do it faster than I’d ever done it before. I had no intention of sending them a first draft, so I had to crank that out and do a major polish on it. In about a week and a half. Taking time off of work was not an option, so I’d have to be as productive as possible in the off-hours that didn’t involve sleeping.
I explained my plan to my understanding family and got to work.
I produced as many pages as I could per day, averaging 8-10. Those would then be edited & polished during all available downtime at work (it being summer vacation season was a godsend – traffic’s much lighter, so that really helped). I’d get home, incorporate the changes, then move on to the next set.
Write, edit/polish, rewrite, repeat. A seemingly never-ending cycle.
A few things I discovered during all of this:
-Having a solid outline made it so much easier. I knew exactly what had to happen in each scene, and how I wanted it to happen, so there was no time wasted trying to figure it out.
-I sincerely think my joke-writing’s gotten better.
-I’ve gotten much more proficient at coming up with solutions to last-minute script-related problems.
-I seriously wondered if this is what it would be like if I were doing this for a living. I’d actually be pretty cool with it.
After ten days of non-stop effort, I had what I considered a somewhat decent 97-page comedy script. Both it and the outline have been sent.
Of course, they may not like either one. But at this point, I don’t care. Simply having accomplished this is my victory. I set an intense short-term goal and did it.
The script could definitely benefit from at least another rewrite, but that’s not a priority at this juncture. I wrote it in the time I said I would, and that’s the important thing.
Others may scoff at my feeling of accomplishment, claiming it’s no big deal or that they’ve done it or even done it in less time. But their words will fall on deaf ears because it’s a big deal to me. This is something I did, and am extremely proud of having done it.
So what now? I’m taking the weekend off, which will include going for a much-missed and much-needed training run.
But come Monday, I’ll be right back at it, hard at work on whatever project I opt to do next.
Hopefully, I’ll be able to take my time with it.
*I really appreciate everybody’s patience, and hope you enjoyed the throwback posts. And K wanted to thank everybody for the kind comments about her guest post. Yes, I am a very lucky guy to have somebody like her.