Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Writing Week (Vol. 5) part 220 - Everything's Connected

I've been mired in outline land for the past few weeks, as you probably know, and this week has been no exception. After a short hiatus following the submission of my outline to my co-writer, W.A., I met with him to get notes. I have to say, getting notes is downright fun sometimes. It can also be aggravating as hell, but there's often no rush like the rush of figuring out story beats. Sitting there, talking things over while drinking coffee or whiskey or a beer, playing creator of worlds and people - what could be better?

I love that part of working on a story. W.A. and I met at his office again and though we were a little pressed for time, we made a lot of progress in the outline. Many of his notes were, to filch the term from him, "cosmetic." "We can't use the pyramids, because this similar movie did." That sort of thing. (And believe you me, those are important things to pay attention to.) Other notes were slightly bigger - "This reveal comes too late; we should probably push it up." 

"Yeah, but..." I'd start to counter. But you can only rebuff an idea for so long. In fact, when going over notes with a writing partner in particular (though the rule applies when speaking with anyone about your script), you should be as open as possible to everything thrown down on the table. After a few moments' deliberation, I would see where he was coming from. "Ok, next?" 

Some suggestions were mutual, though on the spot. We nixed a character then and there, which felt great. I waffled back and forth on the decision later, but a comment he sent via text message a few nights later cemented the decision for me. We realized that certain things couldn't happen as outlined. "These characters are stuck in prison, but I've given them an easy out, which they don't seem to realize until it's necessary. That clearly doesn't work." All told, the notes, changes, and ideas that spun out of our meeting brought to light things that I might not have otherwise noticed on my own, and then they sent me back into edit and outline mode.

The "cosmetic" changes proved not to be quite as simple as I thought they would be. Locations I had chosen appeared more difficult to swap out then I wanted. Conversely, ditching the one character helped fit a lot of other beats and character interactions/motivations into place. Moving the reveal up further heightened a pivotal sequence at the midpoint of the script and allowed me to bring in a missing element that W.A. and I both wanted in the script. Why did all these dominoes fall the way they did? Because everything is connected. 

Few if any changes can be made in a story, especially one in the outline process, which don't affect the rest of the piece. Perhaps altering a character's name can be trivial enough to not cause ripples, but anything more substantial than that will resonate throughout the entire piece. That's the mark of a cohesive story. If making changes throughout the script doesn't have larger effects on the piece as a whole, then it might not be as fluid and structurally sound as you think.