Friday, July 29, 2011

The Writing Week (Vol. 4) part 186 - Reading Through a Draft You Just Finished

At long last, I finally finished the second draft of my Medieval spec yesterday. It was a hellacious, laborious process, especially the "midpoint." (I put that in quotation marks, because what I had considered the midpoint actually falls around page 64 of 89 - far, far too late for that tentpole scene.) All in all, I was pleasantly surprised by the read. In my experience, that generally means the script is rife with problems. 

Normally, when I do a read through of a script, I get right to the nitty-gritty, looking for grammatical and typological errors, lines that can be cut, and places where extra dialogue or beats are necessary. Today, though, I decided to try something new, something that I probably should have been doing from the get-go. Rather than pay attention to the small details, I read the script in one sitting looking purely at the story. Does it flow? Are there gaps? Are there character arcs and transformations?

On the whole, I found a lot of my concerns pre-reading to be unfounded. Though short, the script flowed pretty well. I didn't get a sense that there was a lot missing, especially from the first act. The characters had genuinely distinct voices and underwent shifts throughout the story; they had backstory and felt like real people. There were sufficient amounts of action and more even-tempered beats in between.

The main concern is still the page count. Though that strikes even me as a semi-absurd source of anxiety, I've actually experienced it in my minimal writing career to date. At one point, I submitted a solid draft of my post-Apocalyptic spec to my producer. Though we both liked it a lot, it came in at just about 90 pages - maybe a bit less. The very first thing she said, without even having read it, was that the page count might be too small. It would depend on the notes and the read, but I might have to beef it up by five or so.

The industry is very specific about what it wants, especially from new writers. Not conforming to act structure and not submitting an industry standard page-length script are both warning signs of an inexperienced writer. Yes, great scripts can miss both expectations by a mile. However, when you're breaking in, those are some of the top points on the checklist; not being able to mark them can be the difference between getting your material read and not. 

Right now, the Medieval spec is 89 pages. I know I want at least 5 more. Act One is 30 pages on the dot. That means that 66% of the script is Acts Two and Three. As I was reading, I came to realize that there's another "midpoint" beat on page 54 - sometimes, I have to convince myself of the technicalities in order to be more at ease with what I have. Act Two ends on page 80, so it's 50 pages. That's quite fine. It's the 9 page third act that really worries me. I often do a 15 page resolution, but 9 seems too short. I've identified a couple places where I can fit in another beat, but it will be hard to write them so they don't feel tacked on. I have an idea for the first beat, but the longer page-generating sequence eludes me, which is a good indicator that it doesn't belong in the script.

What are your two cents on the matter? If you had a script that your gut told you was both a little too short but also contained pretty much everything it needs, what would you do?

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Writing Week (Vol. 4) part 185 - Dabbling in Projects

I've been out of the City for two weeks, traveling around the West Coast; San Francisco, Seattle, and Portland. I absolutely fell in love with the Northwest. The past week marked my first journey out that way, and I miss it incredibly. Returning to New York was like landing down in a cement garbage dump compared to the lush, green beauty I had spent eight days in. Rain aside - and we had some, but not much - it was gorgeous out there. The trip really made me question why I'm staying in NYC and, more than that, lit a fire under me to get out.

Residence change plans aside, the trip hadn't been the most productive for writing. I was in San Fran for a week before Seattle, and managed to get a good chunk of script work done. But then I hit a wall. I haven't been able to move past the midpoint scene that was giving me issues yet, and - to be completely honest - I haven't really tried in the past week, either. 

On the other hand, Jon (Onyx) and I have been tossing around some ideas for a collaboration we might start working on, and that's been fun. the change of pace is nice, and after my struggles with the Medieval spec, developing a new project is a breath of fresh air. We're trying to keep all ideas in a single email chain for the time being, just to make sure we're always on the same page. 

I ended last week with a few updates on my post-Apocalyptic spec, too. Nothing major - just considering going to buyers directly, having not had a ton of luck with production companies. I guess this is a tough time of the year for spec sales; then again, when isn't? All part of the game, I suppose.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Writing Week (Vol. 4) part 184 - Damn Midpoint

Act Two (in a standard format script) is notoriously the hardest. Spanning pages 30-90 (again, in a textbook script), it is not only the longest portion of the screenplay, but also the one that is the hardest to sustain. That is why, here at the league, the Dreaded Act Two is one of our most hated of arch enemies.

Act Two is split into to sections, right down the middle at the midpoint of the script (page 60). That's typically either a crisis point, or a majorly uplifting moment for your protagonist. It is also the point that must compel the next 30 pages into the climax of the entire story. Your character has been working toward a goal for the first half of the script; at this juncture, she either has to redirect, find a new path completely, or finds the inspiration needed to carry her onto the next stage of her journey. What follows - pages 60-70 or 75, can be misery for a writer, as you and your story and protagonist are coming down off of a major adrenaline high yet need to sustain the audience's attention.

Right now, I'm still grappling with the midpoint. I've actually gone through and written the remaining pages of this draft through the final Fade Out, but left the midpoint unaltered. I know it needs work, and I know where the rest of the story goes, but I'm not sure how to achieve what I need in that core section. (And, it's a long section, currently clocking in at about 10 of the now 87 pages I have.) To be honest, this is probably my fault as a writer for not fully fleshing out the needs and arc of my protagonist. I kind of know where he needs to get to and where he's coming from, but the bridge between the two is muddled, since it can go a few directions. I should have been better prepared, but maybe that's what the third draft will bring.

Another interesting development - the script is a love story, and the titular female character, though not the protagonist, is emerging as the one with the greater arc over the course of the story. I don't actually think this is a problem. And don't get me wrong, the male protagonist does undergo a change. But her's is much more visible and multi-tiered at the moment. Again, this could be a product of work that is lacking on my part, but it's an interesting transformation to watch. Maybe in a way, she actually is the protagonist, despite the fact that she's not on screen as much as he is. Either way, I'll solicit feedback before I alter that at all. 

I kind of like the way it's going. Have you ever worked with multiple strong characters, one of which eclipses your protagonist in terms of experience? Can you think of strong examples of movies that do this well?

Friday, July 08, 2011

The Writing Week (Vol. 4) part 183 - What is Your Writing Process?

Some writers are incredibly picky when it comes to their process. They have to be in a certain seat at a certain desk, facing a specific direction at a specific time of day. They can only use their typewriter (or computer, or notepad) and can only write in two hour uninterrupted intervals. Music must be playing continuously, and the phone must be off. Others are complete free-for-alls in their approach - they will write when the mood strikes, wherever that may be, and will use whatever writing tool is handy.

For the most part, I land somewhere in between. I put in an hour a day (at least). Anything less, and I feel like it's been a waste or a sham - unless, perhaps, I was overly productive for 40 or 50 minutes. I generally write to music (soundtracks) and have a few go-to staples, along with a mix of some of my all-ime favorite soundtrack bytes. I write from home for the most part, though if I'm going out late after work but don't have time to return to Queens first, I'll bring my laptop to the office and get work done there after business hours. The time of day doesn't matter too much; I'm not really a morning person, so it tends to be in the evening. 

This week, though (when I got writing done), I worked wherever I could. I'm revising my Medieval spec still - just about wrapping up Act Two; however, I left a major sequence at the midpoint blank because I'm still not sure how I want it to unfold. Sometimes, when I'm doing a page-one rewrite, I'll literally start with a blank document. This time, I saved the script as a new document and and gradually working my way from page one back to the end, cutting, adding, and changing as I go along. Even if some of the scenes and characters get cut, I like bits of the description and lines involving them, so those parts are staying. It's also easier - I find - to move forward, even changing directions in the script, if I can continuously work off of what was there to begin with. Perhaps a strange approach, but I'm finding it effective, especially because I am not changing the pacing too much. 

At any rate, writing time was making itself pretty scarce, so I had to be flexible. I wrote on a bus down to DC for the 4th, which was a first. Then, yesterday, I spent two hours writing while on a plane en route to San Francisco (another first). It's amazing how much a set of headphones and the right volume levels can help one zone into the work and zone out everything else. And with little other time to write, those few travel hours were integral to furthering the script.

What's your approach - do you have any nonnegotiable essentials to your writing process?