Pushing my way forward (x2)

push
Really putting my back into this

This has been a most interesting week. Based on some quality notes, I wrapped up a polish of the dramedy spec (which is now in the process of getting notes). Feedback so far has been encouraging, which is nice.

So now the focus can shift back to developing the two new stories. With most of my recently-completed projects having been worked on for extended periods of time, it’s been a while since I was really starting out from the very beginning.

I’d totally forgotten how much I enjoyed the process of putting a story together. I know what the core concept for each one is, and now it’s all about finding the best and most entertaining way to tell them.

At times it feels like my mind is going in a thousand directions at once, so I’m constantly writing stuff down. A scene or sequence idea here, a line of dialogue there, plot twists, character development, turning the scene on its head; pretty much the whole kit and kaboodle.

Main storylines have been established, with the expected constant fine-tuning and adjusting, and as I work my way forward, the subplots are making themselves known.

Entirely new worlds (or maybe “settings” might be appropriate, since each story is on the smaller side) are being created, populated with unique and hopefully somewhat original characters.

While one of the stories is based on an old script, there’s a constant discarding of a lot of the original content and trying new approaches. Not necessarily “throw it all at the wall and see what sticks”, but kinda/sorta along those lines.

For the other, this is dipping my toes into a genre I enjoy, but wouldn’t call myself a major fan, so doing what I can to avoid tropes and cliches (of which there are apparently many). If that proves more challenging than anticipated, will do what I can to least go for the unexpected.

Added bonus – watching movies of that genre and style to get a better feel for both.

Sometimes I’ll read a writer’s account about what a chore it is for them to develop a story, or how much they loathe this part of the process. I don’t see it that way. Organizing the story and putting it all together is a key part of screenwriting. Too many times when reading a spec, you can tell when the writer didn’t put in the effort to get all the details of the story right before they started on pages.

I recently asked my online screenwriting newwork their thoughts on outlining versus a “seat of your pants” approach. The responses were overwhelmingly in favor of outlining. Granted, there are some writers who prefer the latter, but I’m not one of them. I’m a firm believer in having a rock-solid outline before starting to write the actual script.

But that’s what works for me. Others may feel differently regarding their own process. No matter how you achieve the end result, as long as you’re happy with it, then more power to you.

The whole creative process in developing a story is a beast unto itself, but I think all the long-term work I’ve done for other scripts is really paying off for these two. For now, it’s still a big and unwieldy mess, occasionally feeling very unorganized and all-over-the-place, but a little bit of work every day will gradually pay off. When all is said and done, I’ll have two new scripts.

Like I said – I’m enjoying it.

The goodness of just over 50 percent

writer
That was just the warmup

A most pleasant update to report regarding progress on the pulp spec: the point of no return has been reached (and even slightly surpassed).

Something incredibly significant has just happened to my protagonist, and everything between here and the end of the story is not only about answering the central question and everything connected to it, but also dealing with this important new development, which is also tied in to the main storyline.

From here on in, the stakes are consistently rising and my protagonist’s situation will continue to get more and more difficult.

As it should be.

Fortunately, a lot of these details were mapped out during the outlining process, which has once again proven to be extremely helpful. But even that’s not written in stone; one big sequence was deemed too similar to another, so the relevant elements of both were combined, which actually helped tighten things up on several levels.

To be perfectly honest, there’s not much I can gripe about regarding working on this script. It’s in a genre I love; this was always “something I would want to see.” I’ve made a real effort to make this an exciting read, both in terms of story and how it actually reads.

Like with some of my previous projects, I’m continuing to have a fantastic time writing it, and hopefully that excitement and enthusiasm will be evident on the page.

Sure, the ongoing plan of 2-3 pages a day has been slightly off, so it’s taking a bit longer than originally anticipated, but that’s par for the course for me. But every writing session, no matter how long or short, gets me a little more further along.

Today, the midpoint. Next up – pushing my way forward to the next plot point, which is about halfway through the second act of Act Two.

First, you build a solid foundation…

foundation
And this is what could happen if it isn’t

As the daily churning-out of pages continues for my November writing project, I’ve found it extremely helpful that so much time was spent working on the outline.

Only through trial-and-error did I eventually discover that making sure the outline is rock-solid before starting on pages makes a huge difference.

Keep in mind that this is what works for me. You may have an entirely different approach, and that’s totally cool. Actually, I’m curious to hear about some of them. Feel free to discuss in the comments section.

And now, back to the subject at hand…

I see putting together the outline as a gradual building-up process. I start with establishing the main plot points. What are the pivotal moments in this story? Does each one properly fulfill its purpose in the overall context of the story?

Then I fill in the blanks between those plot points. Does it make sense how we get from, say, the inciting incident to the end of the first act? Does each scene do its job in moving the story and characters forward? Are you presenting information we need to know, or setting things up so as to adequately pay them off later? Does each scene appropriately follow the one before and lead into the one after it?

Something important to keep in mind during this part: eliminating unnecessary scenes. You may have a scene you really, really like, but may not be absolutely vital to the story. My recommendation is to either make it vital or get rid of it entirely. The last thing you want is to interrupt the flow of your story for a scene that really doesn’t have to be in there.

Once you’ve got all those blanks filled in, then you move on to expanding each scene – mostly just putting in the necessary elements that reinforce the purpose of the scene. Sometimes I’ll add in a snippet or two of dialogue.

Another very important detail about each scene: get to the point, then get out and into the next one. Once the scene fulfills its purpose, anything after that just slams on the brakes.

Hang in there. You’re almost done. The outline is pretty sturdy, but it could probably use a little more editing, fine-tuning and polishing. When you think it’s honest-and-truly ready, that’s when you make the big jump to pages.

This isn’t to say there won’t be more changes in store once you’re into pages mode, but by putting so much time and effort into your outline, you’ve eliminated a lot of the heavy lifting for when you get there.

So glad I didn’t listen to myself

How I originally intended to start this writing session
How I originally intended to approach this rewrite

Since it really has been years since I last looked at my mystery-comedy spec, and not wanting to be too heavily influenced by what I’d written before, I figured this rewrite would be completely fresh. A clean slate. Blank page from the get-go. A whole new ball of wax.

I sit at my desk, all set to open those floodgates. My notebook’s open to this new set of plot points, ready to be fleshed out. Pandora cranks out the sounds of the Rat Pack and the 50s jazz club scene (appropriate mood music for the story’s setting). A hot cup of joe within reach. Overall, a perfect writing scenario.

So what thought immediately pops into my head?

Yep. I’m gonna check out what I wrote before. But just out of curiosity. It’s not like I’m going to keep the whole story. Besides, it’ll be interesting to see how far my writing’s come since then.

This is also why you should never, ever throw away old material. You never know when you might come back to it.

I open the 1-pager. Okay, I remember this part. Wait. I don’t remember that. Whoa, where did that come from? Wow, this is a lot more detailed than I remember.

Finishing that, I automatically wonder how the script reads. A few scenes stick out in my memory, but most of it is long forgotten.

I’ll just take a look at the first few pages. Promise.

Hmm. Not as bad as I thought. Some of the dialogue is a little too on-the-nose. Too many adverbs. Character descriptions could be better. Some good set-ups I instantly recall how they pay off. This subplot’s a little weak.

A quick glance to the upper right corner to see what page I’m on. 26 already? Hokey smokes, this thing is flying by.

By now I feel almost obligated to finish reading it. 35 minutes later, I did.

The overall consensus: still needs a lot of work, but a much more solid foundation to start with and there are some ideas I’d like to incorporate. It’s kind of reassuring to know I’ve already taken care of a lot of the heavy lifting.

A few days ago, I was concerned this was going to be a real slog, but now – not so much.

The subconscious storyteller does it again!

How could I have missed that?
How could I have missed that?

When I start a new story, one of the first things I do is figure out the major plot points – statement of theme on page 3 (or at least thereabouts), inciting incident on page 10, and so on.  After that, it’s coming up with the most effective way to get from one to the next.  It’s how I’ve always done it, and it works for me.

One of the key purposes of the end of your first act is to get your hero off on their journey. This includes raising the central question of your story – will the hero accomplish their goal?  For example, in STAR WARS it’s the scene after Luke discovers the smoldering corpses of his aunt and uncle. He tells Ben he wants to go with him to Alderaan, learn the ways of the Jedi, etc.

Since I’d started working on my western outline, a lot of the plot points were pretty firmly established. I knew what I wanted to happen and when. For the most part, they’ve stayed the same this whole time.

I filled in the gaps between those points with scenes and sequences that I felt did the best job of moving the story forward, including some that needed to have the proper amount of emotional gravitas.

Jump ahead to the present. The churning-out of pages continues. Some scenes are easier to write than others, but progress is constant.  I work my way through Act One, wrapping it up with a sequence that really changes things around.

But then I realized Act One really ends in the scene right before it.  This short, dialogue-free scene still moves the story forward, but has a more significant impact on the story itself – moreso than the rousing sequence that follows.  The hero’s situation completely changes direction, and you can’t help but wonder how she could possibly accomplish her goal after this. No matter what, her situation is going to get worse before it gets better.

Working all of this out during the outline stage was a huge benefit. It seems very doubtful I would have discovered this if I had just dashed off a quick outline and dove into pages. Further proof why it’s important to take your time and fine-tune your outline.

So now I’m a few pages into Act Two and as this sequence kicks in, things get changed up even further.  Only negative that came to light: my hero isn’t the one making things happen. She has to be more active and less reactive.  I may spend a little time on it now, or come back to it during the rewrite.

And if I’ve done a good enough job on developing this outline, the answer may already be right there in front of me again.

I just don’t know it yet.