Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Writing Week (Vol. 4) part 178 - First Draft Done! And Now to Scrap It

At long last, the first draft of my Medieval spec is done. It clocked in at just over 96 full pages. And I think it's one of the weakest first drafts I've written in a while. 

First drafts can be agony. They can also seem like a joy, until you reread or get notes on them. Then, they seem like agony. They're all about getting the foundation laid. Sometimes, that means writing through a scene you know isn't working or dialogue that isn't doing it's job, simply so you can get to the next beat and hash that out. Once everything is down on paper, it's time to come back with the proverbial red pen and revise the whole thing. That often means scrapping entire sections and starting anew.

As torturous as this might seem, there's some remedy to be had in anticipating all of this. If you put the draft down believing it all to be gold, it's that much more crushing when your nearest and dearest tell you that's not quite the case. On the other hand, trudging through, all the while aware that the pages are far from Oscar worthy, makes it that much easier to see the flaws and - perhaps more importantly - the trick to addressing them.

One of the frequent problems with a first draft - and the very issue that I find myself facing now - is that a writer will often figure important elements, beats, and motivations out while writing the pages. This is great. Except, of course, for the fact that it might mean your protagonist does a seeming about-face half way through the script, when you realize why she's really doing what she's doing. Or what her past is. Or what the secret tool she discovers is, and how it relates to her mission. These realizations are key to a successful story, and you might even think you've nailed them in the outline, but when they come out in the pages... Well, I'd wager it means you have some rewriting to do.

In the case of my Medieval spec, for example, I found myself hung up on a handful of key beats throughout the few weeks I was writing. I wasn't stuck so much because I didn't know what the beats entailed. Rather, the hold up came from the realization that these beats were perfect opportunities to answer or address some crucial character points. Only, though I knew I had to answer them, I didn't know what the answers would be. More than that, the direction I was heading in for each answer deviated from what had come before. To keep the story consistent, I would have to go back and rework earlier beats and dialogue. Not a problem. That's what the first draft is for. Similarly, certain characters were underdeveloped by the end, and other appeared in a way that was too coincidental, giving the script an episodic feel that I have to do away with.

The episodic issue - a common one in early drafts of many of my scripts - is one I still grapple with. A script should flow naturally, one beat coming from the one that preceded it and all tying together into a cohesive whole. Something like HANGOVER 2, which I just saw this weekend, is more episodic feeling. Now they're here. Now they're there. One scene "leads" into the next, but not too organically and is forgotten as soon as the next location is established. Less episodic scripts are more seamless; of course we're here now, because it was set up that this is where the characters had to go and it is only natural that they're there now. No big coincidence or slight of hand to get them there.

I'll wrestle with these key issues this week. Hopefully, they won't be as monumental as I make them out to be. Either way, I have a (barely) 97 page draft of a new script on my desk, and that feels pretty damn good.

Write on, my friends!

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