Reinforcing or just Repeating?
It’s been a couple of weeks since a writing post as I have been a bit busy with “other stuff” but, as I get back into the swing of things, I thought it would be a good time to revisit my plan for the year.
I am currently working on a rewrite of an old script that I haven’t looked at for a couple of years and planning to get it ready for notes/feedback. As I hadn’t seen it for a while, my first pass was a fairly simple affair. Spelling, grammar, dialogue; that sort of thing. I read through the script reacquainting myself with the story and the characters, making changes here and there, but not changing anything drastically – although I did add in a few extra scenes thanks to some comments that I have had sitting around since I last worked on it.
And that is great, but it doesn’t really get the script “ready” – it just polishes the surface, it doesn’t delve beneath the veneer.
So, for my second pass, I looked at it more carefully and explored each scene, one by one, to really poke around into the substance of the script and test it thoroughly. I made myself a spreadsheet that numbers the scenes, lists who is in it, describes the purpose of the scene and questions whether that scene could be cut. We all know scenes need to drive the story forward, develop characters and introduce conflict, so I tested each scene to see if it does these things. If it didn’t, then it was marked for discarding.
By doing this, I was able to ditch a number of scenes; scenes that have been there since day one, scenes that I have grown attached to and was reluctant to take out. But I have been ruthless. I have to be. The flow of the script and the story, as well as the reader’s experience, will be improved by cutting out the deadweight and streamlining the scenes. It should drop a 109 page script to under 100 pages – so getting there.
Interestingly, by being this ruthless, I have also learned something about my writing and how to be more objective about my own work. I noticed a number of scenes that, a few years ago, I would have been adamant were vital to the story, I would have argued that they moved the narrative on and couldn’t be cut.
What a difference a few years makes…
This time around I could easily see where those scenes were not quite as useful as I first thought. While these scenes were telling us something about the story-world and characters, they weren’t necessarily telling us anything new. There were scenes that repeated insights that we had already glimpsed, sometimes in the immediate scene before the one in question. While they seemed like a good idea at the time and reiterated themes and issues in the story, it became clear that they were just that – repetition. What I need my scenes to do is reinforce the themes of the story and the character development in ways that the audience have not already seen, not simply repeat the messages. Repetition stretches the story unnecessarily and may alienate the audience as they have the subtleties of your story unimaginatively rammed down their throats. Audiences are savvy beasts, they will get it, if you write it well.
This is no real revelation for anyone who writes, but this is the first time I have probably really taken it seriously as a process and gone through a script with a fine-toothed comb. I will certainly employ my spreadsheet template in the future and, hopefully, in the next few weeks, I will have that “ready-to-review” script sitting on my screen, ready to go.
NOTE: My plan for the year was to have 4 scripts at this point by the end of the year… so still just about on schedule!
How do you evaluate scenes and decide what to cut?