What you want VS what the story needs

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Sometimes it takes a little more evaluation

Over the course of several drafts, the core elements of my scripts remain more or less the same. There might be a few changes here and there, but to me, the end result is pretty darn close to what I originally intended.

As part of the development of those drafts, I get notes from trusted colleagues and professional analysts. Everybody has their opinions, of which there were many, and I can pick and choose which ones to use.

I was still presenting my stories the way I wanted to tell them, but is that the way they should be told? Was I falling into the trap of “I’m the writer, so what I say goes! End of discussion!”?

I recently got notes on one of my scripts that offered up some keen insight regarding the antagonist’s storyline. This included the reader’s frustration about what they perceived as a lack of knowing the character’s goal and the reasoning behind it.

At first, that was pretty surprising to hear. But as is usually the case, I took a step back and looked at the big picture, trying to be as objective as possible. Was it really not as apparent as I thought?

And as is also usually the case, their comments were spot-on. I had never made any big changes to how that storyline was written because I saw it as being “just fine the way it is”, which also happened to be the way I wanted it to be.

Which was counterproductive to how the story needed it to be. It wasn’t working within the context of the story itself.

Was it my writer’s ego that prevented me from seeing this through all the previous drafts? Maybe a little. I’ve seen this kind of thing before in other scripts, but just couldn’t see it within my own material.

I knew the script wasn’t perfect, but there’d always been this nagging thought in the back of my mind that it still needed work. Something had to be changed, but I couldn’t identify what. This could also explain why I always felt compelled to keep working on it.

But with those notes, I now had a much firmer grasp of what the reader was talking about, and could begin to rectify the situation.

It took a little time to work through it, including some significant edits and rewrites. It  also entailed cutting some scenes that absolutely broke my heart to see them go, but were totally necessary. All part of the process.

I know I’ve said all of this before, but looking through the latest draft, the script really does seem different now – in a better and much stronger sense. The characters, especially the protagonist and antagonist, feel more developed. The story reads as more concrete. I’m very happy with how it turned out.

Once I was able to put what I wanted aside and focus on what was best for the story, it all came together a lot better than I expected. My hope is that this kind of self-analysis will be a bit easier for me to figure out for future drafts of other scripts.

Can’t wait to give it a try.

Characters are people!

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Go ahead. Say it like he would. You know you want to.

I’d always heard how your script should somehow reflect “the human condition”, but never really had a firm grasp of eactly what it meant or how you would accomplish that.

I mentioned the phrase in a discussion with another writer, to which they responded “I don’t care about that. I just want to tell good stories.”

But isn’t the story about the characters to begin with? And a story with under-developed characters won’t be as good as one where the characters feel like actual people.

Accomplishing that has always been one of my biggest challenges.

A comment I’ve received more than a few times in the past is that the reader finds my characters good, but somewhat incomplete. They’re established and believable, but only to a point. This isn’t saying they’re flat, one-dimensional caricatures (something I’ve unfortunately seen in many other spec scripts), but they don’t feel completely real.

Readers/audiences want to be able to relate to the characters in your script. They might feel they’re only getting a glimpse into what kind of person the protagonist is, or know there’s more to them, but that “more” isn’t there, and they want to see that. And this doesn’t just apply to the main characters; it’s everybody.

Digging a little deeper and offering up a few more details would help flesh them out, which in turn would make for a stronger story.

When I recently sent a script out for notes, the reader asked if there was anything specific I wanted them to focus on. Without a doubt, it was the protagonist and the antagonist. I felt while they were good, there was definitely a need to make them better.

The reader agreed and made some good suggestions about how that could be achieved. “We don’t know as much about these two characters as you might think,” they wrote. Since I was the writer, I had a little more insight into their respective backstories and what made them the people we see, but some of those details had stayed in my head, rather than been transferred onto the page.

So I went about adding in some small details here and there; a line of dialogue or a seemingly insignificant action. A few touches to give a little more insight into what makes them tick; why they are the way they are.

All of this, combined with a few alterations with the plot, makes this latest draft feel really different, and hopefully stronger, than its predecessors. I’m giving it a few more days to simmer, and will then give it another look to see if that vibe still holds.

What I’m also hoping is that from here on in, I’ll be able to apply this kind of approach to all future drafts, which would in theory, help achieve the same results but in a shorter amount of time.

Hope and ambition. Just two parts of the human condition, right?

The Thoroughly Unofficial 2017 Maximum Z Screenwriters Gift Guide

shopping crowd
Added bonus – no crowds or lack of parking spots!

With the holiday shopping season now fully underway, you might be stumped as to what get that special screenwriter in your life, or maybe you’re a screenwriter with a desire to treat yourself.

Worry no more! Here’s a list of some holiday deals being offered by some well-known and exceptionally talented script consultants, along with a few books penned by some very savvy and creative scribes.

Keep in mind that a lot of these deals are time-sensitive, with more than a few expiring on November 30th, so act fast!

CONSULTANTS

-Need notes on your sci-fi script? Sci-fi screenwriter, Sci-Fi Circuit columnist for ScriptMag, and Called to Write Founder Jenna Avery’s sci-fi (and fantasy) script notes on sale through November 30th for $100 off. Find out more here: https://calledtowrite.com/product/script-notes

Need help showing up to write? Feeling blocked? Lost your writing mojo? Join the Called to Write Coaching Circle, Jenna Avery’s signature online program designed to help writers write every day. Save $50 on your first 28-day writing session with coupon code MAXIMUMZ. Find more and register here: http://justdothewriting.com. Next session starts on December 3rd, last day to register is November 30th.

ScriptArsenal. 20% off Regular coverage, Comments-only coverage and Studio Notes – thru Thursday the 30th. Promo code “THANKS20”

-The fine folks at The Be Epic Experience are offering big discounts on all their services, starting at $100 off, through January 1st.

Geoffrey Calhoun and We Fix Your Script. $20 discount on all script services, which includes a 15-minute phone consultation, if you use the code MAXIMUMZ.

Friend of the blog Howard Casner5 pages of coverage for $40, and coverage, notes & a 1-hour one-on-one discussion for $125.

Phil Clarke of Philmscribe. Use promo code BLACKNEWS via www.philmscribe.com/contact to get 20% off the Annotation, Analysis or A&A services for a 2018 consult through the end of November. Phil is based in the UK, so exchange rates and fees do apply.

Steve Cleary. 30% off all screenwriting services. Make sure to mention this blog when contacting him.

Barri Evans of Big Big Ideas. A special deal on her logline service just for readers of this blog. Using the code Maximum Z Pie in the subject line, send her an email that includes your script’s title, genre, and logline, and she’ll provide you with free feedback.

-Highstreet Script Consultation and Finish Line Script Competition6 pages of notes and a follow-up email for a rate of $125. Contact them here.

Phil Hardy of The Script Gymnasium. A reduced rate of $129 on his full script consulting package.

Andrew Hilton of The Screenplay Mechanic. 10% discount on Notes Only Plus and Full Development Notes services through the end of December.

Namita Kabilas of the NK Network. For a limited time only, join the Screenwriters Training Hub – your very own flexible online mobile screenwriting resource with access to regular monthly training videos, worksheets, expert tips, e-books, audiobooks, hosted webcasts on good writing AND one-to-one mentoring with Namita all for just $79 a month. Namita is based in the UK, so exchange rates and fees will apply.

Jim Mercurio of A-List Screenwriting. Half-price on his 6-disc instructional DVD set and his Snapshot Evaluation script read service through November 30th. Plus, every order includes a complimentary copy of Jim’s Killer Endings DVD lecture.

-Phil Parker of Stories by Phil. 20% off script services, which includes a 30-minute Skype session. Phil is based in Australia, so exchange rates and fees will apply.

Scott Parisien of Pro Screenplays. Development notes marked down to $59 (a savings of $20) until December 1st.

BOOKS

-For the screenwriter seeking some career guidance (part 1). A Screenwriter’s Journey to Success: Tips, tricks and tactics to survive as a working writer in Hollywood by Mark Sanderson.

-For the screenwriter seeking some career guidance (part 2). Mind Your Business: A Hollywood Literary Agent’s Guide to Your Writing Career by Michele Wallerstein.

– Looking for a laugh? Half-Loaded by Don Holley. Don wrote the cult comedy National Lampoon’s Loaded Weapon 1, and this memoir chronicles his “wildly unlikely odyssey from obscurity to success and back again.”

-Have a young reader, aspiring comic artist, and/or comics aficianado on your list? Can’t go wrong with The Chapel Chronicles by Emma T Capps.

-Into a little sci-fi adventure? Only 99 cents for the Kindle 3-book boxset of Syndicate Wars by the very prolific Justin Sloan.

Keep your ego out of it

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As much as she loved that scene, she eventually accepted the fact it would have to go.

I’ve received notes on three separate scripts in the past week or so, and each set is of  very high quality. Each does a very thorough and insightful job of spotlighting What Needs Work for each script.

Daunting and somewhat overwhelming at first, I’ve begun the slow and somewhat laborious process of analyzing and breaking down all the comments and suggestions. I won’t use everything, but there is definitely a lot of good material to work with.

I provided a total stranger with material, and they’re offering up their honest opinions about it. At first glance, some of the comments might be interpreted as negative, but they’re really not. This is what they saw/thought while reading my script.

No axes to grind. No vendettas. No hidden agendas. Just pure, honest opinions. I take what they said, figure out which parts I consider the most helpful, and proceed from there. Ten times out of ten, the result is a better script.

I was told once that getting critically constructive notes and being willing to accept them were signs of a quality writer. Honestly, that was a little surprising.

As much I’d like to think my stuff is great, the reality of the situation is that it’s more along the lines of “it’s okay/pretty solid, but could still use some work”, which is fine. That’s what rewrites are for. From my experience, the final draft is always different from the first. I wouldn’t have been able to produce that final draft without all those helpful notes.

Many times I’ll see a writer ask for feedback on their script, which they get, but might not be the high words of praise they were expecting. Are they ever? Then they respond with something along the lines of “You just don’t get my genius!”, and promptly reject any and all notes. The end result: a lousy script that’s not much better.

Helpful tip: don’t do that.

The whole reason you want notes is to find out how to make your script better. Hard as it is to believe, you can’t make it better if you’re not willing to accept criticism. You can be super-proud of the script you have, but don’t fool yourself into thinking it’s perfect just the way it is now.

Chances are it’s not.

What’s more important to you: having what you think is a good script, or having somebody give you tips that would actually help make it better?

Would we love to see our scripts play out onscreen, just the way we wrote them? Of course. But what you see is up there is usually a lot different from what how it originally read on the page. Happens all the time. Getting upset about it and decrying the sacrilege committed by altering even one letter or syllable from your precious text is definitely the wrong way to go.

In the next couple of days, I’ll be having separate in-depth discussions about two of my scripts with some of the people who gave me notes on them. My emotional state could probably be summed up with “excitedly nervous”. It’s a combination of looking forward to and feeling a bit anxious about hearing what they have to say.

But in the end, it’s not about the writer. It’s about the script and doing what’s necessary to make it better.

A few treats, but no tricks

Halloween candy
…and all the peanut butter cups you can eat

Halloween shorty today due to yet-again busy times around Maximum Z HQ.

Among the highlights:

-Finished the initial overhaul for the outline of the comedy spec. The story is still kind of/sort of the same, but still significantly different than what it was. There’s still some tweaking to be done, but I’m really liking how it turned out.

-Got some notes back on a few of my scripts. For the most part, they’re pretty positive with some good suggestions, but there were also a couple of comments that made me question if my writing abilities are where they need to be. Maybe to a certain extent, but as it was pointed out to me, those comments are from one person, and one person’s opinion is not the final say. That’s something I really need to keep in mind.

-More writers asking me to do notes or engage in a script swap. Some new, some returning for more. Guess my analysis skills are improving. Happy to help when I can, but don’t expect a fast turnaround.

-A slow but steady output of query letters continues, with a handful of “send it” responses. Not a bad percentage so far. Not relying on any of them, but always maintaining a positive & hopeful attitude. Send it, forget it, on to the next one.

Thus the journey to being a working writer continues…