Using Words To Discuss Other Words

Archive for the category “Writing Exercises”

You versus Script: Rematch

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.

Try hard.

Have fun.

Happy writing.


Live At The Scene

Making your script visually engaging is very important, so here’s one tactic to try when setting a scene.

Put yourself in the situation. Literally.

Let’s say that your characters are meeting in a café. You know what a café looks like, you’re in one several times a week. That might do, but why not go one step further?

If your current environment is sapping your creative flow, take yourself to a scene that you use in your screenplay. Once there, you’ll begin to pick up on the little things, nuances that can really make your fictional locations sound more authentic. Take in the aroma, study the clientele, wobble the table. It won’t all be stuff you’ll use, but it will add detail.

Of course, don’t go driving around just to find the cathedral that your protagonist’s dog runs past, but when you need to get out the house and clear your head, then try delving in to your film world. You don’t necessarily have to write while you are there, but at least take notes. You never know, overhearing a certain conversation or perhaps witnessing a kitchen mishap may help you to replicate that believable café environment.

And it doesn’t just apply to places. I’ve started editing night scenes in the early evening, as working after the sun has set just feels different, and with it comes a different approach to writing.

It can be hard enough just finding the time to write, but at least this way you can build parts of your script around your daily routine.

Just be careful if your character is a drunk.

And stay away from volcanoes.

Cafe Writer - Norman Long

Happy writing!

From Script to Screen, and Back Again.

Rummaging through the archives of my hard drive, I stumbled upon some writing exercises that I used to play around with. Here is one of my favourites, for a multitude of reasons.

  • Select a scene from a well known film. It must be one that you have access to the script for.
  • Watch it a few times, focusing on different elements each time. Follow the dialogue first, before paying attention to the character actions or physical environment.
  • Have a go at writing this scene before you look at the real script.

This is not intended to be a memory test, but a good way to better understand the movement of a screenplay. Once you feel that your scene accurately depicts the one you are watching, compare your work with the real script and take note of the differences.

This exercise is good for helping those who struggle to balance speech and action, but remember not to get bogged down in the details. If your choice is from the middle of the movie, then don’t worry about introducing the character or writing out all of their dialogue. Imagine the scene is just an idea in your head, and write your screenplay as if you were the original author.

By trying this with several different genres and styles, this technique will improve your knowledge of how a produced screenplay should look and feel. The best part about it is not only does it get you watching different movies and reading professional scripts, but it can really boost your creative drive. I have seen a team of writers attempt this with an entire short film before comparing results, and even my first attempt ended with me attempting to rewrite Chinatown!

To get started, find a script you like from somewhere like SimplyScripts or Drew’s Script-O-Rama.

Happy writing!

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