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Page history last edited by Steve 9 years, 11 months ago

For the last two and a half years, I've kept notes about what I learned while writing the Limit. Now I'm creating posts that will cover each phase of my script-writing process. They'll be added to as I trawl through the blog (and linked to on the sidebar).



This one's about how I redraft scripts. What you're about to read are snippets I've cut-n-pasted from previous posts.







The goal is to simplify. In doing that, you'll find a clear and powerful throughline.





To increase the script's readability, identify paragraphs in which every sentence has the form “Forster does this,” or “Trace says that,” and simplify them into something cleaner, more like poetry.





Redrafting quickly requires a massive amount of focus and time-management. Some of the concepts from Critical Chain (a book on project management) work for me:


  1. Assume all work gets done at the last minute.
  2. With that in mind, halve my time estimates for how long it’ll take to do things.
  3. Put the 50% of time I’ve saved into a safety buffer at the end of the project. That time can get fed into the project if any particular step starts running behind.


Here’s my plan.


A. Edit Draft 1 [finished by 3 July]

B. Send script out to readers. [12 July]

C. Polish Draft 2 [17 July]

D. Send script out to producers. [18 July]


A. Edit Draft 1


First, I’ve done this sort of thing, under these constraints, many times before – on the TV series and on at least a couple of feature films. Second, I have that safety buffer. Say the re-edit gets bogged down. I have days I can draw out of the buffer and spend on the rewrite.


Halving my time estimates really has resulted in me doing the work faster. So much so that my Safety Buffer is back up to 20 days. Conclusion: if I want to get work done fast I should focus on it until it’s freakin’ done.






Take my new understanding of the characters and the plot - and feed it back into the start of the script, refining the story. I’m hoping the amount of intense thought I’ve been putting into the writing this time round is going to remove my standard errors from the script. Of course there will be mistakes – that’s what a first draft is :) - but I’d like to be dealing with a higher level of mistakes.










I mentioned the "doing it right vs. getting it done fast" dilemma a few days ago. When I was first writing this draft, I laboured over each sequence until I felt it was working as good as I could get it. At the moment, my writing is nowhere that intensive.



However, I think it's like sculpting*. My first draft was like taking a lot of care to get the general shape correct. Now I've stepped back, assessed what it looks like and am making some of the quick, obvious hacks and cuts to get everything in proportion. It means my concern is I'll cut too much or that I'll stray from the heart of the piece, but - unlike sculpting - I can put material back into the script. I guess it's like sculpting with play-doh ... and I think I'll end the metaphor there cos I can sense it starting to collapse.



*I've never sculpted anything, so this is what I imagine it's like.





Regardless of the final quality of this draft, I won't put it on the market till I'm happy with it.






When your busy friends agree to do you a favour and read your script for free, you should add a week to the schedule for each friend. Because they have lives.







Yesterday I quoted Joss Whedon saying, "... as a script doctor, the issue is always the same: “We want you to make the third act more exciting and cheaper.” And my response inevitably is, “The problem with the third act is the first two acts.” This response is never listened to."










So, I’ll be even more focused on the script over the next week or so. I’ve scheduled 20 days to finish this section; hopefully I can finish much quicker. After that, organise all my brainstorming and then finalise it. And then the final ‘tighten up & proofread’ draft.






Couple of things I learned during this redraft:


1. There's always more stuff you can take out.


I adhere to Stephen King's rule, that the 2nd Draft = the 1st Draft - 10% (except in my blog posts). This time round, I discovered moments within a single scene that duplicated each other, moments that didn't make any sense because they referred to previous versions, simple spelling mistakes ('streaks' became 'steaks').


In fixing all this, I took out beats I was fond of but thought distracted from getting to the story. Mostly those were slightly jokey moments or actions I wasn't 100% convinced by.


2. I always have a warm-up period where the writing doesn't come easily.


It'd be great to figure out a way around this - where it comes from and how to deal with it. That would increase my productivity.


3. I'll feel whatever I'm writing about.


That's the only way it seems to work for me. And, with this script, a lot of good's come out of it. I used to be afraid of feeling angry. Now I understand it more: the way it's powerful and it feels good - but how I nearly make bad decisions under its influence.


4. I have a new benchmark to aim for.


Earlier this year, I locked on to something new to explore in my writing - being aware of a script's central conflict and making sure every scene hooked into that. I'm still learning how to do that but now I have an even more demanding goal to reach for.


You see, I read a script and rate how engaged I am with it (out of 10) on every page. Next script, I want to aim for 10 out of 10 for all of it. I don't even know if that's achievable but there is definitely no harm in trying.



That's the great thing about writing: the process is still fun (even when it's frustrating and heart-breaking), but the benchmark for my satisfaction keeps moving.





Two Saturdays ago - I finally read through the script myself. My emotions went through two phases:

  • 1) the actual reading, where I thought that the script was terrible. Unrealistic, badly motivated, lame writing. It totally didn't live up to the ideal in my head and I was pretty much devastated by the end;
  • 2) drawing the whammo chart - my graph of how interested I was in the script. This revealed that many of my problems lay in the first act but that the middle of the script still wasn't as strong as I hoped. Two reasons for that were that it was unclear what Peter wanted to achieve in his first intense conversation with Forster, and that Tracy's midpoint is misplaced. So, I was slightly lifted by that. Slightly.


I took a week off, where I couldn't face reading or thinking about the thing. I drew some solace from a book on script-editing where another writer was described as adopting the fetal position for two days, curled up in bed with a hot water bottle. I was not that bad.





At the moment, I actually feel pretty confident about the script. Everyone's feedback works together & ... more importantly to me ... I feel like the script is now 'telling' me what it wants to be. Adjusting scenes feels like a natural process now, one that doesn't require that much thinking about it. It's like there's an ideal version of this draft that I'm chiselling the unnecessary material away from.




The Midpoint of the script consists of an argument plus a new threat for one of the lead characters. Now, the threat's always worked fine but the argument has always seemed to slow things down. I've tried a lot of fixes on it over the last five drafts and nothing's worked.


So what did I realise during this edit? That none of these quick fixes had addressed the main problem. That the midpoints for the two leads were separated by about 10 pages ... and that that distance was killing momentum the script's momentum.


So, lessons to apply in future:

1) Coming up with a quick fix is fine, if I'm utterly convinced by it.

2) If I'm not convinced, then analyse the problem thoroughly. I've been finding that Deviation Analysis works well as a tool.

3) Analyse anything that looks like a massive drop in engagement when I draft my Whammo Chart.

4) If, after coming up with a quick fix, a problem still remains in the next draft, analyse it.







Other script tip stuff, while I remember:


Have two folders - one for the current draft, and one for the next draft.


Jane Espenson pointed out that you can ask what's the script about, and then you can ask what it's really about. Both questions are useful for keeping your writing on track.






I've been:


1. making sure there's the same number of spaces after each full-stop

2. making all the '...' in the script consistently spaced

3. spell-checking stuff. Turns out that adding words to the dictionary makes the process go faster

4. formatting all the remaining dialogue. I used Page Preview for this. Next time, I really need to set up a script template with macros.


Gripping stuff, I know. But getting the presentation right is important at a "It's a good read" level.


As usual, I stalled on doing this, then found it was much quicker than I anticipated. (All hail the Auto-replace function.)


Next up, I'll be:


5. putting the (CONT.) into the script

6. making sure the scene headings are formatted consistently (in style and names of locations).


Then to print it out, and reverse-proof it - starting from the end of the script and going back a sentence at a time.


After that's all done, I've got to:


- enter the final changes

- paginate it all

- turn it into a PDF (which may be unnecessary)

- register it with the NZWG

- send it off to a producer.


A couple of months back, Morgue described writing a second draft as



... like being inside a giant and massively complex sudoku puzzle, erasing and checking and erasing again as you try and get the damn thing to have the right balance of numbers. Equal parts fascinating and frustrating, but always compelling.




I'd add to that, that there's a constant deepening of your understanding of the characters. Every scene that's been problematic in this rewrite, I've had to say why is it in the script? That question has led to me amping up its structural importance (the sudoku aspect, above), but I've also had to 'get' previously minor characters. That deeper understanding feeds back into the start of the script and affects how other characters react to each other.

Anyway, like I said, typing, proofing, and sending out are next. I expect the secondary project I'll focus on now is to collect all of these script writing posts and start to refine and publish my process.




Currently Unassigned:

There’s also Directors’ Notes, the Pitch and Marketing to start thinking about.








[from working on lovebites] What does 'enough' mean?


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