Even though I got some great notes back on the previous draft of my sci-fi adventure spec, one aspect of the script had always bothered me.
As much as I loved the opening sequence, it still felt out of place.
Its primary goal for existing was to establish and set up several plot elements and story details. It does that, but something just didn’t feel right.
Would the story still work if I took it out? Sure, but finding new ways to present all the relevant info would require some major rewriting and revising. Time-consuming (to a point), but necessary.
But that got the gears turning…
The more I thought about it, the more the idea appealed to me. Trust me, it killed me to even just consider killing all those darlings, but doing so would definitely force me to find new and original ways to tell this story.
Added bonus – a new opening would also enable me to do a better job of establishing the protagonist AND set the tone of the story.
So out all those pages went, with an ever-expanding list of all sorts of new ideas regarding How To Do It currently in development.
A writer may know what they want to happen in their script, but sometimes it doesn’t work out that way. The characters might unexpectedly guide you in a different direction, or maybe you realize what the story really needs is to take a sharp turn off to the side, or you decide that this is the perfect opportunity to go in a totally opposite direction.
Nothing is set in stone. You’re the ultimate creator. Everything that happens is under your control, and you can do with it what you will.
Something not working for you? Change it. Give yourself options.
Follow-up to that – go with options that still work within the context of the story and characters. Your characters still want the same thing they did before, but now you’ve drastically altered how they get there.
It’s a savvy writer who eagerly anticipates taking on the task of devising these kinds of changes. And once they’re all implemented, you’ll barely remember how it used to be because EVERYTHING WORKS SO MUCH BETTER NOW.
Suggestion – no matter how or when you come up with a new idea, WRITE IT DOWN. IMMEDIATELY. Even if you’re in the middle of working on the same script. Everybody says “Oh, I’ll remember that later.”
Do whatever you have to in order to preserve it.
*Apologies for a lack of post last week. I had some kind of bug that put me out of commission for a few days; didn’t even have the strength to compose a “sorry, no post this week” post.
As the contents of our now-previous domicile were being sorted into their respective receptacles (keep, donate, trash, what on earth possessed us to buy THAT?), my time to write/work on something was somewhat limited.
So I squeezed in a few minutes here and there when I could. Not ideal, but better than not doing anything.
One of my ongoing projects is the rewrite of the sci-fi adventure outline. There’d already been some big changes compared to the previous draft, but it seemed to still suffer from a mild case of “just too much”.
Something had to go. But what? I liked the way this world had been established, along with setting up several vital story details that would yield some mighty effective payoffs later on.
Editor Me (EM) had to seize control from Writer Me (WM), who was really digging in his heels to keep things as they were.
“Which is more important?” EM would keep asking as WM tightened his grip. “Streamlining the story to make it more effective and flow smoother, or keeping something in there just because you like it?”
WM eventually raised the white flag, admitting that EM was absolutely right.
So drastic cuts were pending. But where to make them?
After much deliberation, the cleanest break would have to be the opening sequence – which I’d put together to really establish the world of the story, but it was simply too much, and the main character isn’t even part of it.
RIP, my darlings.
This was a tough decision to make, since this sequence offered up some prime exposition. With all of it gone, I have to now figure out new and original ways to relay some of the more relevant info and story details without resorting to the dreaded cliche of a flashback. Tough, but not impossible.
But as has occurred in the past, having a more-or-less thorough outline to work with has enabled me to salvage more than I realized, along with inspiring some new approaches. A lot of groundwork had already been established, so I get to work with what’s still there, along with utilizing odds and ends from the deleted material when applicable.
This remains a work in progress, albeit a very slow and drawn-out one. But I’d rather spend more time dealing with all of these aspects of the process now, and not agonizing later on over endless patchwork fixes scattered across a completed draft.
Quite the productive week around Maximum Z HQ, with the most significant being the wrap-up of the latest draft of the sci-fi adventure spec. It’s an improvement from the previous one, but could still use some more work. Rather than jump right in, I’m letting it simmer for a bit.
The original plan was to return to the horror-comedy spec, which is actually still part of the plan. Setting up the new draft’s notes page required me to dig through all of my script files, which involved seeing titles for older scripts that could also use at least one more draft. Four in total.
Thus a plan developed.
Work on all of them. A little at a time.
Jot down some ideas for one. Fine-tune a few scenes for another. Revise the outline for this one. Totally overhaul that one. Go through notes for all of them.
Or choose one to work on per day. A few steps forward, spread out over time.
Or I might strike creative gold and steamroll my way through one, temporarily foregoing the others.
Who knows how this’ll play out?
It could be a stroke of genius. It could also go horribly, horribly wrong.
But the important thing is I try. I’ve got lots of new ideas for each of these scripts, and will do what I can to make them better.
Having completed two drafts in as many months demonstrates to me that I have the ability to get the job done in a relatively timely manner. So no reason to think I couldn’t continue to make that kind of progress, or at least come mighty close to it.
Updates will be posted accordingly. Especially if the results are encouraging. Depends on my mood at the time.
Some exciting times are on the horizon and closing in fast. Sounds like it’ll be quite the thrilling journey. Hope you’ll come along for the ride.
Chris Mancini is a Writer, Director, Comedian, Author, Producer, Podcaster, and Parent, which also makes him very tired. He has also written, directed and produced on everything from soap operas to parenting books to horror films, which are all more closely related than you think.
A strong advocate of podcasting, Chris is also the co-founder of Comedyfilmnerds.com with Graham Elwood. The site features a podcast with over 6 million downloads and features comedians and filmmakers talking about movies. His scripted horror anthology podcast Conversations From The Abyss is now in its second season. Chris was also one of the founders of the Los Angeles Podcast Festival.
What’s the last thing you read or watched you thought was incredibly well-written?
The two extremes would be Avengers: Endgame, because it was the culmination of years of storytelling, and Paddleton because it was a small two actor character piece that just sucked you in. The relationship and the drama of the two leads and their interaction was incredibly engaging. Mark Duplass and Ray Romano did an amazing job.
Were you always a writer, or was it something you eventually discovered you had a knack for?
I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was 16. I submitted short stories to magazines. Yes, that was a thing. Ironically, I got published first with non-fiction. I was a journalist for a local newspaper for a while (also a thing), starting at age 18.
What are some of your favorite comics and/or webcomics?
I really enjoy Hellboy. I also like anything by Neil Gaiman, and grew up on a healthy dose of Spider-Man and Daredevil. I actually remember when Spider-Man first got his black costume. It was an alien symbiote that came out of some weird machine during Secret Wars. I remember not being happy because I always liked the red and blue one. But you get over these things. I am also reading a lot of kids’ comics with my son, like Cardboard and Amulet which I am really enjoying.
How’d you get your start writing comics?
I kind of made it happen on my own. I’ve always wanted to write comics, and I had a story I thought would be perfect for the medium. I met Mark Waid through a mutual friend and podcast fan and he championed it. So I found an artist I loved and kickstarted it. I was able to fund it thanks to the generosity of the fans and then Starburns Press picked it up. I am very happy to be over there, and I think it’s a great fit for the book. I just got my first offer for a short piece in their next comics anthology. My first comics writing assignment! I’m hoping for many, many more. I would love to write more comics.
A lot of people hear the term “comic book writer”, but don’t really know what the job entails. How would you describe it?
Interestingly, since I have a background in indie film what you’re really doing as a comic book writer is writing and directing. You’re writing the script but also describing the action, pacing, and what goes in each panel. Basically you’re storyboarding like you would for a film. In indie film you have to wear a lot of hats, but with comic book writing you’re not just writing some abstract script. You’re describing each panel and basically directing the book. That’s why it’s so important to have a great artist to be paired with like I was with Fernando Pinto. Eventually you develop a shorthand and it gets quicker.
What inspired you to write your graphic novel Long Ago And Far Away? What was your process for writing it?
I’ve always loved fantasy stories, and growing up was a sucker for the stories about kids from our world who go into a fantasy world to save the day, like The Chronicles of Narnia. But I always thought about what would happen when those kids come back to our world and become adults. How would it have affected them? And then what if they had to go back into that world as an adult? The process was very, very long. I had the story a few years ago and it was in and out of development at various companies as an animated show, etc. But it never moved forward. But it was the kind of story that stays with you, and insists on being told. We all have stories like that; ones that won’t let you go. So I thought that a comic book would be a great way to tell the story. And I wouldn’t have to worry about there not being enough money for computer effects.
LAAFA was funded via crowdfunding. With a lot of comics creators taking that route to self-publish, is it something you’d recommend, and what are some tips you’d offer?
I recommend anyone who wants to create to just get out there and make it happen, any way you can. If someone buys your idea or hires you, great. But more often than not we have to greenlight ourselves. So if you’re a filmmaker, make a short film. If you’re a novelist, self-publish. If you want to make a comic, you need to raise enough money to pay the artist and make the book. But it can be done. Just know that crowdfunding is a full time job for that window of raising money. Don’t just think you can put a project up and money will magically appear. You have to promote, get endorsements from other artists, and also promote. Did I mention promoting?
You’ve also had experience writing for film, both narrative and documentary. How do you compare writing for the screen to the comics page?
I really, really, love it. It’s like filmmaking with an unlimited budget. No one comes back and says “we don’t have the budget to blow up Manhattan” in a comic book. If it can be drawn, it can be in the story. As far as story goes, film story progression and storyboarding can be really instrumental in writing for comics and guiding your panels.
A key component of writing (and not just for comics) is to make the stories and characters relatable. What sort of approaches do you take to accomplish that?
Characters we create often have traits of ourselves or people we know in them. That grounds them and keeps them believable. Even when it’s a supervillain, there’s a relatable trait you can give him or her. I always try to figure out what kind of character they are by how they would react in certain situations. Character reactions can convey lots of information about a character. As far as the story goes, keep the story progression organic. It should only have crazy twists in it if you were slowly leading up to them all along. The best narrative twists are the ones the audience didn’t see coming, but in hindsight were justified from the very beginning.
What are some key rules/guidelines every writer should know?
Write what you know.
Make the story personal, regardless of the genre or scope of the story.
Get help from other writers, and help them in return.
Don’t write for free for millionaires. If someone is serious about your work, they’ll make a deal with you.
Don’t neglect your body. Take time to exercise and unplug. It will help your mind focus and clear your head, which will improve your writing.
I really want to focus on writing right now, so I’m taking a break from stand-up, but may return to it at some point.. While I do the Comedy Film Nerds Podcast with Graham Elwood every week, I also have a scripted horror anthology podcast called Conversations From the Abyss that just finished its second season. I’m also hoping to get my next comic project going called Rise of the Kung Fu Dragon Master with the same team. It’s a martial arts/fantasy/comedy about a small time crook in Los Angeles who gets mixed up in a perennial battle between good and evil from ancient China. I also have various TV and film projects I’m developing and hoping to get into production.
How can people find out more about you and your wide body of work?
My website has links to my books and movies, including Ear Buds: The Podcasting Documentary. There are also links to the podcasts and my demo reel.
Readers of this blog are more than familiar with my love/appreciation of pie. What’s your favorite kind?
Peach. ‘nuff said.
Here’s an episode of the Comedy Film Nerds podcast where Chris goes into an extensive recounting of his experience with his film Asylum. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED for aspiring filmmakers, plus it’s just an extremely entertaining tale. Well worth the listen.
So far, so good, at least in terms of how the rewrite of the sci-fi adventure spec is going.
Already managed to trim a decent amount of pages, with more potential targets coming up fast.
However, one of the most surprising results this time around is seeing more and more opportunities to really get the most of not just the words on the page, but HOW they’re presented.
I already knew overwriting was one of my biggest obstacles. I tend to go into more detail than is necessary. Not “this is the color of his t-shirt, and this is what’s on his breakfast plate”-type stuff, but more in terms of excessively describing what you’d see transpire onscreen.
This has become painfully obvious for some of the fast-paced action scenes. In the old draft, there’d be several lines about what a character was doing. This time around, I want to get to the point faster – partially for less ink on the page, and partially to help speed things up – so I highlight only the parts that the can’t do without.
It’s probably safe to say each scene has become shorter by at least some degree. Some by a few lines, others by half a page, etc. But the overall impact is becoming more noticeable. Scenes seem to be flowing more smoothly. Even though the descriptions aren’t as detailed as they were before, the new, tighter versions are just as visual.
Of course, since I’m the one writing it, I already have a strong sense of how it’s supposed to “look”. The real test comes when a reader gets their hands on it. Will they experience the same results? I sure hope so, so in the meantime, I do what I can to write it so everything is easy to follow and all questions are answered.
What’s most surprising at all about these new developments is I’d written my last few drafts of several scripts with the same approach I’d always used, but there’s just something very different about it this time around. The way this draft is being put together has a much more analytical feel to it. It’s as if something holding me back has been removed, and the positive results are coming in rapid-fire. One can only hope this sensation endures.
Once again, there’s no firm deadline for a completed draft, but as I mentioned, progress has been strong and steady, so “slightly sooner than possibly expected” will have to do for now. And even when that one’s done, there’s a strong suspicion that just a little more touch-up work will be in order.
Thrilling times, chums.
-Screenwriter/filmmaker Ally May has launched a crowdfunding campaign for her packs-an-emotional-wallop short film project In A Breath. Donate if you can!