After a few very hectic weeks involving once again delivering the inimitable Ms. V to school, I’m settling back into my regular routine of reading- and writing-related activities.
And then some.
I did a whirlwind edit/proofread for a friend’s manuscript, read and gave notes on a couple of scripts (with a few more to go in the ever-expanding queue), and started the “wrap it up” phase of the outline for the microbudget project.
Apart from a smattering of fatigue, I’ve been having a great time working my way through it all.
There’s a special kind of buzz that comes with completing a project, and that’s certainly the case here.
I just enjoy the reading part of being a writer.
I don’t think I can maintain this kind of schedule indefinitely, but intend to do so as long as I can. Luckily for me, the responses to those that required notes and/or feedback have been positive, which helps.
This isn’t to say it’s all been work-oriented reading either. During our travels, I picked up a couple of books at a used book store. One a throwback to a sci-fi show from my youth, the other a collection of short stories set in our host city. Both made for some excellent “sit back, pass the time, and enjoy yourself” time.
I hope other writers get that special kick out of reading, whether it’s scripts, books, comics, or whatever. There’s something to be said for feeding the mind in such a way.
Plus, it helps you be a better writer. It’s definitely done wonders for me.
This has been a most interesting week. Based on some quality notes, I wrapped up a polish of the dramedy spec (which is now in the process of getting notes). Feedback so far has been encouraging, which is nice.
So now the focus can shift back to developing the two new stories. With most of my recently-completed projects having been worked on for extended periods of time, it’s been a while since I was really starting out from the very beginning.
I’d totally forgotten how much I enjoyed the process of putting a story together. I know what the core concept for each one is, and now it’s all about finding the best and most entertaining way to tell them.
At times it feels like my mind is going in a thousand directions at once, so I’m constantly writing stuff down. A scene or sequence idea here, a line of dialogue there, plot twists, character development, turning the scene on its head; pretty much the whole kit and kaboodle.
Main storylines have been established, with the expected constant fine-tuning and adjusting, and as I work my way forward, the subplots are making themselves known.
Entirely new worlds (or maybe “settings” might be appropriate, since each story is on the smaller side) are being created, populated with unique and hopefully somewhat original characters.
While one of the stories is based on an old script, there’s a constant discarding of a lot of the original content and trying new approaches. Not necessarily “throw it all at the wall and see what sticks”, but kinda/sorta along those lines.
For the other, this is dipping my toes into a genre I enjoy, but wouldn’t call myself a major fan, so doing what I can to avoid tropes and cliches (of which there are apparently many). If that proves more challenging than anticipated, will do what I can to least go for the unexpected.
Added bonus – watching movies of that genre and style to get a better feel for both.
Sometimes I’ll read a writer’s account about what a chore it is for them to develop a story, or how much they loathe this part of the process. I don’t see it that way. Organizing the story and putting it all together is a key part of screenwriting. Too many times when reading a spec, you can tell when the writer didn’t put in the effort to get all the details of the story right before they started on pages.
I recently asked my online screenwriting newwork their thoughts on outlining versus a “seat of your pants” approach. The responses were overwhelmingly in favor of outlining. Granted, there are some writers who prefer the latter, but I’m not one of them. I’m a firm believer in having a rock-solid outline before starting to write the actual script.
But that’s what works for me. Others may feel differently regarding their own process. No matter how you achieve the end result, as long as you’re happy with it, then more power to you.
The whole creative process in developing a story is a beast unto itself, but I think all the long-term work I’ve done for other scripts is really paying off for these two. For now, it’s still a big and unwieldy mess, occasionally feeling very unorganized and all-over-the-place, but a little bit of work every day will gradually pay off. When all is said and done, I’ll have two new scripts.
What we read on the page is what we would expect to see and hear on the screen. Pretty simple, right?
Sadly, not every writer gets it. As a result, some feel they have to explain what it is we’re seeing and hearing. Too many times I’ll read a spec script where a character does something, followed by WHY they’re doing it, or WHAT IT REALLY MEANS.
Maybe they think their writing isn’t getting the point across, so they feel the need to throw this additional info in – just to make sure you’re really getting it? It’s a practice I highly recommend not doing.
Imagine you’re reading your own script. How would you feel if there was a stop in the action to explain what just happened?
My initial thought is that this is how it’s done in books, so the writer figures they should do the same thing for a script. But I’d say that would have the opposite effect.
By laying everything out in front of us, the writer is doing themselves a disservice by not having faith in the intelligence of the reader/audience. They want your story to entertain them. People actually enjoy being able to figure stuff out and reaching their own conclusions.
Which do you think would be more effective and memorable? A script that spoon-feeds you everything, or one that makes you think and challenges you to pay attention?
Another part of this is when the writer includes WHAT A CHARACTER IS THINKING, to which I always ask “How do we know that?” Film’s a visual medium, so we can’t see what’s going on in their head (unless some kind of scene showing exactly that is actually part of the story).
One of the many jobs of the screenwriter is to show the character’s thoughts via their actions and words (or lack thereof).
(Please note the key word in that sentence – show. As in “Show, don’t tell.” Three little words every screenwriter should constantly heed. Make a sign of it and keep it near your designated writing area.)
I’d much rather reach these kinds of conclusions on my own through how the story’s told instead of the writer adding it into the mix. Including the WHY, WHAT IT REALLY MEANS or WHAT THEY’RE THINKING will highlight your abilities, but not the way you want.
Doing this is counteracting how a script should read, interrupts the flow of the story, and just comes across as lazy writing. You want to have every word on the page be there for a reason. Why have something there that doesn’t need to be?
A great piece of advice that’s always stuck with me is “Imagine the sound went out while you were watching the movie of your script. Would you still be able to follow the story?” I’d say yes, to a certain degree. While I may not have all of the specific story details, I’d definitely have a strong sense of what was going on based on what I see the characters doing and how they’re doing it.
Two suggestions to see this in practice:
-read scripts. Focus on the storytelling. Pay attention to what’s on the page (and what isn’t).
-watch silent movies. Take note of how the actors convey emotion through their actions, gestures, and expressions.
You want your reader and audience to enjoy watching your story unfold as much as you enjoyed writing it. Believe me, they’ll be able to tell.
The busy times never stop around Maximum Z HQ. Among the latest tasks being undertaken:
-Rewrite/overhaul of the low-budget comedy
-Sporadic rewrite work on the pulp sci-fi spec, with initial sets of notes being carefully scrutinized
-Crafting together some pretty solid query letters, along with researching the best places to send them
-Jotting down notes for several future projects, including a comedic take on one of my favorite genres
-Providing scriptnotes to patient writer colleagues
You’d think with all of this going on, plus the non-writing normal life, I’d be exhausted.
Actually, I am, but it’s cool.
The way I see it, keeping busy like this helps me be a better writer; continuously working on something helps me be productive and further develop my skills.
Sure, sometimes the amount of actual writing is bare minimum, or maybe even not at all, but that’s okay too. All work and no play and all that.
Most importantly, I’m just getting a real kick out of doing it. If I wasn’t, I’d be a lot less likely to want to keep going.
And there are also days where it all gets so frustrating that I want to just walk away from it all. But I like doing it to much to even consider that.
Some recent interactions I’ve had with other writers have included more than a few of them expressing frustration about their diminishing hopes of making headway with breaking in and getting a writing career going.
I feel for them. I really do. As just about any writer will attest, this is not an easy undertaking. “It’s a marathon, not a sprint,” right?
Even though all of our chances are somewhat slim, I suggested they keep at it, if only for the sheer joy of writing. Isn’t that what got us all started?
When I asked one writer how their latest project was going, the response was “Really enjoying working on this, even though I know nobody else will ever see it.”
I totally get that. We all have our reasons for deciding whether or not to put our work out there, but the important thing was that they were having a good time with it. And you can tell if they were by what’s there on the page. It it was a chore for you to write, it’ll be that much more of a chore for us to read. Is that really the route you want to take?
So no matter what it is you’re working on right now, I sincerely hope that it’s bringing you as much joy and pleasure as you’re hoping to provide to your reader/audience.
I admit it. I was weak. I couldn’t resist. The urge was just too overwhelming.
So I accepted the reality of the situation, and just went ahead and did it.
I went back and revised the pages I’d already written for the pulpy adventure spec.
The character that shouldn’t have been in there was cleanly removed, but in the process of doing so, a new idea emerged with a way to further weave some of the subplots together. Always nice when that happens.
Engaging in this mini-rewrite also provided me with the opportunity to take a step back and just read. Was it still working? Were my aspirations of producing a ripping yarn being achieved?
Seems that way so far. Then again, I’m slightly biased.
Some notes I got on an earlier draft of the western were along the lines of “it’s good, but the writing’s a little dry.” With this script, there’s more of an effort to avoid repeating that by really punching things up.
I’m getting a real kick out of seeing what I can do to make this an exciting read for anybody, including myself. Many’s the time I’ve heard that you should be able to see the writer’s love for the material on the page. That’s something I’ve always tried to do, and working on this script is no exception.
So after this temporary pause, things are back on track. Momentum will be regained, and progress shall continue.
Exciting times all around, chums.
-Friend of the blog/consultant Jim Mercurio is running a crowdfunding project for his latest film project American Neorealism. It’s VERY close to being funded, and there are just a few days left, so donate if you can to help him reach (or even surpass) that goal.