Sunday, August 26, 2007

Week 13 and Beyond

So, you've finished the first draft of your screenplay. Congratulations! Well done. Take yourself out to dinner and a movie, you deserve it.

So now what? you ask.

I can only tell you about my own process from here, and share some advice from others. As I've stated before, everyone has to figure out how it works for themselves. But there's one thing for certain, and that is you are NOT DONE YET. This is really only the beginning.

Writing a first draft of a novel or screenplay is an accomplishment. You should be proud. Making it into a salable, marketable thing is another thing entirely. I have never met anyone who has written only one draft of a novel or screenplay and had it published or produced. Rewriting is part of the process. Rewriting is also writing. It's another kind of writing, but it's writing.

I work as a story analyst and editor and my favourite part of the job is seeing the AHA go off in a writer's head when she sees how something can be done better, more effectively, or more dramatically. If you're happy with your first draft, fantastic. Just wait until you've done 2 or 3 edits! It will only get better.

Here's what I do with my first draft:

1) I RARELY show it to anyone. First off, your friends and family won't be much help. They might not understand what a first draft looks like (as they probably only ever read the final product of anything) and they'll probably only tell you how nice it is anyway. Or if they say critical things you'll get defensive because it's all so precious when it first comes out. It's a very personal process. I have some writer friends, who have good critical eyes and know what the process looks like. I also have a pretty tough skin when it comes to criticism. DO NOT show your first draft to an editor, publisher, agent, or producer. They might not read it a second time, in which case you've lost your chance with them.

2) If I haven't yet typed up all my hand-written exercises, I finish doing that.

3) I start a binder. Yes, some good old fashioned organization to switch gears. Inside this binder I put:

-my typed-up exercises
-a copy of my first draft
-any other information (i.e. my Howler binder has a section on research of endangered species in South America, my Brigitta binder has an entire World Book I had to create, plus maps and drawings, and a glossary of terms I made up)

4) I take a little break for a few days to clear my head. I write some poetry, take some time off, clean the house (always a good one).

5) I review my typed exercises with my trusty red pen, starring passages, making notes in the margins, especially about where I want to include these parts in the story.

6) Finally, at least a WEEK after I've written it, usually more, I read my first draft. Sometimes it's worse than I remember, sometimes it's better. Whatever the case, I take lots of notes.

7) I organize my thoughts. For screenplays I make a list of the main beats of the story (Final Draft makes this easy) and print that out as well. Sometimes I make notecards with each scene written on it. I examine each scene to make sure it's necessary, it moves the story, it has conflict and mystery, etc. Things I will talk about in posts to come.

(BTW - when I say "scene" I mean what happens in a particular time and place. Whenever there is a change of time or place, that is a new scene.)

8) When I have worked through my ideas enough, I do the first rewrite. I rewrite from START TO FINISH just like I wrote the first draft. This is important, otherwise you might end up rewriting the first 10 pages over and over but neglect the rest. I see this a lot, where the first part is tight and then it falls apart after page 20.

Here are some other things you might do before you attempt your rewrite:

-Read Stephen King's On Writing if you haven't already.
-Read Jeff Kitchen's most excellent book: Writing a Great Movie. You won't need me any more after you've read it, but read it anyway.
-Check out other author's books and blogs. See how they organize themselves (especially in the rewriting process). Author Erica Orloff always has some really interesting topics. And if you think you'd like something more super-organized, try working with story-boards, like Erica Ridley. Her anal-retentiveness is admirable (I mean that in the nicest way, honestly, I'm envious).
-And here's something I've been meaning to do, give you a list of what structural elements I look for in my work. But The Unknown Screenwriter did it first. Ah, well, I'll probably still do mine.

And come back here for more exercises and insights as I continue on my own journey. Starting this Friday, I'll post a weekly "Weekend Writing Exercise" so you'll always find something new to do.

And again, congratulations!


Vicki said...

When I finish my books I always put them away for a couple of weeks. After that I go back and start the re-reading and major edits. Lot's of notes on time lines and stuff.

During that two week break cleaning the house is much needed. The last couple of weeks prior to the words 'The End'have taken their toll on the house. :)

I also start something else. By that time I always have another character somewhere who has tried to get me to write their story. This is a good time to get some basics down as well as quite them down until I'm through with revisions.

Long winded comment here...I guess the not getting to write during the past week and this week is driving me crazy. :)

OpenChannel said...

It's a great idea to start something new, I think. I tell students this all the time. It's kind of like taking that wafer or drinking water after you taste wine. You need to cleanse your palate so that when you return you can be more objective, look at it with a fresh perspective.

I ALWAYS love cleaning the house after I'm done. It feels good.

more4dan said...

I've been on vacation, so I haven't had a chance to thank you.

I did indeed finish my screenplay. I doubt it's any good, but it's done and I am amazed at what I learned in the process.

I began here wondering how I could manage such a project. I've had the idea for years and now I'm holding it in my hands. I will take your new advice to heart as everything else has worked so far.

Keep up the good work.

Dan F.

P.S. upon your recommendation I will also purchase Jeff Kitchen's book.