One more hurdle hurdled

hurdles
On to the next one!

A little self-serving project status update for today…

Work on the comedy spec has been put on hold so I can polish up the pulp sci-fi in order to make a fast-approaching contest deadline.

Luckily for me, I’ve been very fortunate to get some high-quality feedback on it from trusted colleagues, and a lot of what they’re saying has been proving most helpful.

Several readers had the same comments about several sections. If one person had said it, their suggestion might be worth considering. Since it was a bit more than one, action had to be taken.

Among the notes was that a few scenes were simply too clichéd and unoriginal, and that their tropey-ness, along with being kind of dull, was more or less counteracting the high-octane action of the rest of the script.

Changes had to be made.

The objective of the scenes and sequences in question was still the same, but the execution needed some major work.

I went through several options with a mindset of “What haven’t I seen before?”, and came up with one I thought adequately fit the bill. That triggered a few more ideas, which upon a little more figuring out, could actually be connected to other parts of the story.

A little more tweaking and suddenly it all clicked into place. By having A happen, that would result in B, which leads into C, which both reinforced an integral part of the overall story while further developing a character several readers had felt was somewhat lacking in substance.

It was quite an exhilarating sensation.

There’s still more work to do for the script, but I felt quite psyched about having gotten this far, along with looking forward to implementing a few more of those much-appreciated notes.

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 special spark within

roald dahl
Why is this writer smiling? You would too if you came up with the term “Everlasting Gobstopper”.

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to meet with some fellow Bay Area writers. Among their number was a writer who had written some small stuff, and was in the middle of working on her first big project – a TV pilot.

Even though I don’t know much about writing for TV, I and another writer offered up what advice we could. The recipient was very appreciative, and one of the things she said later on in the conversation made a very strong impression on me.

“I know the first draft isn’t going to be perfect, but I’m just really loving writing this.”

Truer words could not have been spoken.

Like I told her, I write stuff I would want to see. It’s taken me a long time and many drafts of many scripts to feel like I’ve really come into my own. Each time, the end result is a script for a movie I think would be an absolute blast to see play out on the big screen.

It always astounds me when a writer complains about having to write (or rewrite). If you don’t like doing it, WHY ARE YOU DOING IT?

It was genuinely pleasing to hear this writer who, despite the challenges she knew awaited her, was still excited about working on this project. Sure, she was still nervous about doing a good job and hoped the end result didn’t suck too much. No matter how many scripts you’ve written, that feeling never goes away.

But to simply see her face light up while she described the story (which is a real doozy, believe you me) and hear her talk about what she’s experienced so far, including doing the research involved, and learning what to do and not to do regarding formatting, it was just really, really pleasant.

I’m sure a lot of us do this because the title “storyteller” really suits us to a tee. Are some better at it than others? Sure, but instead of being discouraged about what you perceive as a lack of progress, try seeing every time you write as a chance to learn and improve. Because it is. It’s certainly been that way for me, and I strongly suspect I’m not alone in that.

I got the impression our little chat gave this writer an extra little jolt of encouragement that she wasn’t expecting. She doesn’t know when the pilot script will be ready, but I told her not to worry about that and just keep enjoying writing it.

I suspect she will.

-Friend of the blog Andrew Hilton (aka The Screenplay Mechanic) is offering a special deal as part of his stellar screenplay analysis. (Editor’s note – his notes helped shape my western into what it is today)

If you use any of his services, refer a friend, or write a Facebook review of your experience using his services, you are automatically entered to win a free DVD of the motorcycle documentary WHY WE RIDE (of which Andrew was a co-executive producer).

The winner will be chosen on October 1st. The holidays will be here before you know it, and if you or somebody you know loves motorcycles, this would be an excellent gift (as would purchasing some of Andrew’s script services for that special screenwriter in your life).

All the details here.

-My time in the San Francisco Half-marathon the weekend before last – 2:02:56. Disappointing, but still glad I did it. I blame all those uphill stretches in the second half. And probably not training enough.

Next race is coming up in a few weeks in Oakland. Pleasantly flat Oakland. Training a little harder for it, with the intention once again of hoping to break the 2-hour mark.

A label I wear proudly

sturges
We work wherever, whenever, and however we can

I can’t remember exactly where I saw it, but a couple of days ago there was a comment in a screenwriting forum that read something like “All you wannabe dreamers are just wasting your time”.

Oh, how I adore the encouraging words of total strangers.

But in all seriousness, I take issue with that statement. Nothing wannabe about me at all. I’m a total dreamer, through and through, and I don’t see this as wasting my time.

Far from it.

I think up stories and put ’em down on paper, and I really like that I can do that. A lot. (So much to the point that I think I could actually make a living at it. Here’s hoping, anyway.)

Other dreamers express themselves using any form of different methods. They’ll paint, draw, sculpt, compose, act, or sing. And it’s probably correct in assuming they get the same joy out of doing it that I do.

Is everybody good at it? No. Does that mean they shouldn’t even try? Of course not. We do it because we enjoy it.

One consequence about being a dreamer is that there will always be somebody like that anonymous naysayer. You don’t have to listen to them. It’s a lot easier to tear someone down than it is to build them up. That person may have had been bad experiences trying to do the same thing, and if they couldn’t do it, then nobody else can (or so the theory goes).

But you should also be realistic. Not everybody’s going to create The Most Amazing Thing Ever. Don’t let that stop you from trying. Speaking from my own perspective, even though I’ve made some forward progress for both skills and career, it’s taken a long time, with the number of setbacks and disappointments being significantly higher, but despite all that, there’s nothing else I’d rather be doing. Better to put myself through all of that rather than to have given up and not tried at all.

What can I say? It’s the dreamer in me.

So here’s to all of us dreamers. Long may our imaginations and the ability and methods in which we express them reign in an effort to make the world a slightly more enjoyable place.

Oh, and screw the naysayers.

Pacing & page numbers

number-line
Looks like there’s a lot going on up ahead

When you start reading a script, you tend to recognize pretty quickly whether or not the writer knows what they’re doing. Their mastery of the craft (or lack thereof) will become soon apparent.

Bad formatting. Misspelled words. Unfilmables. On-the-nose dialogue. Cliches as far as the eye can see. Quite a checklist.

Find one or more of these early on, let alone just on the first page (which does happen), and there’s not much hope of improvement. You’re left with no choice but to force yourself to push forward. Maybe once in a while, you glance up at the upper right corner of the page/screen.

Your shoulders sag. “I’m only up to page ____? This is taking forever!” you exclaim. Making it to the end has suddenly become a question of “if”, rather than “when”.

Now let’s examine the other side, where the writer is in total control.

You encounter writing so sharp and descriptive, you can easily “see” what’s happening. Dialogue that’s not just crisp, it practically crackles. Characters who feel and talk like real people. All of it taking place in original and entertaining situations.

You become so wrapped up that you can’t wait to get to the bottom of the page so you can move on to the next one. And maybe once in a while, you sneak a glance at the upper right corner.

Your eyebrows shoot up. “I’m already at page ____? Wow, this is just zooming by!” you exclaim. You eagerly dive back in, more than ready to continue because you simply can’t wait to see what happens next.

Now here’s the big question for you, the writer:

Of the two experiences listed above, which do you want the reader to have when they read your script?

Do you want them to be bored and see reading your script as a chore that ranks up there with cleaning out the cat’s litterbox or listening to a timeshare presentation?

Or do you want them to be so involved, their attention so riveted to the tale being told in your script, that nothing short of a major crisis or natural disaster could tear them away? (Not to diminish the intensity or significance of major crises or natural disasters, but you get the idea)

It’s tough to be that objective when it comes to reading your own material. You think it’s good (“How could anyone not like it?”), but every reader has their own criteria for what works and what doesn’t. The challenge is crafting together a script so rock-solid that not liking it is not an option. Not sure if yours is? Seek outside opinions. Rewrite with the mindset of “how can I make this better?”.

As screenwriters, our primary goal is to tell an entertaining story. The last thing we want is for someone to be easily distracted by something/anything else when they’re supposed to be reading (and in theory, enjoying) our scripts.