Getting over overwriting

Whattya think? Too much?
Whattya think? Too much?

It’s a bad habit of mine, definitely happens in the first draft, and then has to be slowly and surgically removed with each successive draft that follows.

Simply put, I put too much detail into a scene. I visualize in my mind how it plays out, and that’s what I put on the page.

There’s nothing wrong with it. It’s probably my equivalent of a “vomit draft”, where everything gets written down because you know you’re going to go back and edit and rewrite it multiple times. It’s a starting point.

So after you’ve got that first draft written, how do you know what to get rid of?

Like with sculpting a statue out of a block of marble, just chip away anything that doesn’t belong.

Say you have a scene that runs 1 3/4 pages. Do you know what the point of the scene is? Does it advance the plot and the characters’ development? Is there a way to have the scene still do that but with significantly less words? Can you cut the whole thing in half? Can you cut it by 75 percent?

How much of the scene is just back-and-forth dialogue? How detailed are you when it comes to what the characters are doing? (“He climbs the first step of the stairs, pauses to catch his breath, wipes his sweaty brow, then advances another step.” That sort of thing).

Do you describe parts of the scene that, when you really think about it, really don’t have much or anything to do with moving the story forward (how a room is decorated, what the characters are wearing, etc)? I’ve been reading a lot of scripts lately, and have seen all of these on display.

It’s like this is the culmination of three important screenwriting rules:

get in late, get out early
get to the point as soon as possible
write as if ink costs a thousand dollars an ounce

Don’t be of the mindset that you can’t or won’t change anything. Yes, this is your baby, but what’s more important? Your writer’s ego or telling your story in the best, most efficient way possible?

I had a first draft that was 132 pages. Just about every person who gave me notes said it was too long, and that it had to be at least 20-30 pages shorter. At the time, I thought that was asking too much. If I really pushed myself, I could cut maybe 10, 15 tops.

But as I went through each rewrite, trimming wherever I could, savagely wiping scenes, characters and dialogue from existence, it kept getting shorter until I got it down to 107. A whole 25 pages cut, just as was suggested. It took a while, but I got there.

Whittling each scene down to its bare essentials not only helped make the script better, but also proved beneficial to developing my writing and editing skills so while I’m sure I’ll continue to overwrite in the future, at least I’ll be better prepared to deal with it.