Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Writing Week (Vol. 6) part 267 - Done with Revisions

It's been almost a month since my collaborator, W.A., and I received feedback from our producer on the working draft of the sci-fi spec I delivered. Overall, her notes were really positive (and if you look back a few weeks, in sync with ones I got from The League). As I frequently do, I assumed that the rewrite work would be fast and easy. I don't know why I always do that - it's hardly ever the case.

All things considered, this pass was nowhere near as onerous as it could have been. I had a few major challenges to meet, which would then all string throughout the entire script. My task wasn't to insert a scene or two here or there and call it a day, but to infuse the entire script with new elements, refined existing ones, and to strengthen characters all around. Fortunately, the coherency of the notes made my job easy in some respects, since I could concentrate on three or four main objectives, and then just make sure they tracked throughout.

Without getting into too many specifics, one of the main things I had to do was to better elucidate the science behind the "sci" component of the sci-fi, and then to tie that more clearly into the protagonist's and antagonist's goals. Before we sent the script to our producer, I had an inkling that she would suggest the science be clarified. I wasn't sure, though, nor was I at a good place to determine exactly how to go about doing that. For months leading up to that moment, I had been so closely mired in the script so as to not have clear, discerning eyes when looking at it. Her notes validated my suspicions, and the call with her, along with two consecutive days of calls with W.A. shed a ton of light on how to proceed.

I was off an running. Curiously, though not surprisingly in the least, the further I got into that element, the more the other weak links tightened. By nailing the science, I was gaining a stronger foothold for my character work. As the characters fleshed out, their goals, drives, and interactions with the world solidified. Soon, the antagonist had become a more powerful, more terrifying force, not only because his goals were clearer, but because his back story leapt off the page. Inversely, the protagonist became more sympathetic and more deserving of support. 

While things tied together more, they also streamlined naturally. The script dropped from a way-too-long 121 pages, to a much more manageable 109. Dialogue chunks that had been twelve or fourteen lines long were shortened by half. The language used in describing the science became more uniform, and the smaller lexicon made every event much clearer and more readily comprehensible. I'm doing a final read through over the next couple nights to make sure that the elements I added all track, and since I jumped around as ideas struck, I want to ensure that I didn't neglect to delete or add something where appropriate. But I'm very pleased and excited by this draft and can't wait to get it back to W.A.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Writing Week (Vol. 6) part 266 - Tools of the Trade

Every writer has tools and practices idiosyncratic to his or her work. For those of us who write, or aspire to write, these particularities are fun to talk about in an extremely nerdy way - much like page count or formatting issues. Recently, I've been expanding my toolbox, and I think you might find some of these instruments helpful to your process, as well.

Last week, I talked a lot about the environmental toll that my writing is beginning to take. Draft after draft after draft, I feel compelled to print out a script so that I can scribble all over it when going through the rewrite process. I find it incredibly hard to sit down in front of Final Draft (a new toy for me, as it has replaced Movie Magic as my current writing software), pass Go, and collect my $200 when doing edits. I need to have a physical script in front of me that I can labor and sweat over, a page that I can leaden with ink and scratch marks, where I can triple strike out words and scenes that need to go and scrawl thoughts, dialogue, and proposed revisions in the margins. I can't do any of that to my liking on the computer, and so I felt compelled to print out 120 pages (or more) with each subsequent draft. I thought that the most ecologically sound option I had was to do that on recycled paper, printing on the clean side of used sheets.

I discovered I had been remiss in my green detective work. There are a number of apps out there specifically made for annotating pdfs on iPads (mini and regular), Kindles, and other tablets. (Apologies in advance if this post seems more marketing driven than any of my others; I'm not supported by any of the below vendors. I just happen to really like the programs and services they provide, which make my writing easier.) Beyond saving paper, using the app to annotate a pdf of my script is also just less unwieldy than working with over a hundred sheets of loose-leaf. 

I started off with the PDF Master app for my iPad mini. Initially, I love it. You can highlight text, strike out, insert notes and/or text, free draw, and change the opacity and color of all of the above. There are also features that allow the user to add stamps and signatures, but I used neither of those. After I sung the app's praises to a couple writer friends and League members, I was confronted with the program's limitations. For one, there's a three-document limit, which I discovered when trying to import my producer's marked up pdf. I had to delete the app's instruction document in order to work around that. More seriously, though, the app seems to have some saving issues. Like, major saving issues. Thankfully, I emailed the document to myself the second night I used it (always email your work to yourself, friends), because it neglected to save about 30 pages of progress I made. I had to re-import from the email in order to continue where I left off. Then, on the last day, it just stopped saving after a certain point. I would mark up one page, scroll to the next, and then notice that none of my previous annotations were saved. Then, they began to disappear from the page I was working on at that time, immediately after I made them. Very concerning. 

To fix that, I took my father's suggestion (he's a bit of a tech guy and uses similar tools at work) and switched to the Adobe Reader App. I wound up completing my annotations in the ironically named PDF Master, but Adobe's product offers the same features, plus you can type in a specific page you want to access, rather than scroll through the entire document, which Master required, coupled with what I assume will be more product stability. Adobe's not small time in the PDF world, so I can only hope that their product will be more stable.

As I made my annotations, it became apparent that a finger, even one as narrow and pointy as mine, isn't as precise as annotating a PDF document on a tablet requires. Perhaps that's intrinsic to working with the faulty PDF Master (half the time I struck out the wrong text and had to hit undo), but I wanted more precision. So, I started looking into stylus pens. There are a number of them out there, but the reviews I read (and I read a lot of them), indicated that the amPen was the best. I haven't used it yet - I'll have it Friday - but it sounds as if the rubber tip with a conductor layer makes for the most seamless, efficient tracking on the tablet screen. Plus, the pen will give the added feature of feeling more like marking up a paper script, which might make the transition to digital editing smoother. 

If all goes as I hope, then I won't have to do much script printing going forward. Except, maybe, for the final version, because sometimes there's nothing more rewarding than seeing and holding the fruits of your months or years of labor.  

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

The Writing Week (Vol. 6) part 265 - Re-Writes Galore

Somewhere out there is the finish line for my sci-fi spec. I can almost see it. Maybe not quite on the horizon, but not wildly far beyond it. 

Last week, my writing partner and I had two days of phone calls to go over the page notes our producer gave us. There was a lot to cover, but in a strange way, the repetition of some of her points was a comfort. She hit a few big notes time and again, stressing what (we agreed) was missing from the script, and where the characters were falling short of being fully developed. Yes, the result was a lot of mark-up, but the fact that her observations can be boiled down to about a half-dozen issues was encouraging. We were on the same page by and large with most of her thoughts, and the fact that they kept coming up throughout the script was an indicator of what the screenplay needs to really come to life. No matter how much proverbial red ink one might scribble on your script, having someone who knows the industry and - more importantly - know story weigh in on your screenplay is a giant blessing. 

So, for me, the re-write process began yet again last week. I'll admit, it's been a bit more of a laborious few days than I'm used to; I've not been making a ton of progress (or really much at all to speak of some days), but I think I've identified why that is. The environmentalist in me hates printing scripts out again and again for each round of revisions. However, the writer in me is increasingly incapable of delving into rewrites without a hard copy of the script in front of him that he can mark-up and cross out and insert new hand-written dialogue into. 

What to do? Print out another 120 pages? Or sit inertly before the flashing cursor in Final Draft, making minimal progress each day? 

Before I set it all to print again, I'm trying two things. First, there are large chunks of the script that necessitate edits, but which didn't change too much at all since last I printed the thing. My first step is going to be to see how much I can edit from there. Alternatively, there are a couple PDF annotation apps available for iPad, so Google tells me, which I am going to check out tonight. If those work, I'll get all the benefit of a hard copy script to scribble on, without any of the tree killing that comes with it.

Of course, at the end of the day, completing the script is the priority, so if the above two fail (and I'll admit with you that the recycled script option is less than ideal), I'll print the thing. I guess I'll just have to do extra scribbling on it to make up for it.