Pause. Refresh.

vintage date
We’ll get back to working on the script as soon as we’re done. Promise.

After having taken a longer-than-expected break from working on the comedy spec, I’m back at it now.

There were the occasional glimpses and minor touch-ups here and there, but I’d estimate it’s been at least several weeks, if not a little more than a month since I was really able to fully focus on it.

During that time (while working on another script), I kept thinking “what if I can’t think of anything new for this?” I also made a point of not looking at the previous draft of the outline; I didn’t want to unintentionally influence the new one.

But the moment of truth had arrived. The other script was done, or at least as much as it was going to be for the time being, and there was no more delaying the inevitable. I had to confront this monster head-on.

Having avoided looking at the previous draft for a while, some of the details were still there, albeit a little fuzzy. Somehow this enabled me to not automatically revert to thinking they were my only option. Instead, I took those details with the thought of “this is what could happen, but what would be a new and really different way of doing it?”

Applying that thought process, along with not feeling tied down to what it was before has really allowed me to come up with some entirely new ideas and approaches, many of which I would have never even contemplated before. Like chunks of an iceberg, elements of the previous draft are breaking off and drifting away, never to be seen again.

The core concept of the story remains intact, but more and more of how that story takes place are experiencing major changes. As of this writing, it’s somewhere past the halfway mark. As is usually the case for me, some elements that still need work, but a new and pretty solid and foundation is being laid.

Would I have been able to come up with any of this if I had dove right back in after finishing the previous draft? Highly doubtful. The material was still fresh in my mind, so it would have been significantly less likely for me to be able to not automatically go to it.

Taking this break, along with focusing on another project, especially one entirely different in genre, provided me with the opportunity to jump back into this one with a strong sense of revived creativeness. Even though it was still a bit on the daunting side, I came into it with a “You got this” attitude.

It also helped that I wasn’t being so hard on myself for not having every line be pure gold the first time out. This is still a work in progress, so everything remains in an ongoing state of flux.

For now, it’s coming along nicely, and forward progress is holding steady. As much as I would love for that to continue all the way to the end, I’m also a realist, so enjoying every productive day as they come.

I’d always heard the recommendation that after you finish a script, you should put it away, or at least not look at it for at least two weeks. That’s not a bad start, but I’d say a month might be better. That way you can give yourself the choice of going back and looking at what you’ve already done (which can be quite eye-opening in both good and not-so-good ways), or starting anew.

Now that I’ve done both, I can honestly say that both have proven equally effective in their respective ways, and I strongly suspect I’ll continue to go back and forth for future drafts of this as well as future scripts.

Gosh, what a full plate!

primanti bros
It’ll take time, but feeling confident I’ll accomplish that which I set out to do. (In the meantime, anybody up for Primanti Brothers? (Pittsburgh shout-out!))

My projects over the next couple of months are shaping up nicely.

-Finish overhauling the outline for the comedy spec and convert it into pages

-Some more fine-tuning on the pulp sci-fi (courtesy of a steady influx of good notes)

-Maybe one more pass on the western. Yeah, I know. But I recently got some keen insight on a few parts which could do with a little improvement.

The potential is still strong for all three, both in terms of contests and queries.

I have to say that this time around, my analytical and editing/proofreading abilities feel a bit stronger. Not that they’re the pinnacle of perfection, but at least slightly more developed than, say, a few years ago. That’s a definite plus. Nor would I hesitate to take full advantage of the sage advice of my squadron of savvy readers.

I feel a bit more prepared now, as well as a little more confident about ending up with a triad of really solid scripts.

That’s the hope, anyway.

Another part of my enthusiasm comes from seeing the results of some of the major screenwriting contests, some of which I entered and didn’t fare as well as I’d hoped. I’ll work on these scripts, send ’em out and hope for the best.

On a brief side note, I recently read the comment on an online forum – “Waiting for notes. What should I do to occupy my time?”

I suggested “Start working on your next project.” It’s what I would do. Can’t think of a better way to get your mind off a finished script than starting a new one or digging into the archives and touching up an older one. Gets the creativeness pumped up and really does help pass the time.

Anything that lets you flex your writing muscles while adding to your arsenal of material can only be seen as a good thing.

Drastic, possibly foolhardy, but definitely beneficial

Window Cleaner
Sometimes extreme measures must be taken, no matter how challenging

Work on the outline of the comedy spec continues – with a most interesting development.

But first, a little backstory…

When I first approached this rewrite, I knew it needed a lot of work. A LOT. So I decided not to call it a rewrite, because it was much more than that.

“Overhaul” seemed perfectly appropriate. So that’s what I was calling it.

Problem was, that even with some quality notes, I wasn’t sure how to go about it. When I take on a rewrite, I’ll usually refer to the previous outline and see what I can do to change things around.

But that wasn’t working this time. Quite the opposite, actually. I was feeling stuck, making zero progress, which in turn was making me feel annoyed and frustrated. I was more and more in desperate need of some kind of solution.

I had a solid concept, but it was the execution that was giving me trouble. I knew where I wanted to go, but was having trouble getting there.

When I provide notes on a script, if I read something that feels flat or unoriginal, I’ll suggest “Try a totally different approach that gets us to the same point. Do a 180, or make a hard left – anything to really shake it up!”

It’s worked for other writers, so why not apply that sage wisdom to myself?

So I did.

It’s a lot easier to suggest “Wipe the slate clean and start over!” than it is to do the wiping and starting over.

But so far it appears to be just the solution I was seeking.

Although somewhat intimidating at first, the blank page soon became filled with new ideas and variations on old ones. Certain details remain the same, plus a few odds and ends, but for the most part, it’s become a much different journey to the original destination.

It was also surprising how easily the new material popped up. By not keeping myself chained to the previous draft, I was allowing myself the freedom to just try new stuff.

There’s still a lot of work to do, but it’s a most satisfying start.

That’s not the question you should be asking

classroom
Class, who can tell me what “familiar, but different” means?

I see variations on this question a lot throughout many online forums:

What kind of script should I write?

Seriously?

And I say that in the least condescendingly way possible.

It amazes me that somebody who wants to write a script has to ask what they should write. Shouldn’t you already know? Isn’t that why you’re doing this in the first place?

Then again, I’ve always been a writer, so it was never a question of “What do I write?”, but more of “Which one do I write now?” and “How do I write this so it’s good?”

But back to the topic at hand…

My immediate response to the question in question is “Write something you would want to see.” But that’s my approach. Others may take a different stance.

One caveat – make sure whatever you write is as original a story as you can come up with that contains original characters and situations. Do whatever you can to make it your own. Readers will instantly recognize if you’ve “borrowed” something.

I recently read a script that was a blatant rip-off of a well-known franchise. Did the writer know this when they wrote it? I don’t know, but the actual concept behind their story seemed unique unto itself, with lots of possibilities, so it was actually kind of surprising and disappointing to see them follow that well-trod path instead of seeking out something new.

Something else to keep in mind – using well-known characters not created by you is a very, very bad idea. A writer friend has a connection at Marvel Studios who handles the non-stop influx of unsolicited spec scripts. No doubt your Spidey spec is brilliant, but you’re seriously fooling yourself and wasting your time.

Wouldn’t you rather your script be known for offering up something new and unique?

A lot of newer writers see what’s hot at the box office and think “I can crank out something like that in no time!” Also a waste of time. Trends come and go very quickly. What’s hot today could be ice-cold tomorrow. And you probably think you’re the only one to come up with some variation on that current big idea.

You’re not. It’s even money deals involving clones of that idea will be announced in the near future, all while you’re still churning out pages.

DON’T CHASE TRENDS. You’ll never catch up.

A writer I’ve exchanged notes with concluded our most recent email conversation with “Also wanted to pick your brain. I want to write a script about ____ . It’s an idea I’ve had for several years, but I don’t know if anyone would want to see it.”

Their concept seemed good with lots of potential, but also sounds very similar to a recent series on Netflix, which I thought increased the chances of inevitable comparisons between the two. But if it’s a story that’s been percolating for that long and they feel really passionate about it, then by all means, have at it.

As a spec writer, you have the freedom to write whatever you want. I suspect a lot of us are inspired by the films we grew up watching up to the ones we enjoy now.  Start there and see where it takes you.

Strive for originality, chums.

Good. Better. Getting there.

Billy Wilder
Never hurts to have a good role model*

Notes continue to come in for the pulp sci-fi spec, some contrary, many encouraging, and all chock-full of notable suggestions. With some coming from my trusted core of reliably savvy readers, there’s been one statement more than a few have included.

The gist of it is:

“This is the third script of yours I’ve read, and each one has shown a definite improvement over the previous one.”

It warms this writer’s soul to hear that sort of thing. And these are writers who pull no punches. They won’t hesitate to say something doesn’t work.

I’ve been working at this for a while, but it really feels like just the past few years have seen the most significant progress. Just goes to show what constant hard work can do, right?

Nor do I have any intention of slowing down. Doing my best to maintain a dedicated block of time and/or pages on a daily basis. The more you do it, the easier it gets (but is still tough).

The three scripts in question were all adventure-based, which enabled me to exercise a certain set of writing skills. With work now commencing on overhauling a comedy, an entirely new set will get the workout they deserve.

Crafting a sequence involving a train heist in the Old West, or a team of adventurers taking on a mad scientist? Piece of cake.

Writing a story involving everyday people in relatively normal (but funny) situations, peppered with smart (and funny) dialogue, all without the benefit of using special effects to enhance the story?

That is truly the next challenge to yours truly. It initially feels very daunting, but I’ve made it this far, and there’s no reason to think I can’t continue to push my way forward.

Should be a very interesting journey.

*Billy Wilder’s 10 Rules for Good Filmmaking (also applicable to screenwriting)
1: The audience is fickle.
2: Grab ’em by the throat and never let ’em go.
3: Develop a clean line of action for your leading character.
4: Know where you’re going.
5: The more subtle and elegant you are in hiding your plot points, the better you are as a writer.
6: If you have a problem with the third act, the real problem is in the first act.
7: A tip from Lubitsch: Let the audience add up two plus two. They’ll love you forever.
8: In doing voice-overs, be careful not to describe what the audience already sees. Add to what they’re seeing.
9: The event that occurs at the second act curtain triggers the end of the movie.
10: The third act must build, build, build in tempo and action until the last event, and then — that’s it. Don’t hang around.