Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Tips For Tuesday - More Sausage

In my previous post, I wrote about the three stages of screenwriting. In this one, I want to focus on the third of those stages – namely, re-writing.

I think that for most screenwriters, this is probably an individual thing. I’m not certain that it is something that can even be taught. The best I can offer is an approach I’ve used and one that I think might be beneficial to try.

Let me say at the outset that once you finish that first draft, you will never again have “fresh eyes” with respect to your script. The closest you’ll ever come to that is reading it for the first time after that first draft has been completed. And that is something you should take maximum advantage of.

To get the most out of that one opportunity, I recommend that you put that first draft aside for at least two weeks after its completion. Longer if you can. Don’t even think about it. Go off and do something else entirely for whatever period of time that is.

Then, when you’re ready, shut the blinds, turn off the phone, hang up the do-not-disturb sign and sit down and read that draft straight through in one sitting. Treat it like you’re reading someone else’s script.

When you’re through, take out a pad of paper and pen and write down everything that comes to mind. Don’t take notes as you go. It will impede the flow of the read. Do it after. Trust me, you’ll have plenty to write about and you won’t forget anything important.

The very next day, repeat the process. Only this time, have that pen and paper with you as you read. Takes notes along the way. Anything that you didn’t write down the day before, you will catch here, even the smallest of things.

The next day, compare those notes and priortize the changes you think you have to make. Prepare a plan for re-writing your script. Make a list. Just as when you prepared before writing the first draft, do an outline. Draw a timeline for your script. Lay out the structure, complete with turning points and the midpoint. Look at your story laid out in linear fashion.

Be sure also that you have laid out a question at the end of the first act that is to be answered in the third. Examine your third act in its entirety and make sure that you have hit each element. Make sure that the final battle has a clear outcome and that the outcome answers the question you raised in the first act. (Take a look at my book The Third Act – Writing a Great Ending For Your Screenplay for help with this.)

When you’ve completed that re-write, repeat this process. And continue to do it until you have only minimal notes after reading your most recent draft. That may take six or seven tries.

At that point, it will be time to turn over your script to a trusted reader. I recommend that you find three. These need to be completely honest and knowledgeable folks. Not your mom. Compare the notes you get back from them. You don’t have to change everything they suggest. You’ll know which notes ring true and which seem like they can be dismissed. Caution though – if you get the same note from all three, alarm bells should ring and you need to take action.

Repeat the whole process all over again after incorporating those notes from your readers. When you have done so and are satisfied with your latest draft, that’s when you may want to consider getting a script consult and/or purchase coverage. I’ll speak about that in a later episode/draft.

One of the biggest improvements you will make from first draft to last will be with your dialogue. That is to be expected. First drafts produce bad dialogue. That’s just how it works, unless you are Aaron Sorkin or William Goldman. I’ll talk more about dialogue and what you should aim for in the next post.

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