To me, it’s amazing just how hard writing can be. It looks so simple. When written well, a good movie flows so effortlessly. It looks so simple that most people, who have never written a script, think that it can’t be that hard… ‘why all the madness, complaining, ranting, late nights, early mornings, compulsive behaviour, mental absence at the dinner table…’
It’s a madness.
For me at least, writing is rewriting. The first draft is quite easy. It’s the drafts that follow that are tough. And that’s the terrifying journey I am on right now – with ‘Rocketboy’. I thought I would share, by means of ‘writing avoidance’ of course ;-), a few rewriting tips that I use…
Can it be shorter? And the answer is always yes. Can you make eight words six? Can you remove dialogue? Can you clip the head and tails off scenes (get in as late as you can, get out as soon as the scene is done). Screenwriting should read like an elegant instruction manual, not wordy prose. Remove most of the ‘actor’ direction in dialogue like (smiling) (wryly) (angrily). It will reduce the page length AND improve the read, especially for actors.
Beware of ‘too much sizzle and not enough substance’. This is often present in the writing and can be spotted by pros immediately. Can ‘The night was inky black’ be re written as ‘night’…? Unless there is a compelling plot reason why the night is also ‘inky’, I would leave it out. Once you remove much of your sizzle, you will be left to work on the important stuff, the substance.
Act 1 should be shorter – deal with this now or pay for it ‘on set’ and ‘in post’. Move anything (and I mean ANYTHING) that CAN be moved until AFTER plot point one. Understand that until you hit that inciting incident and the race to plot point one in your story, the audience is wandering around in the dark trying to get a handle on where this is all going. Leave them wandering too long and you will loose them.
Rewrite ‘on the nose dialogue’ to be subtle and sub-textural. In other words, say it without ‘saying it’. Look at every line of dialogue. Can it be reduced? Can it contain more sub text? Can you improve the rhythm and flow? Whose voice is it (yours or your characters?)
Restructure to find the ‘rhythm of increasing tension’, by putting your protagonist in jeopardy, climaxing that conflict, deflating momentarily before increasing tensions once more and putting your protagonist in greater jeopardy… and so on. Often just juggling scenes around will help. During Rocketboy’s earlier drafts I wrote the sluglines and plot points for every scene out on colour coded ‘sticky notes’ and put it up on my wall. It was easy to see the story traffic jams then, and restructure.
Is there rhythm to the protagonists journey? It can’t be all fail, fail, fail… success! That’s just not engaging. Your protagonist should experience a success or breakthrough followed by an even greater block or breakdown. This rhythm should, like a beating drum, draw the reader inexorably to the climax. Again, this rhythm can be improved by simply looking at your story as a whole, using colour coded sticky notes.
OK that’s enough writing avoidance for me right now, it’s time to actually implement this and many more tricks I have learned over the years. I would love to hear your tips too, so drop me a line here and I will include in a blog update later.
Onwards and upwards!