There are many courses available to writers who need help with ‘tackling the rewrite’ or ‘wrestling the redraft’, but is it really that much of a struggle to edit your unproduced script?
In short, yes. A complete screenplay can be a rare and precious thing, but the first draft is not the end. The last thing we want to do is go through it again from the beginning and start making changes, but it is a necessary part of story development. There is no magic number for the amount of drafts you should write, but it’s fair to say that the very first copy probably won’t represent your best work.
Like the original, every rewrite takes time. There should be no rushing through it to get it done, or shrugging off seemingly insignificant details. Ultimately, one question should keep resurfacing:
“Is this the best way to tell my story?”
This may not be the most foolproof method, nor does it apply to all projects, but here I have outlined the process I go through when rewriting a script.
(Drafts 1-2) Common sense – A few rereads of the first draft, just to clear up awkward phrasing, unclear action or glaring errors. Make sure this is done in one sitting, and again after any changes have been made.
(3-4) Story check-up – Using loglines, treatments and other relevant materials, succinctly summarise the main story. Decide whether that story is clearly portrayed through what has been written. If not, structural work may be needed.
(5-6) Paint a picture – As reiterated in every script workshop, keep it visual. Maximise description of all settings and characters so that the reader has a vivid fictional world to delve in to.
(7-8) Living through character – Are they the kind of person that I would immediately engage with on the screen? Are their goals, flaws and personal attributes legitimate? Am I concerned about their quest for success? Am I using too many rhetorical questions?
(9+) Ascertain destination – Some of the above elements are genre-specific, but most films need pace, or at least a sense of direction. Make sure that the story is going from one place to another, perhaps through irreversible change. Another forum cliché, but a story has to move.
These modes of thought, along with professional coverage and/or peer feedback, ensure that every rewrite brings something new to the script. Never dispose of a previous draft, as ultimately it will be the combination of old and new that results in a solid finished product, but always be open to change.
My concluding advice is to never rush this process. Ideas will come and go, but without taking the time to distance yourself from your work, you may struggle to identify the script’s full potential. We all know that it can be difficult getting the right people to read your work, but if it isn’t perfect the first time you submit it, then it will be even harder to get them to consider another version.