Wrapped up the latest draft of the animated fantasy-comedy earlier this week and sent it to a few readers.
Notes have begun trickling in.
Overall responses: very positive, but could still use some tweaking. Points were awarded for creativity, originality, dialogue, and the jokes.
I appreciate all of those very much.
But…it can still be better.
I’d estimate it’s maybe one to two drafts away from being where it needs to. Waiting for a few more notes to come in before diving into that.
What’s also helped is that a lot of the changes don’t seem to be of a major overhaul type, but I suspect it won’t be a few minor changes here and there either. Somewhere in that nebulous middle.
It’s been quite encouraging how fast and effectively things are playing out for this one. It’s taken a while to get to this point, but all the time spent writing, rewriting and constantly trying to make previous scripts better are yielding the desired results for this one in a more timely manner.
Another thing that’s different about this time around is that confidence levels were already pretty high about the script, and getting comments about what still needs work hasn’t diminished them. Many times in the past I would get notes and think what a terrible writer I must have been, which was not the case.
I’m quite psyched about this one, and can’t wait to get back to work on it.
Even as I was getting the latest book ready over the past few weeks, I still made an effort to split time among a few other ongoing projects.
On that list: a severe edit of the animated fantasy-comedy spec.
The previous draft had clocked in at 120 pages, which admittedly is kind of long, especially for an animated story.
So it had to not only be tightened up in regards to what’s on the page, but also the actual number of pages. Fifteen to twenty, while seemingly excessive, felt appropriate.
Armed with some exceptional notes and a strong idea of all the issues that needed addressing, I set to it.
The phrase “kill your darlings” played a significant role during this process. Several scenes I loved were, as pointed out by an extremely savvy reader, more of a distraction from the main storyline and were actually slowing down the read.
Highlight, delete, mourn their demise, move on.
A good number of scenes underwent a major overhaul, including severe tightening up, rephrasing of dialogue, and a whole lot of moving stuff around. Sometimes a change would be made that I didn’t realize needed to be made. That’s always a surprise.
All of this combined ended up cutting 14 pages, bringing the grand total down to 106. Not too bad.
From my perspective, what ended up being the biggest accomplishment was that the whole thing seemed stronger than before; more put-together. It’s been a while since I’ve felt this positive about a draft.
It’s been sent to the latest batch of readers, and I’ve no doubt they’ll do a bang-up job in finding faults and spotlighting what needs work. As they should, and that’s fine with me.
It happens to every writer. You start the rewrite of your latest draft, and you need to figure out what needs to be cut or changed. Sometimes it ain’t that easy, and sometimes you hack and slash with wild abandon.
Part of my recent focus has been rewriting the fantasy-comedy spec, which has involved a little bit of both.
It already needed some trimming – at least 5-10 pages’ worth, so that’s just one of the many things taken into consideration as I work my way through it.
I’ve been told my writing is pretty sparse to begin with, so finding material to tighten, let alone cut, has been somewhat tough.
Tough, but not impossible.
There’s the small stuff. A widow/orphan word here, a snippet of dialogue there. Finding some way to get those three action lines down to two, or one if you can swing it.
Then there’s the big stuff. One noteworthy item was a particular story detail that had been around almost since the story’s inception that wasn’t syncing as well with the story as it was now, so that had to be changed. This caused a domino effect on all the things it impacted, which meant making sure all those connections had to be adjusted so everything still meshed in a smooth and organized manner. It was a bit of a pain to deal with, but it had to be done.
The big stuff also has its fair share of little stuff. A scene or sequence that needs a major overhaul – already dealt with a few of those, as well as a few half-page scenes that I hated to cut. Then there was a character I initially loved that proved to be ultimately unnecessary, so out they went.
If I maintain this amount of cutting, there’s no reason the finished draft couldn’t fall within the target range of the aforementioned 5-10 pages. If it ends being more than that, great (but at this point seems highly unlikely). If it’s just a few pages shorter, that’s still okay, and I’ve no doubt my beta readers will have plenty of suggestions that I probably never even considered.
No matter what gets cut or changed, it’s all for the benefit of the story. As long as the script is a tight, succinct and solid read, that’s a win.
(Turns out I’ve written about this before, waaaay back in 2013. A lot of it is still applicable, except for the part about my time in the half-marathon. Those days are long past.)
Friendly reminder: my book Go Ahead And Ask! Interviews About Screenwriting (And Pie) Volume 3 officially comes out on October 7th (two weeks from today), and the final setup of the links on Amazon and Smashwords is just about done, in case you’d like to purchase it slightly ahead of schedule. Signed copies will be available. Just let me know.
I’ve been reading for a contest these past few weeks.
It’s a safe bet to say that a lot of the writers who entered may not be as familiar with how to write a screenplay as one would expect.
This, in turn, inspired some helpful suggestions for any writer to keep in mind:
-SHOW, DON’T TELL. Convey the information in as visual a way as possible.
-GET IN LATE, GET OUT ASAP. Get to the point of your scene as quickly as you can, then move on to the next one. Don’t have the characters chitchatting back and forth for another page.
-GET THINGS MOVING. Get us into the story from the outset. Keep the momentum going.
-EVERY SCENE NEEDS CONFLICT. Two opposing forces; anything from a subtle gesture to an epic battle.
-INVEST IN SCREENWRITING SOFTWARE. It makes a huge difference to write something in Final Draft as opposed to Microsoft Word. This can also help with..
-FORMATTING IS IMPORTANT. If you’re not sure how a script should look on the page, there are tons or resources online with good examples. You can also read some other scripts to get an idea.
-DO YOUR RESEARCH. Fleshing out a story or characters with relevant info adds to the authenticity of the material. Don’t go for the information dump; use what’s important/necessary.
-SPELLCHECK IS NOT YOUR FRIEND. There’s no ‘e’ in ‘lightning’, nor should somebody ‘waist’ an opportunity, just to name two.
-THE THESAURUS IS YOUR FRIEND. Mix it up. There are 142 alternate words for “walk”.
-CHARACTER INTROS. Describe their personality, rather than just their height & appearance – unless either plays a part in the story. Also, their name in ALL CAPS only when they’re first introduced; NOT every single time after that.
-“HOW DO WE KNOW THAT?”. Action lines are for describing what we’re seeing transpire onscreen (i.e. action), not explaining why something’s happening, why somebody’s doing something, or what something really means. Find a way to get that across visually, or through dialogue.
-KEEP IT BRIEF (or WRITE AS IF INK COSTS $1000 AN OUNCE). While a book may allow for lengthy descriptions, a screenplay needs to be tight. Lots of unnecessary text will slow things down, and an important detail might get overlooked if it’s in the middle of a dense paragraph.
-IS THIS IMPORTANT TO THE STORY? While you may consider it vital to meticulously describe the decor of your protagonist’s living room, or every item of clothing they’re wearing, unless that information plays a part in the story, it’s unnecessary clutter.
-IS THIS HOW PEOPLE TALK? Do your characters talk like real people or like they’re in a movie? Helpful tip – read your dialogue out loud to see how it actually sounds.
-ACTIVE, NOT PASSIVE VERBS. “Bob runs” is more effective than “Bob is running.”
-WE SEE/WE HEAR. Personally, not a fan. If you have to use them, do so as sparingly as possible.
-CAMERA DIRECTIONS. Again, not a fan. I find them distracting. You don’t need to remind us we’re “watching” a movie
These, of course, are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg, but still pretty important to keep in mind.
Richard Walter is a novelist and author of best-selling fiction and nonfiction, celebrated storytelling educator, screenwriter, script consultant, lecturer and recently retired Professor and Associate and Interim Dean of the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television where, for more than forty years, he chaired the graduate program in screenwriting. He has written scripts for the major studios and television networks, including the earliest drafts of AMERICAN GRAFFITI; lectured on screenwriting and storytelling and conducted master classes throughout North America as well as London, Paris, Jerusalem, Madrid, Rio de Janeiro, Mexico City, Beijing, Shanghai, Sydney and Hong Kong.
He is also a pop culture commentator, blogger and media pundit who has made numerous appearances on The Today Show, The O’Reilly Factor, Hardball with Chris Matthews, ABC Primetime, Scarborough Country and CBS News Nightwatch, among many other high-profile national television programs. More than a hundred newspaper and magazine articles have been published about him and the program he directed at UCLA.
What was the last thing you read or watched you considered exceptionally well-written?
How’d you get your start in the industry, and was that connected to you instructing at UCLA?
I came to California over fifty years ago for, I thought, three weeks, but fell into USC film school at the last minute, and never looked back. It was through faculty and classmates there that I learned screenwriting and made the earliest connections that led to professional assignments.
A little more than ten years later, at a glitzy showbiz party in Malibu, I was invited to join the faculty at UCLA. I was busy adapting my first book, the novel BARRY AND THE PERSUASIONS, for Warner Brothers, who had bought the film rights and hired me to write the screenplay. I was not seeking work. Still, as I would advise my children, you don’t have to eat the whole thing, but at least taste it. I tasted teaching and found that it was the perfect complement to writing.
As someone who actually teaches screenwriting, is recognizing good writing something you think can be taught or learned?
Yes and no. No one needs education to decide what scripts or movies they like. That said, there’s good evidence that studying the art and craft in a worthy program goes a long way toward launching and maintaining a career.
What do you consider the components of a good script?
First of all, story; that is, what the characters do and say. What they do and say also establishes who they are. Regarding the latter, that is, what the characters say, dialogue needs to be worth listening to all for itself, but it can’t be all for itself. It needs at the same time also to advance the story and advance the audience’s appreciation of the characters. Conflict, controversy, and confrontation are required throughout the narrative, and those are just the ‘cons.’
What are some of the most common screenwriting mistakes you see?
Overwriting. Too many pages. Too much dialogue. Too much description, especially regarding instructions to the actors regarding pauses and gestures and such.
What story tropes are you just tired of seeing?
I’m weary of superheroes and comic-book adaptations.
What are some key rules/guidelines every writer should know?
Less is more.
Successful writing is not about adding paraphernalia to a narrative but taking it away, revealing a story that’s somehow already there.
Don’t have one character tell another what you’ve already told the audience.
Movies must appear real, but in fact they are fake. Writers should be wary, therefore, of writing ‘the way it really happened’ and creating dialogue that captures the way people ‘really speak.’
What ‘really happens’ in life is, for the most part, boring. The way people ‘really speak’ is available in the streets for free, you don’t need to go to the movies for that. Also, and again, the way people ‘really speak’ is, for the most part, tedious. Know what I mean? Get what I’m saying? Understand my point?
Have you ever read a script where you thought “This writer really gets it”? If so, what were the reasons why?
Sure. The give-away is economy: few words that reveal a lot, instead of the other way around. Nothing is present for its own sake but exclusively for the advancement of the narrative. Fancy language that might be appropriate in literature will swamp a screenplay.
**AUTHOR’S NOTE – I’ve often said one of the best pieces of writing advice I ever heard was “Write as if ink costs $1000 an ounce”. Richard said that at a seminar of his I attended very early in my career. It really stuck with me, and I’ve used that as a guideline in my writing ever since.
How do you feel about screenwriting contests? Worth it or not?
There are some that are absolutely worthy.
How can people find out more about you and the services you provide?
Visit www.richardwalter.com. There’s info regarding my books, limited-enrollment online screenwriting webinars, whose enrollees’ scripts I’m willing to read, script consultation services, and more.
Readers of this blog are more than familiar with my love/appreciation of pie. What’s your favorite kind?
Pecan. And I don’t mind a scoop of vanilla ice cream on it.