With the page-producing phase of the horror-comedy spec now underway, I’m also finding the occasional need to do a little side work on it. In this case, it’s the 1-page synopsis for said script.
Summarizing your entire story on one solitary page (or one and a half, according to some of my associates) is, as many writers already know, not as easy as it sounds. Yours truly being no exception.
Past 1-pagers for past scripts were the usual challenge, but I managed. Somehow. Part of that challenge has always been inadvertently including too much of the story. As much as I’d like to put all of it in there, that just won’t work.
The key is to focus on the main character and what they go through to achieve their goal, with a strong emphasis on conflict. I’ve also found it very helpful to break each act down into its core components – especially key events and plot points.
Trying to include subplots and supporting characters was just clogging the whole thing up, so those quickly fell by the wayside, which really helped streamline the whole thing.
This time is a little different, probably due to having multiple protagonists. Well, at least it starts that way. This is a horror story, so as you’d expect, people are gonna die.
Not being as familiar with the horror genre, I wasn’t sure of the most effective way to put together a 1-pager for this kind of story. Is there more emphasis on the horror part? Or the story with some horror elements thrown in? “The learning never stops” indeed.
Feeling a bit stumped, I did like all smart writers do, and asked my network of savvy creatives for whatever assistance and guidance they could provide.
Glad I did.
(Hearty shoutout to everybody who reposnded and got in touch – I really appreciate it)
More than one said to focus on the one character the reader/audience would consider the heart of the story, and follow what happens to them. That I can do.
Others, who’ve also written stories starting with several protagonists and see their numbers reduced along the way, suggested listing them all at the outset, so as they’re gradually eliminated, there’s no sense of “Who’s that again?” I might give that a try.
There was the smart reminder to “keep things simple”. Don’t fall into the trap of making it too cluttered or complicated. Just tell the story in a clear and straightforward manner.That might take a little editing and revising, but I think I can also do that.
Based on all of these comments, plus my own experience, having a solid 1-pager in my possession seems definitely achievable.
Settle yourself into a comfy chair with your refreshing beverage of choice at the ready, because have I got quite a story for you. Hopefully one from which everybody can benefit.
I belong to a few screenwriting-oriented networking sites, and do what I can to engage with other members. I do what I can to be friendly, outgoing, and supportive with each connection.
Back in mid-July, I got an email from one such person. Their bio lists them as a “producer, screenwriter, and script consultant”. Would I be interested in a script swap? Despite having a few other reads already lined up, I’m always up for such a thing and agreed, telling them I’d try to get to it soon. Turns out they were in a similar situation.
They sent their script, and I sent mine. After a few days, I’d worked my way through the other projects and started in on their script.
I won’t say it was awful, but I’d have to say in all honesty it simply wasn’t good. I’d also add that it made me seriously question their credentials.
Among the details:
-a passive protagonist I really didn’t care for, and who didn’t give me any reason to want to see them achieve their goal.
-a weak antagonist with a cartoonish goal
-underdeveloped story/bad structure, including several unresolved subplots and a big letdown of an ending
-flat supporting characters
I pointed out what didn’t work for me and why, and offered suggestions of potential fixes. (I always make a point of never ever saying “this is how I’d do it”.) I’d estimate it was around 2 pages worth of notes, and they were free to use or ignore whatever they wanted.
I sent it out Friday afternoon.
Saturday morning, this was the email I got.
Seriously. That was it.
I came to two potential conclusions:
-I was an ignorant know-nothing boob to the nth degree with zero appreciation for their extraordinary skills (“How dare you not recognize my genius!”), and they were just saying “thanks” to be polite
-My notes were so cruel and inhuman, and if that was how we were going to play that game, then they’d be just as ruthless and grind my script into a bloody mess
Hyperbole on my part? Maybe, but check out their response again and think about what your reaction would be.
I figured it was one or the other, but all I could do now was wait (while working on other scripts, naturally).
Quick reminder – this was the end of July.
August passes. No response.
September. Still nothing. (but I did finish the outline of another script, so…yay)
Hmm. Several possibilities now.
-they still haven’t read it
-they read it, but haven’t gotten around to sending the notes
-they forgot. It happens.
-because of what I said about their script, they were deliberately not reading it OR sending the notes. To punish me, I guess?
September came to a close, and I figured I’d been patient enough.
I sent an email – “Know it’s been a while, and I’m sure you’ve been busy, but wanted to check in and see if you’ve had a chance to take a look at my script. Thanks.”
Five days later…
“Best script I ever read.”
Again, that was it.
I asked if they could elaborate. (note – this is my comedy)
Were there any parts you felt could use more work? “Nope. Perfect.”
What did you think of the characters?
Your thoughts on the jokes?
“I was rolling on the floor laughing.”
Anybody else find this just a tad suspicious, and, oh, total and utter bullshit?
No apology. No remorse. No attempt to make amends. Just a handful of “ain’t I hilarious?” bare minimum answers.
I really wanted to say something in response. Call them out for it. Tell them what an incredibly brazen dick move that was. I even came up with several scenarios to trap them in their sinister web of lies and deceit.
But in the end, I was getting all worked up for nothing. And this person is most definitely NOT worth it. All I’d lost was two hours of reading and writing notes, as well as severing our connection on that networking site. No skin off my nose.
I can only surmise they didn’t like what I had to say, so for whatever reason, decided to not read my script, and after being asked (reminded?) to uphold their end of the deal, took it one step further and opted to not even bother.
I don’t really mind that they didn’t read the script – especially after seeing their writing “skills” in action – but if you’re going to claim you’re a “professional”, then you damned well better act like it. No matter what.
Bet they wouldn’t have done this if I’d been a paying client. Thank goodness it never came to that.
Present yourself as someone who supposedly knows what they’re doing, but then show that’s not the case, and you’re just screwing yourself. Sometimes all you’ve got going for you is your reputation, and once that’s tarnished, you might never be able to restore it.
And let me also add that YOU CAME TO ME. You wanted MY help. And this is how you react because I didn’t like your script? Too fucking bad. Is this how you’re going to treat others who make similar comments? I may not be the most talented or analytical of writers, but at least I treat everybody with respect, even when they don’t deserve it.
When we read another writer’s script, we don’t want it to just be good. We want it to be so phenomenal we can’t believe we had the privilege of being able to read it.
Notes are about the script, not the writer. Of course you’re going to take criticism personally. But you can’t. I have no idea how much work you put into it, but are you more interested in making your script better, or getting a pat on the head and told “Good job”?
I hope this little incident doesn’t deter other writers from taking part in a script swap, including with me. Schedule permitting, I’m always happy to do so. Fortunately, most of my other script-swapping experiences have been of a significantly more positive nature. This was just one of those rare negative exceptions.
Hopefully you have a strong sense of what kind of writer/note-giver the other person is, and once those scripts are swapped, definitely make sure both of you hold up your respective ends of the bargain.
Because the last thing you want is to get on a writer’s bad side.
With the outline for the horror-comedy simmering away on the backburner, all attention is now being directed to a rewrite of the sci-fi spec. I was fortunate to get some solid notes on it, so the rebuilding process is well underway.
A big part of this involves cutting scenes and sequences, along with a whole lot of moving stuff around. Even with a hard copy of the previous draft in front of me and the current draft’s skeletal outline on my laptop screen, it requires a lot of planning things out along with a constant going back and forth between the two. To say the least.
Keep this scene? Or how about this one? Would this one work here, or here? Wait, do I even need this sequence anymore? Jeez, I totally forgot about that new scene that would set up the protagonist’s internal goal.
(Not my actual inner monologue, but you get the idea)
Simply put, there’s been A LOT of twisting, readjusting, manipulating and something comparable to “square peg + round hole + sledgehammer” to get this thing more streamlined and functional.
Going through all these motions has also revealed non-essential moments, or at least parts of them, dialogue that initially seems like it should stay in but really doesn’t need to, and a decent amount of literary fat that can easily be trimmed away. No fuss, no muss.
Despite the statements in the preceding paragraph, a majority of what’s already on the page still works. It just takes everything I’ve described, plus a little more, to get into better shape. A slow but effective process. As is usually the case for me, initially insurmountable, but gradually not too bad, and eventually being classified under “that worked out better than I’d expected.”
With any luck, the producing of actual pages will also go relatively smoothly.
One can only hope.
-Through September 30th, the fine folks at LiveRead/LA are offering the discount code MAXZ15 for 15 percent off their script services and the fee for their contest where your script could be one of two read live by professional actors in Los Angeles in October. Following the read (30 pages max), feedback will be provided, including from an Industry Insider (last time was actor Jason Alexander. This time it’s veteran production exec & producer Debbie Liebling – Comedy Central, Fox, now working with Sam Raimi). Writers from everywhere are encouraged to submit. The event will be livestreamed, so if your script is chosen and you can’t attend, feedback will be provided live via Skype.
The past few days have been all about working through the horror-comedy outline. Lots of figuring stuff out, cutting, adding, tweaking, and so on.
Got through a sequence and was just about to move on to the next one, when I realized “this is too serious. The horror aspect is covered, but what about the comedy?”
I looked it over again, trying to think of what would work. What would be the most unexpected thing here?
Several options were weighed, and then one suddenly popped into my head. Something nobody would ever expect me to write, but I figured “why not?” My initial reaction was “It’s a little silly, but I like it.” Zipped through a quick rewrite of the sequence, followed by a little set-up work in the scenes leading up to it (to make it fit within the context of the story, of course).
I can honestly say reading the end result made me laugh. Out loud. And the more I thought about it, the more I laughed. Even now, it still makes me chuckle.
I think part of the appeal comes from the thought of “I can’t believe that I, of all people, came up with that joke.” I guess sometimes you never know what you’re truly capable of.
All I have to do now is the exact same thing for every scene and sequence throughout the rest of the script, and I’m all set.
-Author Robert W. Jackson is offering a very limited time offer on some of his YA books, so you have to act quickly. On Sept 15th, you can get his book Karistina and the Enchanted Kaleidoscope for free by clicking on the link. He’s hoping to do the offer again for a few days starting on the 21st, so keep a look out for it. He’s also offering his book The Tale of Hester for free Sept 15th-19th. This is the first of a series, so if you like this one, there are more to choose from.
Well, that was fun. A bit of an uphill battle, but I’ve survived.
The good news – the basic foundation for the horror-comedy outline is complete. Even though I had a pretty good idea of what was going to happen, it consistently went through a steady stream of changes, edits, tweaks, and so forth.
Let’s just say that what I ended up with is several versions removed from what I started with. For the better, I’d say, but still pretty darned close to keeping with the original idea. Even managed to come up with some new twists and wrinkles along the way.
Despite still considering the story as pliable as warm Silly Putty, it really is coming together and I’m quite happy with the results. Sort of a pre-first draft, one could say.
But in addition to the ongoing process of fine-tuning the story, there’s the just-as-if-not-more-so important part of making it funny.
When they say “dying is easy; comedy is hard,” they’re not kidding. Quite an apropos phrase, especially in this context.
Like with the comedy I’m polishing now, the more I work on it, the more opportunities I expect to find to work in a suitable joke of some sort. Sight gags, plays on words, what have you. I think that’s similar to how the ZAZ team did it with Zero Hour for Airplane!. Not that this script will be anything like that, but you get the idea.
I think I’ve discussed this before, but as I outline, I’ll also include potential lines of dialogue or specific actions for each scene. Same thing applies here. But now that the story is (somewhat) set in place, I can now fine-tune both that and punch up the jokes as I work my way forward.
Luckily for me, there are also great examples of films that did this sort of thing, so I can watch those to get a good idea of how to approach it with this story. Not a bad self-imposed homework assignment, right?
Finding the funny for this won’t always be easy, but coming off doing it for the previous script, and with the burden of telling the story in the first place somewhat out of the way, it seems just a little bit more so now.