Tuesday 19 February 2013, 13:18
Writing is one thing. That splurge of energy and ideas and
creativity. Re-writing is another. Taking what you have and revisiting it,
honing it, being prepared to turn it inside out, knowing what needs work and
what can be left well alone.
There are no rules about this – other than the
fact that no brilliant script falls fully formed out of a writer’s head.
Whether the writing and rewriting happens before the text is finally committed
to paper – or whether a script is written and then rewritten and redrafted
thereafter – either way, getting drama and comedy scripts and stories right is
very very hard and doesn’t just happen.
Finishing a first full draft is one
thing; finishing the script is another. So we’ve come up with some pointers
towards thing you can try to do to manage that process:
- Give yourself time. Once
you finished what you feel is a complete first draft, put it away in a drawer
for at least 2 weeks – but ideally a couple of months (or even 6 if you feel
especially brave) – and do not look at it again until you have a designated
day/time when you know you can focus on it without being disturbed
- When that day comes, make
sure you can’t be disturbed (and don’t need to do the hoovering or check
facebook or have some lunch), sit down with a tea/coffee (whatever your poison
– but definitely NOT alcohol) and read it straight through without stopping to
take any notes or make any tweaks. Read it like a reader somewhere else might
- Put it away again in the
drawer and leave it be for another day (at least). Once your brain has had some
time (and hopefully a sleep), sit down and make notes from memory about the
things that stood out as needing attention. Be honest. But don’t try to
remember everything, just the big things.
- Now you’re ready to sit
down with a red pen (red is good - you are in editing mode) and a pad, and work
your way through it making whatever notes you need to make as you read.
- When you have notes, go
back through and re-order/cohere them into sections/collections of related
notes – so not just a rewriting stream of consciousness, but an organised,
achievable plan. And try to tackle each section one at a time, so you are not
just rewriting from beginning to end, but going back through repeatedly and
tackling each set of a problems one at a time.
- Is there anyone you can
trust to give you honest, intelligent, unbiased feedback? If there is, find 2
or 3 of them if you can and ask them for their response. It helps if you give
them time to read and digest and think before saying anything. It also helps if
they write down bullet-point notes for you because rambling conversations can
become a mire of confusing, miscommunicated, misunderstood thoughts that blur
into one mass of anxiety. Then compare their different responses and don’t be
at all surprised if they tell you very different things about your script. Look
for where they agree – and where they disagree. And step back to see what it
tells you about your work.
- Are there people you can
trust to help read/perform all or part of the script in particular so you can
hear the voices of the characters out loud? If so, get in some drink/snacks to
keep them fuelled (and as a distraction at awkward moments) and give it a go.
But BEWARE – drunken/spirited read-throughs with friends can be deceptive and
make your script sound much better/funnier than it really is. Don’t get wasted.
And don’t play the lead yourself (we can’t all be Vincent Gallo). Sit back,
listen and stay relatively sober.
- Can you step back and boil
your script/idea down into a very simple pitch or logline, identifying its
genre(s), potential audience, tone, originality/usp, universality? If not, why
- Can you write a one-page
outline that does justice to the story, idea, energy of the script? If not, why
not? (not all writers are good at outlines – it’s not about how good it is as a
‘pitch’ document – rather, how well does it represent what you think you have
written? Don’t be despondent if it doesn’t read like amazing marketing copy … )
- Is your script anything
like any other things you’ve already seen/heard? If so, what’s different about
your version of an archetype? Is it really different? Honestly? If not, what
needs to change to make it feel more you than something else by somebody else?
- There can often be a
disparity between what you think you are saying and what the script actually
says. Is the script saying and doing what you want it to?
- Can you discard all the
things you know about the work that have grown through the whole process of
conceiving, developing and writing it, and just see what is in the script
itself? Do you have everything you need to say what you want to say? Are you
over-stating things and could you shave it and hone it down to a leaner frame?
- What effect do you want to
have on the audience? What emotion and reaction do you want them to feel and
have? Do you think your script achieves that?
- Openings can make or break
a script. Have you started the story straight away, page one, line one? Are you
showing the characters in action? Are you spending time prefacing and setting
up and introducing the characters/world before the story actually starts? Are
you explaining backstory before the story starts?
- Once a script is written
and dialogue is voicing characters you love in scenes you enjoy, it starts to
become very very hard to step back from these beguiling distractions – but you
need to work out if the story and the structure that frames it actually works.
- Go through your script and
without reading the detail of the dialogue/scene, get a feel for how the story
is moving forward in the scenes/sequences by looking at what happens, what
precedes/follows it in the script, what the motivating and consequent scenes
are, and decide whether the order you have is actually working.
- Do you spend too long in a
linear way on any one strand/sequence? Do you cut away and around too much in
an attempt to multi-strand various stories/plots? What are the key moments in
the over-arching structure of the story? Are you working up to and down from
them? Do they come too soon or too late (or not at all)? Are they having enough
impact in the structure?
In the moment:
- Spend time with what you
think are key, pivotal scenes. Lock yourself in them for a day and don’t get
distracted with what’s going on around them. What’s the scene about? What’s
happening in it? What’s the subtext to it? What is done or not done, achieved
or not achieved in it? What changes as a consequence of it? Are the choices you
have made the first-thought, route-one, obvious choices? Are there other things
you can do? Are there surprises or extra beats you are missing? Is there
another level to which you can take a scene/dramatic moment?
- Rewriting is pointless if
you’re not honest with yourself about how good the work is. From experience,
the better writers tend to presume that what they have written is quite
possibly terrible until they can convince themselves otherwise. But don’t work
yourself into a deep pit about the work. You wouldn’t have written it if you
didn’t think it was worth writing somewhere, deep down …
- Sometimes drafts just don’t
work and you have to more or less start again from scratch. Don’t be afraid of
saying a draft is a wild or disposable draft. Don’t be afraid of tearing it up
and going back to the drawing board. But don’t throw the baby out with the
bathwater. Keep the best things for the next draft.
Script Room is open for submissions of original scripts until 5pm on March 28th 2013 - find out how to submit your script.
Share this page
- Radio 3 - The Wire: Early Warning
Tuesday 19 February 2013, 12:02
- The Writer's Prize Finalists
Friday 22 February 2013, 11:45