Thursday, March 28, 2013

Getting the Most Out of Your Script

It's already March and I'm finally writing my first entry for 2013.  There's a very good explanation for this: my writing mojo has been monopolized by the fact that I'm intensely reworking my script for Trust Us.  Never fear, this hiatus isn't a step back; it's without question a step forward.  I've said before there are many, many good scripts.  It's hard enough making it great, but now I'm learning about the last thing you have to do for screenwriting: getting the most out of your script.  What's the difference between "great" and "most?"  A good script you can show to a few close people who may take on the project because they know you.  A great script means turning a good script into something you can show someone you don't know to gain interest.  If all goes well, getting the most out of your script is when people can't refuse it.  It's when every line is so tightly cross-examined, you go cross-eyed.  There are four new things I learned during this round of rewriting.  It's stuff I've never covered here, really because I wasn't aware of it until now.  I love how there's always something new to be discovered in writing.  So this will be perfect... I'm updating where I'm at with Trust Us while pointing out some good stuff to watch out for when writing:

1) Repeating Yourself:

The Problem: I've just started noticing I tend to repeat myself in my writing.  You know, I say things a certain way and then say it again another way.  I tend to say something once, then repeat it again.  You see?  I'm doing it right now!  Worse, imagine not repeating yourself consecutively, but 40 pages later!  I could read my script 26 times and still not notice some of it because the repeating is so far away from each other.  You know what else?  A lot of it is in disguise.  I tricked myself without knowing it, along with everyone else who's read my script and didn't notice.  This stuff is really hard to find, and the fact that most people who read my script don't notice proves it.  The worst is, I like the four different ways I've written it.  Characters have a goal or a trait you try to show in dialogue or action, but you only have to say it once, unless it's something you really need to drive hard.

The Solution:  Find every time you say something more than once (that can be the hard part), and streamline it.  If you like one better and it's in the right place, then simply erase the repeat later.  If you don't like the place it's in but like the way you wrote it, move to where it's repeated and erase the repeat.  If you like both ways you've made your point, take your favorite line or two from each, find the best spot, and use the best from both.  Problem solved.  It works!

2) Do I Make Sense:

The Problem:  This probably isn't news, but making sense is important.  Some things that you don't think need to be explained sometimes need explanation.  I'm writing a time travel movie.  It's the most confusing subject you'll ever write on, trust me.  Do I think I make sense?  Ha!  Of course I do!  But you have to realize sometimes you don't.   I'm realizing I'm really biased about whether I make sense even though I'm sure I was being objective.  By nature, it doesn't work like that.  Sometimes when you explain something in dialogue it just makes sooo much sense to you, but that's because you're too close to the material.  Don't assume everyone knows how quantum theory relates to time travel.  It sounds obvious to you, but simply saying that's the case in the script isn't enough for the audience to know it.  Have you forgotten so quickly all the research you've done to this point?  I sure don't!  It took me forever to get all this time travel nonsense right!  Maybe you're doing a period piece where there's a custom that your average person doesn't know about today.  Maybe you're working on forensics for a murder mystery.  Does the average person know the trajectory of a bullet that would prove a suicide?!   Are you a cop?!  Don't assume everyone knows what you know, even if you never had to look it up.  Ask yourself, "Is this something most people would know?"  More than that, is the reader obtaining the information correctly?  Do your intentions come off the page the way it's supposed to?

The Solution: This is something that MUST be pointed out to you by someone else.  We're usually too close to figure this out by ourselves.  You need someone to tell you, "Hey, this makes no sense."  Then you might spend the next few minutes explaining what you meant.  Then you stop and say, oh crap, I was supposed to explain this in one line.   Whoops!  That's when you know.  It's fool-proof.  Just find a better way to explain it in a shorter period of time.  Usually you can go to your one page, verbal explanation for help.

3) Descriptions:

The Problem:  I still admittedly haven't quite got the grasp of this yet, but it seems I tend to make descriptions longer than necessary.  Sometimes this causes the reading to slow down, and this is especially troublesome in instances where you want quick dialogue.  It also, and I think this is really important, makes everyone think your script is longer than it really is.  With excessive descriptions, a 120 page script can be 130 pages or more.  And trust me, coming from someone who always writes a tad too long, this fixes a lot of length issues.  Most people in the business don't like to read long scripts.

The Solution: Don't put every stage direction, every smile, every frown... All of that should be in there at times, yes, but only when it counts.  For example: "He walks past the door and picks up the book on the shelf, and glances at it.  He sighs, knowing it will take forever to read it.  He decides against it, putting the book back on the shelf.  He turns around and walks towards the door.  He opens it and leaves."  Can't this just be: "He takes the book, glances at it and sighs.  Deciding against it. he puts it back and leaves."  Bam!  Do we get any less of a picture?  No.  And, we just saved three or four lines of description.  No one wants to read where he sits, stands, turns, or every last thing he's thinking.  Let you and the actors figure all that out on set.

4) Get the Most:

The Problem: Tell me if this ever happens to you.  You read over a scene you wrote and just love it.  You read it a couple times more, feeling so proud of yourself!  But then you get a sinking feeling you can add more things to make it even better, you just don't know what! These are the scenes I find can always be given a little more because if you love it so much, you feed off of it creatively and may think of wonderful things to add.   A great example is a funny, high energy scene.  These are situations that you can easily have fun with, and even though it's already great, you feel like there's so much opportunity for new jokes, funny reactions, and sarcasm.  The void can become obvious, but you don't want to mess with greatness... or you maybe just can't think of anything better.

The Solution:  This one's tricky because the solution isn't really on the page.  You have to create it.  So often we've read a particular scene a hundred times, so nothing in your head seems fresh, and you just wind up telling the same joke in new ways (and as stated before, we don't want to repeat ourselves again).  My advice is to rewrite the damn scene completely.  Don't worry, you're not going to ditch your old stuff.  But this kind of free, spontaneous writing may conjure up a few new jokes here and there and relieve some of the pressure of fitting it into what you have.  I'm telling you, it works.  Then you can plug it into the old scene where it should be and enhance what you already have, sometimes in fun, unexpected ways.

Okay, I realize it can get redundant going over your script again... again.  You've been through so many friggin' drafts already, and sometimes it feels like it never ends. Just remember, once you're in production, there's no turning back.  You want to start out with a script that's the best it can be, and it'll probably change again after that.  Writing is never truly done until it's in the can, and even then things change in post with editing.  It's our jobs as writers to get it where we need it to be so the director (which may be yourself) has everything as prepared and ready as possible for shooting.  Oh, right, plus you need someone to actually invest in you and the script.  No money?  No movie.  And if you're a first-timer and you don't get the most out of your script, it's highly unlikely you'll get that money.  So, maybe it's time to kick yourself in the pants and get the most out of your script.  How else can you give 'em your best?

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