Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Writing Week (Vol. 5) part 228 - Simplify, Simplify, Simplify

I think it's nearly impossible to make a good script too simple. Look at some of the most successful loglines and movies. Die Hard always jumps to mind when talking about the beauty of simplicity. A New York cop tries to rescue a group of hostages from terrorists in an office building. That's a pretty straightforward premise. The plot has twists and turns and complications, but the driving goal is direct and simple. 

W.A., my collaborator, and I had a call with our producer at the end of last week to talk about the sci-fi spec outline we submitted earlier this month. The call was an illuminating one, though as often happens, the outline we thought we had primed for the pages stage was revealed to be overly complex and confusing. due to its nature as a sc-fi, there's already an inherent degree of complexity in the premise. But the execution doesn't have to be nearly as multifaceted as we were making it. As the producer put it, "you have three layers of things going on in this world, which hardly seem connected." We thought the elements were working together, but clearly they weren't. 

With that little kick in the pants, W.A. and I met yesterday to discuss things. Going into the meeting, I wasn't sure where either of us stood. I was beginning to think we might be facing a larger re-write, but I had no idea if he felt the same. The meeting proved quite fruitful, with us stripping some large elements completely, reducing others, centralizing the story, and working in a great overarching goal that we had subconsciously already been working our way toward. Over the course of an hour and a half discussion, the script became a lot simpler and more manageable in scope, with fewer rules to explain and locations to justify. What was left, though, after we peeled off layer after layer wasn't weaker - it was stronger and far more engaging due to its concision. Both W.A. and I walked out of the meeting jazzed about what we had come up with and hope that those changes become the bedrock for the pages I soon hope to start drafting. 

The simplest stories and often be the most difficult to write. I remember thinking that my Medieval spec was going to be a breeze. It's a simple revenge thriller, but man oh man was it hard to crack. I still haven't figured it out, and I'm two full drafts into it. The protagonist's drive is still very simple, but that doesn't mean that I can be lax in my writing. The story still has to flow organically and logically, and while the overall arc was and is clear in my head, the plot points aren't. 

As the producer also said when we were talking, the outline stage is the best time to catch these changes and work on streamlining the script. The last thing you want is to wind up having to do a page one rewrite because you didn't take the time to plan before you sat down to write.