Monday, May 18, 2009

The Writing Week (Vol. 2) part 72 – The Sum of Its Parts

I’ll admit right now – I’m not very good at writing female characters. They always wind up being either completely one-dimensional or erratic and, more often, flat out crazy (obvious insight to my dating history, I’m sure). So, knowing full well that my female characters always need more attention – and hence, pretty much every romantic relationship I write does, too – I decided to go about my rewrites in a different way this week.

My comic book style spec is full of big action, big battles, big danger. But at the heart of it, it’s a story about redemption, as told through a budding romance. (OK, maybe not quite as sappy as that makes it sound, but there is a romance that evolves throughout it.) I knew that the ten major beats that comprise the relationship weren’t quite working before, but for some reason, I always tried to fix them within the context of the scenes that come immediately after or before them. I wasn’t able to fix anything, since I was too involved in what was next to make the scene work in and of itself. So, this week, I pulled the ten scenes out and read them back to back, with nothing other than awareness about how they fit into the greater scheme of things), to make sure that they worked as a storyline.

I can’t tell you how helpful I found this approach. OK, scenes one through five work, but then what’s said in six appears again in eight. And why is she mad in eight when they were fine in seven? By reading this select group of scenes together, I was able to figure out what story I was trying to tell (purely between these two characters) and how its evolution was either working or failing. When I reinserted them into the script, they formed a much more coherent subplot, and therefore, worked within the greater context much more effectively.

I actually found the approach so useful that I tried it with two other storylines. (I don’t want to make it sound like the script is fragmented – everything works together, but the romance is happening as the antagonist is doing his thing as X, Y, and Z. In order to make sure that the parts added up to a solid whole, I broke the script down and analyzed the parts.) By the end of the weekend, I had cut out an inconsistent (and unnecessarily drawn out) ticking clock, raised the stakes, streamlined the action and dialogue, and clarified characters’ motives. All because I broke the script down into its individual parts. Maybe you, dear reader, do this al the time. I hadn’t before. Now I wonder how much time I’ve lost in rambling rewrites that didn’t quite address or even find the problems in the script.