Progress on the latest draft of the comedy spec is coming along. Slowly, but still coming along.
Among the highlights:
–repairing the script. Previous drafts had some notable and sizable problems on several fronts, so this is all about fixing them, or at least figuring stuff out to make it better overall. This is the main priority.
–revising the story. Some of the scenes still work. The ones that don’t are out, with variations and totally new ones being developed and considered. A work in progress is a beautiful thing.
–reviving older ideas. I keep all the notes and items jotted down over the course of working out the story, so there’s always a few items worthy of dusting off. This time around is no exception.
–reorganizing the tone. Notes on a previous draft stated how uneven the story felt; like it was a few opposing ideas competing for attention. Currently working on streamlining things to make it all mesh better.
–refurbishing characters and/or their traits. From the protagonist and antagonist to supporting characters to those appearing in one scene, everybody gets some kind of modification. Some big, some not-so-big.
–reinvigorating the jokes. With comedy already being a subjective topic, I’m trying to come up with stuff I think is funny. Influences abound, and I want my sense of humor to be what runs that particular engine.
–remaining calm. Finishing this draft won’t happen overnight, and trying to force creativeness or rush progress is the absolute wrong approach. Preferred method – taking it one step at a time.
–resuscitating self-confidence. Writing a comedy’s tough enough to begin with. I’ve done it before, and despite a few missteps along the way, feel pretty solid about my chances this time around.
–relinquishing the self-imposed pressure. Naturally, I want to have a good, solid script when I’m done (hopefully it won’t take many more drafts). Stressing about getting to that point won’t do me any good, which leads to the final point…
–relaxing and recharging the writer. A good portion of my available time is spent writing or at least thinking about it. Working on it too much runs the risk of burnout, which would be completely counterproductive. Therefore, I allow myself time to simply step away and do something totally non-writing-oriented.
And when the time is right, I return to the rewrite.
Whew! Took me a while to refine this, but I don’t recall being so resplendently relieved to be done. Even better, none of it had to be redacted.
While engaged in a very engaging conversation about screenwriting earlier this week, the person with whom I was conversing with asked the simplest and most straight-forward of questions:
“What do you like to write?”
Without a moment’s hesitation, I proudly stated, “Adventures.”
You can’t even say the word without implying the thrills and excitement it entails. Hands on hips, chest out, shoulders back, and a firmly-set jaw are automatically included.
I’ve enjoyed dabbling in other genres (such as drama and comedy), but nothing really grabs me like thinking up and writing out some sort of heart-pounding, edge-of-your-seat rollercoaster ride of a scene or sequence.
Those really never get old.
They say “Write what you know,” and although I’ve never actually fought monsters, manned a runaway train, or flown a space-faring vessel, years of reading and watching material of that type and nature has taught me an effective way of how to effectively inject adrenaline into what I’m writing.
More than a few readers have commented that my love and appreciation of the material and genre are boldly evident on the page, which is what I’m hoping to accomplish every time.
My mantra has always been “Write something I would want to see”, and my list of future projects is jam-packed with numerous ideas and concepts that neatly fall into that category; each one a variation on the topic of discussion.
If these are the kinds of stories I was meant to write, you’ll get no complaints from me. I get a real kick out of cranking this stuff out. There’s no reason to think this can’t develop into what I build a career on and eventually become known for (he said, his fingers firmly crossed). My scripts. Rewriting someone else’s. Contributing to another. It’s all cool as far as I’m concerned.
Until then, all I can do is keep writing and making my readers feel their pulses quicken as they eagerly turn the page, absolutely spellbound to find out how the hero gets themselves out of this particular pickle, and, more importantly, what happens next.
Strap yourselves in, chums. This is going to be one helluva ride.
Due to both of our busy schedules, my daughter and I go for some quality father-daughter time when we can. Sometimes that means we’ll watch something together.
It might be a movie or a TV show. We’re not picky. No shame in admitting she’s picked up my enjoyment of superhero- and fantasy-based (LOTR, Hobbit, etc) material.
Despite her occasionally sullen and blase teen exterior, V is, at heart, an empathetic and sensitive soul, so no matter what we’re watching, if there’s any kind of hint of emotional resonance in a particular scene, she will feel the full brunt of whatever emotion the film/program is conveying.
Almost any kind of a joke (the sillier the better), and she laughs her head off. Something scary and she hides under the blanket. Something sad and she immediately tears up. Even after years of me saying, “You do know this is just a movie/TV show, right?”, her emotional receptors remain cranked up to 11 (and the teenager reappears with the immediate response, “Will you stop saying that?”)
Looking at these from the writer’s perspective, I can’t help but examine how the writers were able to do that. How did they get to the emotional core of the scene? Jokes and scares aren’t hard to figure out, even though each is pretty subjective, but a good, solid tug at the heartstrings, when done effectively, can be some pretty intense stuff.
A key part is making it relatable. Love. Joy. Heartbreak. Loss. All are universal. Everyone’s experienced them in some form or another. As the writer, you want to convey that emotion so anybody reading or watching your story will not only immediately identify it, but also connect with it on a personal level.
Like this. One of the most effective emotional sequences ever. And not a single word spoken. If you don’t feel anything as a result of watching it, you have no soul.
Even though we may not have gone through the same things as Carl and Ellie, we can relate to a lot, if not all of it.
This isn’t saying that every scene has to be a major tearjerker, but you want to really let us know how the characters are feeling in that particular moment. They’re human, so they feel the exact same things we do. Make us feel how they’re feeling.
Each scene serves three purposes: to advance the story, the characters, and the theme. Let the emotions come through via the best way you envision them enhancing the scene (making sure not to overdo it). It might take a few tries, but the deeper you venture into the emotional level, the easier it’ll get for you to show it, and it’ll also be easier for us to identify it and relate to it.
Here’s a two-part question for you. Pencils at the ready, please.
Up first – Are you enjoying the actual process of writing your script?
Sure, we all like “having written”, but what about getting there?
Do you get a thrill from figuring out your story? Mapping out the plot? Developing characters and crafting dialogue?
Do you get so engrossed and involved in your writing that when you check the time, you discover a lot more time has passed than you thought?
If you’re really excited and enthusiastic about your script, you’re going to feel that way even before you start writing it.
Now for the second part of the question:
Is all the aforementioned excitement and enthusiasm evident on the pages of your script? Could someone read it and think “Wow, they really like this stuff.”?
While it’s often said that you can gauge a writer’s grasp of the craft just by looking at the first page, you can also tell if they’re really into their story by how it reads.
Does it grab you from the get-go? Is the tone of the writing a solid match for the tone of the genre? This is not a case when “good enough” will cut it. What would you think if you read a horror that was “sort of” scary, or a comedy where all the jokes fall flat?
You want the reader to be as thoroughly entertained as you were in putting it together. You want them to be as compelled to keep turning the page as you’d be if you were reading it yourself.
A lot of the time you’ll hear a writer wrote something because “they had a story they had to tell”. That story was so strong and powerful inside them, they had no alternative but to write it out.
As creative types, that level of excitement and enthusiasm exists in all of us. We’re all eager to tap into it, but need to take the time to learn how to do it properly so it can be done in the most effective way possible.
The latest in a series of interviews with script readers and consultants who would be worth your while to work with if you want to get your script in shape. Today’s spotlight is on writer-reader-consultant Brad Johnson of ReadWriteWatch.com.
1. What’s the last thing you read/watched that you thought was incredibly well-written?
Nightcrawler was a fantastic character study, and I recently rewatched the FX mini-series Fargo. That writing room did such an amazing job of telling a compelling story with interesting characters, and capturing a specific tone and voice while doing so; perfectly capturing the feel of the Coen Brothers movie. As for reading, I just finished Body Heat (again) and continue to be blown away by it. Lawrence Kasdan makes you feel the humidity in his words in that script. The heat becomes its own character. It’s palpable. Go read it right now if you haven’t had the chance yet.
2. How’d you get your start reading scripts?
On a personal level, I started reading scripts as part of a challenge I set for myself – to read one produced script a week for an entire year. It worked so well that I’ve continued the tradition (you can find the 2015 list of scripts I’ll be reading, along with downloadable PDFs for each screenplay on my website).
For my clients, I decided to start consulting after several people read the column I write for Script Magazine and contacted me, asking if I’d be willing to look over their screenplays. As I started doing more of that, I discovered I have a genuine love for helping other writers learn to tell their stories in the best way possible. There’s nothing more satisfying than helping a writer break their story, or realize how they can tell it more effectively. At its best, consulting is a truly rewarding experience for both sides.
3. Is recognizing good writing something you think can be taught or learned?
It’s definitely a learned skill. Sure, you can be taught the basic structure and formatting of screenwriting, but what makes a good script is something you learn by reading lots and lots of screenplays. The more you read, the better you’ll get at realizing what works – and what doesn’t.
4. What are the components of a good script?
Showing rather than telling – it’s a cliché for a reason. Remember that you aren’t writing a story, you’re writing a story that is going to be watched on a screen, so be visual. Don’t tell us that someone is disappointed by a piece of news – tell us their shoulders slump and the smile fades from the lips; paint the picture of what we will be seeing should your script be made into a film.
5. What are some of the most common mistakes you see?
Not knowing the story you want to tell – or a lack of narrative focus. I see scripts all the time where so much time is spent jumping back and forth between two different stories (which, to be fair, could each be worthy of their own film), that neither is ever developed enough to be truly compelling. Whose story you’re telling, and why it needs to be told, are the two things you should never start writing without knowing. If you keep that firmly in mind, it becomes easier during rewriting to identify and cut the things that aren’t serving that story.
6. What story tropes are you just tired of seeing?
Pretty much anything from the last 15 years worth of romantic comedies. There are outliers (Love, Actually, Crazy, Stupid, Love, and Bridget Jones’s Diary leap to mind), but the Hollywood romcom formula has gotten to point of being so generic and overused that it’s actually insulting to audiences.
7. What are the 3 most important rules every writer should know?
-Read, Watch, and Write. It’s my mantra and it’s invaluable advice. If you want to be a professional screenwriter you have to get better than good – you have to get great – and the way you’re going to do that is by Reading scripts, Watching movies, and Writing pages.
-Live your life. You need to be out in the world doing things, meeting people, taking in experiences to fuel your next story.
-Less is more. Your goal with your script should be to tell as little of your story as possible, while still keeping it engaging and narratively cohesive. After you write your first draft, go back and start cutting the fat away until what’s left is the leanest most effective and impactful version of your story.
8. Have you ever read a script that was an absolute, without-a-doubt “recommend”? If so, could you give the logline?
I haven’t, but to be fair, that’s like asking if I’ve ever found a four leaf clover. They’re real and they’re out there, I just haven’t seen one in person yet.
9. How do you feel about screenwriting contests? Worth it or not?
Like anything else related to screenwriting, it’s not exactly a question that has a black and white answer. A lot of it depends on what makes it worthwhile for you. If you’re looking to feel better about your writing and have bragging rights, you can submit to basically any contest out there. But if you’re looking for contests that can actually impact your life and help your career, it’s few and far between. The Nicholl, Austin Film Festival, the Sundance Screenwriting Lab (though technically not a contest per se), Big Break, and Scriptapalooza are all solid contests. Recently, the Tracking Board has also launched contests for both feature scripts and televisions scripts, and the word on that contest is great as well.
10. How can people get in touch with you to find out more about the services you provide?
You can find a listing of the services I provide on my website, or reach out to me through my Facebook page, or on Twitter (@RWWFilm). I’m always happy to talk movies or writing, and answer any questions you may have before signing up for my services.
11. Readers of this blog are more than familiar with my love/appreciation of pie. What’s your favorite kind?
That’s a surprisingly difficult question to answer. To eat, I don’t think it gets better than a slide of hot homemade apple pie. But I enjoy baking and, not to brag, but make a mean key lime pie. Everything from scratch. Hand squeezed lime juice, graham cracker crust, fresh-made whipped cream. The works.