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?