Writing On Spec

An award caliber procrastinator discovers a new and dangerous pursuit to keep him from actually writing another script. Why another Blog? I love to talk screenwriting. I love to talk story. I live in Richmond, VA. It's almost easier to get produced than find another screenwriter here. We are the anti-LA.

Monday, May 08, 2006

The Perfect Script

Doesn't exist. Stop trying.

I've belonged to a group of screenwriters for over 10 years. I've had my share, and know of a bunch more, of 30 page scripts. See, we review 30 pages at a time. Turn in 30 pages, read/review/critique, move on. It's so easy to write 30 and then rewrite that 30 to death. Problem is, 30 pages doesn't make a feature length script. The one thing that everybody who makes it has is more than 2 feature length scripts (or contacts in the industry, which most of us don't have). You have to finish a script in order to even think about selling it. Finishing it means that you don't stop and rewrite it every time you sit down. It means that you forge on with the writing until it's done and then go back. It means, in short, that no matter how hard you try, no matter what you do, who you talk to, what you read, etc. you are NOT going to write the perfect script. You especially will not write the perfect script the first draft. Give up that idea right now.

One thing you should do, is write that first draft as quickly as possible. Why? You ask. Because as a writer, you're creative (or let's hope you are - if you're not you might want to head in a different career direction now). As a creative person, you will see things differently many times. The scene you write today will give you fresh ideas as early as tomorrow (it's why what seems so freakin' brilliant at 3am reads like fish poo in the bright light of day). You will see events, motivations, characters differently the longer you live with them. This means that the story that is so defined for you in month one and two, will look much differently in month 8 or 9. You will be a different person 8-9 months from now. Accept that and use it to your advantage.

If you work hard at a story, we'll hope that you can pin down enough of the story to start writing in 30 days. Another 1-2 months writing and it's done. A first draft. Then you'll want to go back and rewrite with a purpose (to borrow from John August) you'll go back to your script and you'll say, "ok, I'm going to solidify the relationship between x & y on this pass." or, "I'm going to strengthen my them in each scene on this pass." What you'll do is go through the script with the explicit design of doing one thing with the rewrite. Maybe you have a lot to do, maybe not, but when you're done, you will have done what was necessary to make that element as good as it can be. You'll probably have several rewrites, but at least when you're done, you'll have a list of what you've done with your rewrites. Nothing vague or existential like "I improved the dialogue" or "tightened the story."

Now, after writing your first draft quickly, so you don't lose your initial idea, and rewriting several times (each with a purpose), you have a final (hopefully solid) script. Now set it aside for a month or two then come back and read it. I'm betting money that you'll still have fresh, original ideas about how it could be written. Leave that script for a year or two and you may not even recognize it as your own. You'll have even stronger ideas about how events should take place, how characters should act, etc. That's because as an artist, nothing is final. It's all interpretive based on our experiences.

Now imagine you are somebody totally different and how, as an artist, you see things and you have an idea of why scripts can change so much from writing to filming. All you can hope for is that if you're lucky enough to get a script sold and made into a film that's released, that you were given the opportunity to participate in it's change and that the film still has the same drive that you felt when you spat out that first draft in 3 months. That's all that really matters. The rest is all artistic interpretation that will change in time.

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