I appreciate the praise, but need the criticism

I had a great notes zoom call with a script consultant this week for the animated fantasy comedy spec.

They really enjoyed it, and had a lot of nice things to say – about both the story and the writing. Admittedly, those were all very gratifying to hear.

But I was more interested in what they thought didn’t work, or at least could use some tweaking.

Fortunately, it wasn’t a long list – just a handful of things, really. And even better, just about all of them were easily fixable.

This has been my m.o. since way back when I first started. Yes, it’s great to hear somebody say nice things about your script, but I need to know what doesn’t work. How else can I make the script better?

It also helps that my readers have some strong analytical skills. They won’t hesitate to point out both the strengths and weaknesses in my work, and that’s the sort of thing a writer needs if they want to improve.

Naturally, I don’t agree with every single note and/or suggestion, but I can see where they’re coming from. Looking at your script from somebody else’s perspective can help you see issues you might not have even considered. That’s also helped me a lot as well.

It all comes down to the single most important question when it comes to notes and feedback: will this make the script better?

Based on my recent series of notes and how the subsequent rewrites/polishes turned out, I’d offer up a resounding “absoutely”.

Speaking of which, I went through and made some of the changes suggested by the consultant – which also trimmed it a little more to a pleasantly round 100 pages.

Now it’s out to what is hopefully my last set of readers. Once those notes come in and any appropriate changes are made, the shift into contest-entering mode can begin.

There’s also the soul-sucking process of having to write a synopsis, but I’ll focus on the positive stuff for now.

It’s all about the gradual improvement

Progress has been slow, steady, and in all honesty, somewhat faster than expected regarding the ongoing development of the animated fantasy-comedy spec.

Having learned my lesson from getting too many sets of notes per draft in the past, this time I limited myself to 2-3 writers per draft. All of the notes, as expected, were extremely helpful.

Not at the FINAL final draft yet, but gosh is it a lot closer than it was a few months ago. Pages have been cut, characters and subplots tossed, scenes revised or combined, lots of lines and pages trimmed down to what is hopefully succinct and to-the-point writing.

Currently clocking in at a respectable 102 pages. Nice. Especially considering an earlier draft was 119(!). Better to overwrite and cut than to pad and add.

(Big shoutout to Richard Walter for his invaluable advice of “Write as if ink costs $1000 an ounce.”)

While I did achieve one goal of having a workable rewrite done by the end of 2022 – at 10pm on New Year’s Eve, I was hoping to have it contest-ready soon after that.

Not the case, but that’s okay.

I’ve since received a few more sets of notes, including some helpful and encouraging comments from somebody who does coverage for the studios. Two more rounds of polishing have been completed since then. No major or drastic changes; more like a lot of effective and beneficial editing.

At this point, I’d guess there’s probably one more polish, possibly two, to go before I start warming up the credit card and check out contest deadlines.

Well worth the wait, I’d say.

Despite the still-growing number of drafts, it’s been quite satisfying to see the script slowly come together, and the next (but not the last) finish line is in sight.

From the archives: Guilty as charged

lardner mugshot
I did it. I’m glad I did it. And I’ll do it again. As many times as necessary.*

Got some excellent notes and pro feedback on the latest draft of the animated fantasy-comedy. Some of the suggestions involved totally cutting out some scenes I loved. It was heartbreaking to do it, but it was about what was best for the script, not the writer, so away they went.

Which leads to this classic post from yesteryear – Sept 2017, to be exact. Time has passed, but the sentiment and mindset remain the same. Enjoy.

The clock’s ticking down to the final deadline for an upcoming contest, so almost all of my energies are being directed at getting the pulp sci-fi in as tip-top shape as possible. Overall, I’d say it’s coming along nicely.

As you’d expect, there have already been some big changes made, with more than a few more on the way.

A major part of some of these changes has involved cutting material that I previously considered untouchable, or at least to do so would have constituted a crime against all that is good and wholesome.

Otherwise known as “killing one’s darlings”.

As you edit/polish/rewrite your scripts, changes will (and should) occur within the context of the story, so you have to deal with the consequences and ramifications of making those changes. And that means gettin’ rid of the stuff you love.

Did I really, really like this line of dialogue or that scene? Most definitely.

Did I cut it without a moment’s hesitation because it just didn’t work anymore? Yep.

Any regrets? Not really. Why should I? It’s all about making the script better, right?

A lot of writers won’t cut something because they hold it too close. To them, their ego takes precedence over the material. If a producer or director says something doesn’t work, and says it’ll have to be cut, what are they going to do? Say no?

It’s very rare that the final draft of a screenplay is exactly like the first draft. Changes will always be necessary, whether you want to make them or not. Much as you might hate it at the moment, make those changes. Chances are you’ll barely remember what was there before anyway.

A screenplay-in-progress is the raw material, and your job as the writer is to continuously work with it and shape it in order to get it to the final version – the one that tells your story in the best way possible.

If that means discarding something for something new, so be it. Even more so if the new something is even more effective.

*that’s no random mugshot. It’s Academy Award-winning screenwriter Ring Lardner, Jr. during the Red Scare.

Quality first and foremost

I’d finished a draft of the animated fantasy-comedy in late November and thought “Okay! This will definitely be ready for some of the contest early bird deadlines.”

Then I started getting notes on it. Which led to subsequent rewrites.

Then more notes, then another rewrite, followed by even more notes, culminating in an inspired push to complete a significant rewrite before the clock struck twelve on New Year’s Eve.

I made it with two hours to spare.

Bonus – 8 pages shorter than the previous draft.

I had a new draft of which I was particularly proud, but was it good enough to stand a chance in the big contests?

Kinda-sorta, but a decision had to be made.

On one hand, I could still make the rapidly-approaching early bird deadlines with the script as is, or get some already-scheduled professional notes and make the necessary fixes, thereby sending it regardless of the fee.

You can probably guess which option I chose.

One set of pro notes are coming in next week, and then another set in early February, so the hope is to have a contest-ready draft by the end of February or early March. Whatever the fees are around that time, that is what I will pay.

As I recently wrote to a writing colleague: I’d rather have a quality script that could do well in a high-profile contest than save a couple of bucks.