It must be true. My business card says so.

So as to remove any further doubt
So as to remove any further doubt

I got a very interesting email the other day, with the subject of “Want to get your script into shape?”.

How could I resist such a persuasive sales pitch?

What followed was a lengthy diatribe about what an almost insurmountable task it was to write not just a good script, but a great one with the potential to open all kinds of doors and really get my career going.

If I wanted any of that to happen, then I should seriously consider the services of a script consultant.  Specifically, this person.

It was a foregone conclusion I wasn’t interested, but I was intrigued to know more about them. Exactly who is this, and why should I invest the time and money to work with them? So I clicked on the link to their website.

Let’s just say it was not encouraging.

A very early-2000s look to the whole thing. Generic descriptions of what a script consultant is, how they can help me and lots of pie-in-the-sky descriptions of what could possibly happen with my script. No details about cost. Totally anonymous testimonials (which didn’t even sound true to begin with).

Did I mention this email showed up in my junk mail folder?

Just to seal the deal, I looked them up on IMDB Pro. Exactly. Nothing.

We all know this is an incredibly tough business to break into, and take all the help we can get.  Using professional feedback can really benefit your work and help develop your skills.  The tough part is figuring out who actually is a professional and gives you your money’s worth.

Utilize the tools at your disposal and do your homework. Ask questions of your peers via emails or Twitter. Check the numerous blogs and forums. There’s no reason you can’t find the information you need. And don’t be afraid to price-check and comparison shop. This is your time and money we’re talking about.

There will always be people who claim to be experts or professionals with all the answers, looking to take advantage of your desperation to succeed and ready to take your money.

Fortunately, you can go into this prepared and not let them.

The fat that must be trimmed

Personally, I prefer a red pen and the 'delete' key
Personally, I prefer a red pen and the ‘delete’ key

Steadily working my way through the coveted territory of Act 3, although the wrapping-up of some subplots still needs some work. Nothing I can’t handle.

Throughout this whole process has been an ongoing tinkering with what was there before. Some items have been cut (necessarily so) while some have been expanded (also necessarily so).

Among what had been cut were a trio of characters who only existed in a handful of scenes in the third act. The only reason they were originally around was to provide conflict with the main character, but didn’t really serve much else of a purpose.

So they’ve been cut, with another character’s part slightly modified and expanded to take their place.

This goes way beyond killing one’s darlings. It’s about making the story as lean and streamlined as possible, and if that means cutting characters, scenes or even sequences, so be it.  You do what’s necessary.

But this is also where it can get tricky. How do you know what should stay and what should go?

Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer. But you can learn by constantly writing, rewriting and getting feedback. It’s a skill that takes time to develop, so don’t rush it.

(You could read scripts, but those are often the finished product. You won’t know what it looked like before.)

A good rule of thumb: ask yourself as you write and edit – “How much of a difference will it make to the story if I take this out?”

Chances are once you make those cuts, you won’t even miss what’s been taken out, which means it probably shouldn’t have been there in the first place.

-A total self-indulgent announcement: I ran the San Jose Rock & Roll Half Marathon on Sunday, thinking there was no way I could beat my previous best time ever of 1:53:07, set back in August.

But somehow, despite warm weather and the occasional feeling of “Jeez, when is this going to end?”, I shaved almost 2 minutes off and finished at 1:51:11. Totally didn’t see that coming.

With no races scheduled in the near future, I don’t want to get ahead of myself and even consider the possibility of hitting 1:50.

Although I’ll admit the thought does occasionally cross my mind.

We all had to start somewhere

And....go!
And….we’re off!

Today’s topic: your very first script.

Yeah, that one. The one you’re embarrassed to even remember. The one with all the rookie mistakes.

The one that set you on this journey.

Here’s mine.

Title:   THE CRIMSON CLOAK

Genre: Comedy

What it was about: Set in 1950’s Hollywood, a writer on a popular kids TV show mistakenly believes the sponsor is going to kill a megastar live on the air and goes all out to stop him.

Tell-tale signs this is a first script? Way, way too much expository dialogue, including a lot of on-the-nose lines. Flimsy character motivation. A lot of writing-directing.

Would you be willing to rewrite it now? Definitely.

Addendum: Despite all of the problems this script had, it managed to be a top 10 percent finisher in the Nicholl for that year. I have no idea how that happened, but this, combined with a professional writer telling me “You’re a very talented writer,” were a great start to my writing career.

What about you?  Don’t be shy. No judging here.

You can trust me

Because "Honest Paul" just doesn't have the same ring to it
Because “Honest Paul” isn’t as catchy

Thanks to the wonder of living in the digital age, I’ve connected with an incredible number of even more incredible writers. Not being the pushy sort, I always wait until we have a bit of a rapport to ask if they’d be willing to read my script and maybe give a little feedback. And a lot of the time, they ask for the same thing, of which I’m more than happy to oblige.

But there are those who respond along the lines of “I’m not comfortable with letting somebody I don’t know that well see my work.”

A perfectly legitimate response, but also raises a few questions:

-Do you think I’m going to steal your work? No disrespect, but I don’t want it. At all. Just like you, I’ve put in an immense amount of time and effort so I can take a certain pride in claiming “Yes, I wrote this.” Why would I want to risk everything for your script? There may be some unsavory characters out there, but I’m not one of them. I’ve made no effort to hide who I am from you or anybody else and stand by my reputation.

-Is it because I can’t advance your career? Just because I’m not in the industry now doesn’t mean I won’t be in the future. I try to help my friends out when I can. Act like a jerk to me now and that’s how I’ll remember you.

-Am I not professional enough for you? I may be unsold and unproduced, but I’ve got a manager, have had some moderate success in contests and what I would call a pretty solid grasp of what good writing is. Maybe my notes could even make your script better, and most importantly, they’re free.

-Do you think your script is already perfect, doesn’t need any more work and any criticism on my part is just me being jealous of your superior writing skills and trying to sabotage it? Good luck and I wish you all the best.

We all need whatever help we can get, and most people are pretty accommodating.

Don’t be afraid to make connections and get your work out there. It’s been my experience that everybody’s already wrapped up enough in their own work to make becoming more than involved with yours not much of a possibility.

*Rewrite update: about 1-2 details away from having the first act done. Really like how it’s shaping up, but still a long way to go.

**A big congratulations to the Nicholl finalists. Won’t deny being jealous. Now back to work for the rest of us already focusing on next year.