Find what works for you

I offer information. What you do with it is up to you.
I offer information. What you do with it is up to you

Way back when I was working behind the scenes at various radio stations, trying to break in on the air as  DJ, I would approach the on-air personalities and ask for their thoughts on my aircheck tape.

Did I sound okay, or at least have potential? What needed work? How could I improve?

A lot of them had very insightful comments and helpful suggestions.

Except one guy. What he had to say wasn’t negative, but it wasn’t necessarily helpful either.

After listening to my tape, he started with “Here’s how I would do it.” Everything after that I totally ignored.

I don’t care how you would do it, because that’s you. My way is not your way. Everybody has a different approach.

I only bring this up because I’ve recently been reading the work of some writers who’ve asked for notes and feedback.

I’ll make suggestions about how a script could look better (less text, more white space) or ask questions only they can answer (what’s a different way this could happen? how do we know this? does this play a key part in the story?), but I will never, ever tell them how I would do it or how they should do it.

It takes a while for a writer to find their individual voice. Don’t let somebody else tell you what it should be.

Random thoughts, general musings, that sort of thing

Nothing to do with today's post. I just love their chemistry.
Nothing to do with today’s post. I just love their chemistry.

-My western failed to make it through the first round of Scriptapalooza, which makes me 0 for 4 so far this year. I’m not counting the top 20 percent ranking for the Nicholl; that’s like getting Honorable Mention. At this point, I’ve pretty much written off its chances for Austin.

My problem was overconfidence in the script. I thought it was solid enough, but apparently not. It’s not the first time this has happened to me, but I’ll be more careful about it in the future.

I still believe in this script, which is why I’ve been so gung-ho about rewriting it. The past two weeks have been all about making it better. After completing the latest round of edits, it’s now 8 pages shorter, and still some further fine-tuning to do, which hopefully won’t add more than 2-3.

-Never realized how much my characters repeat things in dialogue. “I need you go to the store.” “The store? Why?” Must be the influence of listening to so much old-time radio. Cutting all of those probably amounted to at least half a page.

-I cut at least 5(!) separate situations where the Wilhelm Scream could be used.

-Had a great lunch-chat with one of my working writer pals yesterday. While he was very supportive and encouraging, he also reminded me of the almost insurmountable task of a new, unproven writer breaking in with a high-budget script.

“Your chances improve when you offer something that won’t cost a lot to make. A lot more people can get something made for under $5 million, rather than $50 million, let alone $100-200 million.”

As it should have, it got me thinking. Do I have any stories like that? It took the bike ride home and digging through some old flash drives to discover I did. Maybe about 5 or 6, all of them just a logline and not much else.

It’s a start.

-Movie of the Moment: GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (2014). Loved it. Great story, great characters (and their development). Maybe my only complaint was the bombardment of exposition in the first 20 minutes. Other than that, a lot of fun.

Biggest pleasant surprise: Dave Bautista as Drax.

Biggest almost-catastrophe: Adam Sandler as a potential voice for Rocket. Somebody thought this was a good idea?

It’s really impressive how much of an effort Marvel puts into their stories and characters. I sincerely hope DC and Warner Brothers can take a lesson from this.

The fastest route out of Sore Loserville

Get out and get out fast
Get out and get out fast

There’s been a disturbing trend on some online forums regarding the results of some recent high-profile screenwriting competitions. While the writers who advance receive and exchange congratulatory messages, some of the ones who don’t seem to be looking for some kind of explanation as to why their script didn’t do better.

“They don’t like this genre.” “They’re only looking for stuff they can market.” “They just didn’t get it.”

Hate to break it to you, but that’s not it.

This is: you and a few thousand other people entered the same competition, so the odds were already against you. Chances are pretty good that some of those scripts are better than yours. It happens. Accept it.

And this may come as a shock, but maybe your script just isn’t as good, let alone as perfect, as you think.

So rather than gripe, complain and avow “Those rotten bastards are never getting my money again!”, use this as motivation to make your script better. Rewrite it. Get feedback from your inner circle of trusted colleagues. Pay for one or two sets of professional notes. Some contests offer feedback for an additional fee, so maybe that’s something you might want to consider.

I was disappointed my western didn’t do better in some of these competitions. Frustration and depression were the dominant moods for a couple of days. That’s when reality smacked me in the face and said “You want to do better? Then get to work.”

So that’s what I’m doing. I’ve completed the initial edit, so the script is now 6 pages shorter. There’s still some work to do, but it already feels better and tighter than it was before. I’ll be following my own advice (more rewrites, feedback from friends and pros, etc.), all while planning ahead for next year.

What about you?

Deliberately avoiding referencing that song

A great mantra, but a little tired of hearing it over and over
A great concept in terms of editing, but a little tired of hearing it over and over

As I work my way through the hack-n-slash editing phase of the western, it’s getting easier and easier to cut something and not worry about if I’ve made the right decision.

Whole scenes, parts of scenes and lines of dialogue are wiped from existence, all with a positive result. Tighter scene(s), better flow of story, all creating a stronger efficiency of words.

Added bonus – script is already 5 pages shorter, and still have Act 3 to go.

(Counter to all of this cutting, placeholders have been identified as potential chances to add in a few lines for some character development.)

Re-reading this script has also made me realize how much I overwrite, especially with dialogue. I try to avoid extra verbage, but don’t see that’s what’s happened until long afterward. By then, it seems more like padding, so out it goes.

A lot of writers are hesitant to cut material or make drastic edits. They just can’t bring themselves around to killing their darlings, because they figure everything is just right the way it is.

Nope.

As much as you like that scene or dialogue, you have to be as objective as possible about your own work. Is it absolutely vital to the story and advance it in the best way possible? If you took it out, would it make any difference whatsoever, or at least have some kind of impact on the story?

I’d venture probably not.

Don’t be afraid to put that red pen to work and cut away! The pain of having to do so is minimal at best and lasts all of a microsecond or two. It’s more than likely that the next time you read through what you’re working on now, you won’t even notice its absence, probably not remember it ever being there and hopefully think “Wow, this draft seems a lot better.”