Category Archives: rewriting

Happy New Year! A (nother) new start?

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Well, there goes 2016 and good riddance for a number of reasons, including my failed attempt at reaching the goals I set myself at the start of the year. You can see what I “planned” HERE and just need to know that I didn’t make it! Not that it was all bad, I did get some rewriting done and got some great notes on a couple of screenplays, but I didn’t rewrite four.

Why? Well probably because I am easily distracted. Although I didn’t get the screenplay work done, I did get reading more as I had hoped and also, towards the end of the year, got involved with Twisted 50, Volume 2, a social approach to writing, that provides peer review on short-stories (up to 2,000 words) all with the aim of publishing the best in a final volume. Check out CREATE50 and have a go, it is open until the end of February.

And therein lies the rub… distraction. Distraction is bad enough at the best of times and I am very easily distracted; exacerbated by poor planning. Actually, CREATE50 was a ‘good’ distraction, but it still stopped me reaching the goals I had set myself.  It is great saying at the start of the year that I am going to do A,B and C but, without any sort of plan as to how I am going to get there, it is all going to go wrong very quickly.

So, this year, feeling fresh and ready, I am going to plan more carefully. As Lucy Hay says in this New Year post (among other useful tips) you need to keep track of what you are doing or you will lose your way very quickly. As a lone writer without much “physical” peer support, accountability can be a problem; who is going to keep shouting at me from behind the chair to keep me writing?

So this year, I am going to set a task to write a novel. I had a go at writing a novel with NaNoWriMo in 2015 and while, at the time, I didn’t feel it was for me, the experience of CREATE50 has made me rethink that and I fancy having another go and I am going to use the Writer Accountability group set up by Gary Graham via his webpage and Twitter. Through that system you can set yourself goals for outlining and writing a project and get support through the other members of the group and via the twitter hashtag #WRAC17. I am hopeful that, being in the same boat as a load of other writers, and having specific, measurable goals in place, there will be a lot more incentive and motivation to stick with the plan and, shock horror, achieve the objectives I am setting myself for 2017.

I’m not stopping the screenplays though and I have a couple that I will continue to focus on and rewrite. Another problem in 2016 was constantly wanting to write new ideas and I started yet another screenplay without finishing the others. While I guess it is important to have a “portfolio” it is probably no good if none of them are finished. So I will try and limit the distractions by working on just two screenplays this year and banning myself from starting any new ones.

Well, you know… unless they are REALLY good ideas! 🙂

Whatever 2017 has in store for you or whatever plans you have for your writing, keep at it, don’t get disheartened and make sure your goals are measurable and achievable. Not meeting goals can be frustrating and demoralising, so start as you mean to go on and don’t set yourself up to fail!

Happy New Year and Good Luck!!

Let me introduce you to…

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Alexandra Browne – Author!

Alexandra Books – Website


Anyone who has spent more than a few seconds on this blog will be aware that, as well as writing, I enjoy a bit of astronomy and the occasional effort at astrophotography (very occasional considering the current trend in cloudy weather in the UK). Through a forum dedicated to astronomy you meet lots of interesting people and, in one thread, I even discovered some who shared similar non-astro interests. The forum is the Stargazers Lounge by the way, in case you fancy having a look.

Alex was one such person who also turned out to be an author and was just in the process of getting her first book self-published. “I’m not Smelly the Pirate” was the first publication from Alex in a planned series of “I’m not….” books that includes spiders and snot monsters – sure to be a hit with the kids.

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Alex also illustrates her own books, which gives them a welcoming and fun, home-grown feel. You can find out more about Alex and her books on her website, Alexandra Books and on Facebook.

So I thought it might be fun to “interview” Alex about her writing, her approach to her work and her advice for up and coming writers. While I know a children’s book is a very different entity from a Screenplay, I am sure there are plenty of similarities when it comes to the tools and tricks of the trade.

I sent Alex a series of questions and below you can find the full interview with her. I hope you find it as interesting as I did. And please do check out her book and website to explore her world!


So, Alex, can you introduce yourself?

I’m 54 years of age but never grew up! I’m a civil servant and have one child, a beautiful 17-year-old daughter called Maia. I’m a mad amateur astronomer with a passion for imaging. I hate staying up late, have poor night vision and little technical ability, which are slight set-backs in this hobby! So why take it on? It’s the most fascinating, frustrating and rewarding hobby, and I guess I’m a sucker for punishment! I love exotic animals and invertebrates and have kept praying mantids, horsehead grasshoppers, stick insects, giant Madagascan hissing cockroaches and more. Oh, and fancy rats. My menagerie is now limited to two with a giant African millipede called Georgie and a baby corn snake called Sprite. I wish I had the time, money and space for more! I have also just got into imaging microscopic subjects (I used to be a path lab technician in light and electron microscopy) especially pond life and have been blown away by the variety of creatures we never see with the naked eye.

So what drove you to writing?

I think it’s in the blood. My family all love writing. I used to tell ghost stories when I was a kid, to the younger children of the village, making up the story as I went along. The stories were often about underground tunnels and glowing red eyes! I occasionally wrote short stories, usually sci-fi or horrors, when I was young. My brother hopes to publish his own children’s stories which I will be illustrating for him.

And what made you want to write for children?

It started with a book for my then toddler daughter, Maia, to teach her about astronomy. It’s called ‘Maia and the Shooting Star’ and even has a little foreword from the late and great Sir Patrick Moore, but I never published it. With the advent of self-publishing and the excellent CreateSpace from Amazon, I will revisit the book and publish it. I just loved it so much that I had to do more, and that’s when the ‘I’m Not . . .’ series of books came to mind. At first, it was a book to stop children being scared of spiders, which I love (anything with an exoskeleton!). But when I started writing it, it just didn’t work. Something was wrong. Then I realised it was too sweet and twee. That’s not me at all! And, with a now older child, I realised how much kids like poo, snot and farts and all sorts of niffy stuff! So the spider became very much a scary spider trying to convince various terrified people and animals that she isn’t, in fact, scary and all hell breaks loose. The writing then started to flow and I spent most of my time giggling. That will be my third book. The next is the very snotty ‘I’m Not Cute the Snot Monster’. ‘I’m Not Funny the Chick’ is still in its infancy and will be weird!

You’ve published the first book in your “I’m not…” series of children’s books, how does it feel to be published?

I feel so satisfied after all my hard work to see it finally in print and looking so colourful and professional! I’m also very aware of how difficult it is to be seen among the masses of self-published books, so I’m having to do some leg work to get it noticed. I got an article in my local newspaper, the Buckingham and Winslow Advertiser, on 22 June (see here). I have approached schools if they would accept my reading to the children and hopefully do book signings. Then there are book fairs etc. It’ll be initial financial outlay for hopefully some recognition.

Are there any particular authors or books that you feel have been a big influence on you?

My world view was changed by the also late and great Sir Terry Pratchett. I still hurt desperately at his loss. His Discworld series are a parody of our own world and are hilarious but also often very deep and meaningful. I read his books most nights as relaxation therapy. I read a lot of stories about dystopian worlds and magick and the paranormal. I got into these from urging by my now teenage daughter. I started with ‘The Hunger Games’ by Suzanne Collins and have moved on to others. I love the ‘Twilight’ sagas and ‘The Host’ by Stephanie Meyer which are very well-written. The ‘Maze Runner’ series by James Dashner and the ‘Divergent ‘ series by Veronica Roth are other favourites. I also read books by Susan Kaye Quinn, Anna Carey, Lauren Oliver, Marie Lu and Alyson Noel. I try to read ‘The Lord of the Rings’ and ‘The Hobbit’ once a year. Reading takes me deep into other worlds where anything is possible.

What would you say has been the most difficult challenge to you in your writing?

Writer’s block is a very real problem. I’ve been getting that with my latest book for young adults. It usually means the whole idea is wrong, as it was with the original Spider story, but it’s starting to move again. I have dyspraxia so have difficulty with seeing related subjects. I’ll be writing and then realise that something can’t occur due to the facts that preceded it, but I don’t always see it straight away and have to go through the whole book making corrections. It’s very hard work and can be a bit demoralising. I’ll get people to read the story when it’s done to check for inconsistencies. It’s a lot easier to write for little kids as the stories are so simple, usually. It’s the illustrations that are hard, but incredibly fun. I close my eyes and picture a scene and then start scribbling, and invariably giggling! The characters come alive and are part of my family now.

How do you balance the rest of your life around your writing?

With a full-time job I have little time to write and draw, but try to squeeze them in when I can, often during my lunch break.  I colour my illustrations in Photoshop which is very time-consuming so I tend do it at weekends.  Oh, for some more time!

Do you have any special routines for writing?

Close my eyes, transport myself there and start writing. Then worry about mistakes and cleaning up later. That’s it! I’m a bit of a put-my-head-down-and -charge kind of writer!

What do you do when you are stuck?

I ask my daughter! She has a brilliant and creative brain. She’s often helped me when I’ve got stuck or I’m not sure about something and she has very good ideas.

How did you find the process of self-publishing? Would you recommend it to fellow writers?

I was told about CreateSpace by a publisher friend, Peter Kavanagh, who writes the lovely ‘Art Myatt’ children’s stories. I was very relieved and excited as I would have had to have spent £500 for a publishing company. CreateSpace is brilliant and pretty easy to use. They have the whole service set up very well, with lots of advice to hand. I would most certainly recommend them. You have to do your own self-promotion, though, and that takes time. But it’s fun.

So what’s next? You have your “I’m not…”  series, but do you have any plans for other stories? Maybe for older children? Adults?

I am also writing a spooky novel for older children, ‘The Dreams of Lucy Lee’,  which is proving very difficult and is on hold for the time being, until something occurs to me!  I hope to get [The Dreams of Lucy Lee] finished as it’s preying on my mind! I hate leaving things unfinished. I hope the ‘I’m Not . . .’ series will continue until I run out of ideas. Suggestions welcome!

Is there anything you would do differently if you were starting out again now? What would you tell your younger self, just starting out with the advantage of hindsight?

Plan, plan, plan. It’s hard with a Specific Learning Difficulty but I would have told myself to keep trying. Get the main points of the start, main story and ending sorted out on paper, then fill in. It can be done with practice and I would have tried that when younger if I’d had a helping hand from a professional. Every school should have a writers’ club!

What advice would you give to any aspiring writers out there, especially those that might be wanting to write, but don’t think they can do it?

Write about a subject you love and know well. Don’t write about something because you feel you should or that others tell you should, and hate it. I produced a music book, ‘Diatonic Liaisons’, for the diatonic accordion, as I used to write special notation when teaching a friend and he suggested I write it. It’s been very successful but took about ten years to write and I hated every minute of it! But, to contradict myself, I’m glad it’s done. I would recommend writer’s groups. I’ve never been to one as would feel rather intimidated! But I should have done from the outset. I may well yet. Also, read lots of stories in the genre you’re working on and see how the successful ones are written, but don’t lose sight of your own style. See how long books are as in number of words/pages, although that’s just a guide as yours will be as long as it needs to be, just not too long or too short (except short stories which are a different kettle of fish and really fun!). Do get advice and send drafts to friends and family to ensure you’re on the right track and to correct spelling and grammar. Don’t be hurt by criticism. This is an essential part of your development as a writer. Test your limits and have fun. Be brave!  It’s a wonderful journey and opens whole worlds, real and imagined. Oh, did I say plan, plan, plan?! And good luck to you all!


So, I hope you enjoyed learning about Alex and her writing and maybe even found a little inspiration?

Big thanks to Alex and good luck to her with her writing – and astronomy – clear skies and all that!

Are we spoiled with CGI?


I was watching an episode of  Gogglebox (don’t judge me) on UK Channel 4 recently and had the opportunity to watch other people watching JAWS (1975), one of my all-time favourites. I was probably around 10 years old when I first saw JAWS and remember being terrified by it – especially old Ben Gardner and his damned head. I remember playing “JAWS” at school and taking turns in playing Quint; there was an old log in the playground that sloped down to the ground and we used to pretend that was the stern of the ORCA, sinking slowly into the water. (Who needs violent computer games when you can eat your mates off the back of an old log?)

In short, a film like JAWS, for someone of my generation, left a lasting impression; one that has persisted 30 years later, and still finds the hairs on the back of my neck standing to attention when John Williams’ score looms up at the start of the film.

What I saw on Gogglebox was a group of people laughing at Bruce and what they described as “rubbish” effects. Now this may be due to the environment – being filmed while watching the TV is probably not the most intimate of settings to watch and appreciate a classic – or, perhaps, because they had all seen it many times before and were not really paying attention.

Who knows?

But it got me thinking.

Now, I’m the first to admit that Bruce can look a little ropey in some shots but, for me, that is not what the film is all about. It’s about the anticipation of the shark, the fear of the unknown; what IS under the water? Jaws works so well because the reveal of the shark is left so late into the film – if we had seen him during the opening credits, the latter parts of the film would have had a much less shocking or powerful effect on this 10 year old – Spielberg knew what he was doing by withholding stuff from his audience. A lot of this withholding was, of course, down to the problems they had with Bruce and the technology driving him. The physical effects required for Jaw were probably a lot more demanding than the CGI required for Deep Blue Sea (1999).

What I began to wonder is whether a younger generation of film-goers (hark at me, miserable old man) are spoiled by the advances we have made in technology over the last couple of decades? Spielberg himself opened CGI up to the masses with Jurassic Park (1993), and fan-favourites likes The Abyss (1989) and Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) really piled on the “wow” factor of what could be done in films with this new “technology.”

I’m not complaining, I love a good effect but, when everything is photorealistic in a film, does it mean that viewers of a certain age can’t appreciate the skill involved in the physical aspects of film-making? Is Bruce, in Jaws, the 21st Century equivalent of me watching an Iguana with a plastic horn fighting Doug McClure? (Which, I hasten to add, I loved.)

It is great to see newer films being made by teams keen to reintroduce more real, physical effects; for example Mad Mad: Fury Road and Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens. I realise these films still involve a lot of CGI work (it’s almost unavoidable in a modern “blockbuster”) but you can’t beat good old fashioned effects work. I watched Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) with the kids a few weeks back and it really is a joy to watch all those physical effects being shown onscreen, bringing back memories of watching “The Making of Documentaries” on TV on a Saturday afternoon, a long time before the advent of DVD extras.

It is, perhaps, just too easy to destroy worlds inside a computer now than it has ever been – well, maybe not “easy” but the restrictions are so much less than they have ever been, meaning the sky is the limit; which had me thinking whether this has had an affect on the types of stories that people write and the way they write them. 30 years ago, a film like The Avengers (2012) couldn’t be made or, at least, not on the same scale.  The effects required would have put even the most dedicated film-maker off. This made me wonder whether writers in the past felt restricted in the stories they could tell or whether it made them more creative in finding ways to skirt the technological limitations of the times and bring their visions to the screen?

Today, we can pretty much write whatever we want knowing that, if necessary, we can show it on screen. I am not sure there are any restrictions now other than budgets and our imaginations.

What do you think?

  • Are we spoiled by CGI these days?
  • Has it made story-telling easier… or harder?
  • Do you write without boundaries because of this?

Please feel free to comment below!

The Importance of Dialogue

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Mad Max: Fury Road
Directed by: George Miller
Written by: George Miller, Brendan McCarthy, Nick Lathouris


Starting out, learning about screenwriting, you will find yourself encountering all sorts of guidance and rules that tell you THE best way to write a script or stress the importance of any of the many elements of scriptwriting.

Dialogue is something that I started off believing was THE most important components of a great script. While it definitely IS one important aspect of writing, is it right to think it is any more important than the other components such as Story, Character and/or Concept?

Everyone remembers and loves great dialogue and quotes from their favourite films. But do we remember those lines more because it is a favourite watched many times or because of the impact of the dialogue? Or maybe it is because the characters themselves are so memorable?

No-one forgets a great character.

Or a fantastic concept.

I got to thinking about this at the weekend after watching Mad Max: Fury Road with my Father-in-Law. It had been sitting waiting for ages on the Blu Ray player so we broke open the seal and popped it in after lunch on Sunday.

Two hours of great concept and great characters.

But not a lot of dialogue.

I think the majority of Max’s dialogue plays out in the first five minutes of the film. To be honest, I’m not entirely sure there is any really “memorable” dialogue in the film; it is definitely a more visual film. Although, perhaps, I will have to watch it again to double check 🙂

The characters are well written and realised on screen. Max and Furiosa exchange very few words, but the way they are portrayed and react to each other, and their situations, explains a lot more in a much more efficient way than simply flooding the audience with unnecessary dialogue.

Visually we are shown Imortan Joe’s world, the kind of guy he is, through scenes showing his control of water, crops and women and his reaction to Furiosa’s escape. The flip side of this shows us Furiosa’s character, her determination to get away and to protect her cargo. Max joins the fight with almost no dialogue, showing that, although he may be mad, Max still has human decency at his heart.

By their actions, we are drawn into those characters and empathise with them – all with the minimum of dialogue. Something silent films did for years.

Personally, I think this works better with actions, as opposed to just words.

If you get it wrong with dialogue, and/or use too much, then you risk losing your audience and the flow of the film, slowing it down… something Fury Road cannot be accused of.

Of course there are lots of other films out there that support the argument that dialogue is not the be all and end all of writing – in the same way there are hundreds that are reliant on heavy dialogue. From The Artist to The Social Network, dialogue has a place to play in every film, just in different ways. If you know your concept and your characters inside out, then the dialogue should be easier to find when you need it.

But don’t get bogged down if dialogue doesn’t come naturally to you (it will, eventually, it’s like anything you’re not good at – practice, practice practice) it’s just part of the process.

I struggle with dialogue myself, really struggle with it, so am working during my edits to develop my skills at writing and rewriting dialogue to reflect my characters as well as cutting it down to help the flow of the story.

So is dialogue THE most important aspects of screenwriting?

No, I don’t think so.

But it is ONE of many important components of screenwriting.

Screenwriting requires mastery of lots of elements, not just skill in one. Develop them all. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link and a great concept may be ruined if executed with terrible dialogue and great dialogue might not be enough to save a script that contains weak characters.

So get writing and get practicing. Find yours and your characters’ voices and use their dialogue to bring your characters and concept to life and write the best damn story you can!

How do you use dialogue?

What tools do you use to develop dialogue?

Feel to comment below and share your thought on dialogue.

Do you need to explain everything?

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Well do we? Should we?

As I continue to work through my current rewrite, looking carefully at the importance of each scene, I am also searching for sections of scene description that could be reduced. One of the things that Lucy Hay mentions in this post about Revitalising your Scene Description is the “rule of halves” and cutting down unnecessary description. Why use 20 words when you can use 10? Why use 5 lines, when you can convey the same information in 2?

So I have been trying to cut out the superfluous ramblings and flowery language that is taking up white real-estate on my pages. One of the aims of this rewrite is to try and get my page count down below 100 (from 109) and, by being ruthless in this way, I have managed to get down to 103 pages by about a third of the way through. So it seems to be working.

But what am I talking about?

Simple stuff really.

For example, a passage can easily be reduced in terms of word count, but upped in terms of impact and flow. Take this example from the script I am rewriting. It conveys the scene perfectly well, so we know what is going on, but it is four lines long (my personal, absolute limit) and is a thick slab of words – in short, it is clunky:

Daniel attempts to throw a punch, but Keiron grabs
Daniel’s wrist with one hand and pulls a flick knife out
with the other. The blade is closed but held against
Daniel’s neck. He pushes Daniel back against the lockers.

But this easily becomes:

Daniel throws a punch.

Keiron dodges.

He pins Daniel against the lockers, one hand on his throat, the other pulls a knife.

Punchier? More dramatic? Definitely conveys the same information.

I know which I prefer…

In the same way description can be superfluous, whole scenes can also present unnecessary words. I found two sequential scenes this morning that involved the protagonist and his father in the living room of their house. The father is asleep while his son phones his mother (who recently left) and then sneaks out of the room to phone his girlfriend on an extension upstairs.

This took a full page to describe. Not much space in the overall scheme of things, but every page counts. Besides, and to be honest, far too much of it is simply me, the writer, “telling” the audience what is happening; it doesn’t leave anything to their imagination.

As the son has already been given his mum’s number in an earlier scene and, a few scenes later, meets her, we can be safe to assume that he called her. Or she may have called him, we don’t know… but it really doesn’t matter who called who – the meeting is the important thing. The audience will make the leap, provided the “gap” in the telling isn’t too wide, leaving too much to the imagination.

This way, the scene in the living room becomes superfluous and gets cut, leaving just the second scene to play out. The second scene was just a convenient way to link to the next scene in his girlfriend’s bedroom where she (well, you’ll have to read the script to find that out….)… and they start a conversation. I am fairly certain I can probably cut out both scenes and jump straight to the girlfriend’s bedroom without losing the audience.

So more action has been cut because, if I am perfectly honest, it isn’t really action. It’s just dull description of events leading up to the action. I guess you can see it as “action” and “reaction” – if we can suggest the “action” and show the “reaction” our scripts can be cut down to much leaner lengths and the real action of the screenplay will flow more cleanly.

So, when you are in rewrite mode, think carefully about your description and scenes, do you need them? Do you need that level of description and “telling” the audience, or will it be more fun to “show” them what is happening.

Actions and Reactions….

Other reading

 

 

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?

Related posts

Focus on Rewriting


 

Having taken a bit of a step back from my work and embarking on a “new” rewrite, my mind is now full of how I can rewrite the script I am currently focusing on and what, exactly, is rewriting?

I touched on the importance of taking a step back last week and how, if I don’t, my rewrites tend to be nothing more than a tidy up of dialogue and descriptive text; perhaps saving me a few lines here and there but not, effectively, altering or improving the story. If I am not careful, I just end up editing my work – or at least doing to it what I would consider editing. The work will read better, and flow more pleasantly, but the story, the characters, the plot, themes and emotions will be identical. It can be easy to do this a few times and think you have improved your story, but any reader worth their salt will be able to see through this in an instant. A patchy narrative or a weak plot, is still just that, regardless of how good your editing skills are.

To rewrite effectively, I think you need to have a plan. Stories live or die on their plots, themes and, often most importantly, characters. You need to focus on what you are aiming for with your story, its strengths, weakness and its characters. You need to be able to delve more deeply into the story, to explore the underlying structure, themes and motivations so you don’t just scratch the surface or, more accurately, polish the surface!

But how to focus and plan?

If I have taken enough time away from a project, I can come back to it with fresh eyes. My current project did surprise me in a couple of ways as there were aspects of it that I did not remember writing. By coming back to it fresh, I can come back at it in a more objective way. After reading it through once, I then go through it again and think about the characters, the scenes, sequences, themes, twists and turns. Does it all work, are the characters believeable, is there enough conflict, what are the components that need work?

As I start to make notes, I will come up with a plan for the various components. For example, for each character, noting how they should develop, how I can make their voices clearer in the narrative and how I can make them more believeable. I will take notes from my peers (if I have them) and see how certain plot elements could be changed and adapted and how that could effect the whole work. I start to make myself a rewriting “to-do” list that focused my attention on these various components.

And this is where, for me, things differ from simple editing.

For editing, my to-do list might just be:

  • Dialogue
  • Action
  • Spelling
  • Grammar;

a combination of editing and proof-reading, a broad and unfocused overview. My rewrite checklist, on the other hand, will be a lot more detailed:

  • BOB needs to be more aggressive in his scenes with PAM
  • The dog needs to be foreshadowed much earlier in the script
  • Incident with the artichokes needs to come much earlier in the script and before PAM finds out about the butler’s misdemeanour
  • How will the aftermath of PAM’s discovery affect the revelation in ACT II?

Obviously, these are just made up but you get the picture. They are more specific and measurable changes to the work, to make it more interesting to read and more dramatic, or faster-paced and action-packed. All of it is designed to make it a better story, not just make it look nice on paper. It is certainly more focused.

And these changes don’t all have to be done in one go or in one pass of the script from start to finish. In fact, it is possibly better not to do that. A single scene might not require much work, but if I wanted to up the ante on PAM and BOB’s relationship, then perhaps I would need to go through the script and pull out all of Pam and Bob’s scenes to focus on them away from the work as a whole. Just working from FADE IN to FADE OUT might not be enough to elevate your process from simple editing to effective rewriting. You need to focus on the areas that require work and fight to make them better. (Have a look at the link below on The Surgical Drape Technique for another perspective on this.)

If that sounds like a lot of work well… it is. And it has to be. You need to be prepared to break your script down in order to build it up. Rewriting is hard and it is probably one aspect of writing that many of us are most afraid of. That might be the reason why rewrites in my early life as a writer involved a simple editorial polish, rather than a full rewrite; I was too scared to get really stuck in and mess with what I thought was a perfect draft.

Now, I understand the importance of rewriting and how invaluable it is to the creative process. We have all heard someone say that “Writing is Rewriting” and we often spend longer doing the rewriting than putting the original draft together. This can put us off rewriting as it appears to take us away from what we really want to be doing – writing and creating. But Rewriting is also Writing (whether you like it or not), so it doesn’t remove you from your creative process, it actually puts you in the thick of it and can only make you a better writer in the long run.

So, get stuck in, focus on your rewriting and enjoy the creative process!

 

How do you approach re-writing?

Are you guilty of polishing, rather than rewriting?

Feel free to comment below and share your thoughts on the process of rewriting.

(And bonus points for anyone who came here via Twitter and can name the device in the picture and what it is for – the theme of this post is a clue.)

 

Additional Reading:

Seeing the Wood, despite the Trees

The way through the woods revisited by *Psyche Delia*, on Flickr
The way through the woods revisited” (CC BY-NC 2.0) by  *Psyche Delia*


About a month ago I talked about a New Start and New Year’s Resolutions in relation to writing. In that post, I mentioned my plans to rewrite some screenplays from the past with an eye on getting them ready for feedback/competition/submissions etc.

Well, this week I embarked on the first of these rewrites. I was finishing another draft until the week before, by the way, so I haven’t been sitting on my hands since Christmas! Just in case you are checking.

I picked one of my first ideas. Not the first I have written, but an idea that I came up with in 1996/7 while invigilating an exam back in college. This was around the time of my first, yet stalled, attempt to dedicate time to writing which resulted in the short screenplay that is the subject of this post and a Sci-Fi Spec that is so awful and derivative, it will never see the light of day. To be honest, I am not even sure I have the file anymore… but that is another story.

The short script was an idea that had been knocking around in my head for years and, after cutting my teeth on another spec, I decided to go back to it. After so long, and with more experience, the short script was pretty horrible… lot’s of “we see” and camera directions all over the place – it wasn’t good.

It was still a story I wanted to tell though, and the time away had given me the opportunity to think the story over, think about what worked and about what didn’t and to think about the things I could do to it to improve it. Perhaps 15 years was a bit long to wait, but I rewrote the short screenplay into a 100 page draft in 2012. A couple of quick rewrites followed and, since then, it has sat on my laptop gathering virtual dust.

Until now.

I sat down with a nice, crisp print-out on Monday morning and started to read.

It didn’t stay crisp, or white, for very long.

There was still a lot wrong with it. But, and I am obviously bias, there was also a lot that worked and I enjoyed reading it and exploring the script anew. And that is key. It had been so long, it was like reading something for (almost) the first time. I have picked up issues with it that I had never thought of previously – that I probably couldn’t have picked up previously because I was so invested in the project when I was writing it for the first time.

I couldn’t see the wood for the trees.

I have also had time to think about other elements of the script and have started to work those into it, as well as taking sections out, moving them around and, hopefully, making it all work a lot better than it did before.

I even culled the second scene which involved someone waking up and going about their daily routine!

(Hey, I was young and foolish!)

So what is the point of all this?

Take. Time. Out.

I heard a lot of this when I was reading up on writing and speaking to peers on forums and social media. At first I didn’t see the point. If I had written something, I wanted to edit and fiddle as soon as it was finished to make it better. In actuality, all that happened was a bit of editing for space and proof-reading for grammar and spelling – the story, as a whole, didn’t really change. That approach, for me, did not result in proper re-writing.

So now I do try to take time away from a project so I can come back to it freshly. And the advantage of doing so has never been more evident than when sitting down to read my old script on Monday.

In doing this, the rewrite I am working on has taken on a fresh appeal. There were bits of the story I had forgotten about, or sections that made me wince they were so bad. But I can take this on board and deal with it more effectively as I have taken that step back from being so invested in the project when I finished the last draft.

The draft I just finished? I will spend a couple of months on rewrites at least before I go back to that one, to give myself time to get it “out of my system” and come back again with fresh eyes.

It’s a much more efficient way of working for me.

How about you? Do you wait, or do you like to get stuck in asap?

Feel free to share your experience below.

Other Reading:

Screenwriting Books – The Screenwriter’s Bible

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Amazon UK (Other book shops are available)

ISBN-10: 1935247107   ISBN-13: 978-1935247104

Following on from Save the Cat, in the first episode of this series looking at some of the screenwriting books I have read, David Trottier’s Screenwriter’s Bible is another well-known and well-renowned guide to screenwriting. Unlike Save the Cat though, I am not sure I have ever heard anyone criticise the book. While I am sure it does have its critics, but that is not what this post is about.

The Screenwriter’s Bible is again aimed at those starting out. Not that it might not be useful to the more seasoned writer, but it takes the reader from the very first steps of having an idea through to planning, writing and, ultimately, marketing your work. It makes this all the more easy for us to understand by splitting itself into five distinct “books”, each looking at a different part of this process. Indeed, this is one of its main selling points, 5 books in 1!

The books include:

  1. BOOKI –  How to Write a Screenplay: A Primer – this takes us through some of the considerations of what makes a story work, plot, character, dialogue and scenes; the building blocks of any story.
  2. BOOKII – 7 Steps to a Stunning Script: A Workbook – the workbook offers templates and outlines for coming up with ideas, planning your story, developing characters and producing treatments.
  3. BOOKIII – Proper Formatting Technique: A Style Guide – this book runs through pretty much every formatting “rule” that a new writer may need to know to finish their first script.
  4. BOOKIV – Writing and Revising your Breakthrough Script: A Script Consultant’s View – this book explores how to rewrite your script and make it stand out from the crowd.
  5. BOOKV – How to Sell your Script: A Marketing Plan – Five steps to help you develop a plan for marketing yourself and your script.

Personally I have not yet used the information in Book V and I think Books I, II and IV are dealt with in many other texts; everyone has a different take on developing concepts and rewriting a script. However, for me, the Bible was incredibly important as a writer starting out because of Book III and because it deals with the main stumbling block for all us newbies; format. How the hell do I correctly format a script?

While there are many software packages out there that will help you with the main formatting issues like borders, tabs and spacing etc, what they can’t necessarily help you with is how to format a montage or a scene that happens over the telephone.What David does in Book III is provide some pages of a sample script that includes lots of examples of classic screenwriting format. I think David would be the first to admit that his way is not necessarily the ONLY way you can format a script, but if you start with these basics, you can’t go too far wrong. Once you develop your skills as a writer, you can learn other ways to format the same things and experiment with your own format but, for now, it will make life a lot easier if you start by following the “rules”. Learn how to walk before you can run.

A lot of writers may balk at this and proclaim that “so-and-so” writer does this in “such-and-such” a script. They often do, but they are also often well-established and respected writers who can get away with it. I am sure that many writers, more experienced than I, would agree that getting your format right for your breakthrough script is vitally important.

In short, I really like the Screenwriter’s Bible and have bought reissues and updates in the past. It doesn’t come off the shelf as often as it used to as I am getting to grips with a lot of the basics. However, if there is something I am not sure about, or haven’t used for a while, I know I will more than likely be able to find an answer within it’s pages.

And if you can’t, then you might be able to through David’s website – Keep Writing and sell what you write

Do you use The Screenwriter’s Bible?

How has it helped you?

 

Other reading:

Pixar Rules of Story #20: Deconstruction

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Exercise: Take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How’d you rearrange them into what you DO like?

Rule #20 is closely linked to Rule 10#: Finding your Voice and is essentially a writing exercise to help us come up with ideas and solutions for tricky situations in the films we watch. The rule specifically talks about films we don’t like, focusing on aspects of the films that didn’t work for us and thinking about how we would rewrite them to improve them. How would you deconstruct and rebuild them?

Personally, I don’t think we should be concentrating on films we don’t like or that are “bad” – we should do this for all films we watch. There are aspects of every film that might not quite work for us, so just take those and run with them. Think about how you could improve them, or just make them different.

Not only is this a good way to practice coming up with ideas and develop as a writer, but it also gives us great insight into just how hard it is for every writer to get it right all the time. You can please some of the people….. etc. etc. etc.

If you do watch a film, and feel that some parts can be improved or changed, comment below and tell us what parts of the film worked (or didn’t) for you and how you would have written them.

So, just go out there, watch film (really…watch them…all…the…time…) and have fun reimagining your favourite scenes, or scenes that you think you could improve. What harm could it do?

If you have a go and enjoy the exercise, check out Shaula Evan’s site where you’ll find lots more inspiration and, in a slightly self-serving plug, an exercise linked to this rule, that explores Sequels, Rewrites and Reimaginationings!

Feel free to comment below and remember to come back next week for Rule #21 – Know your Characters (part 2)

Please also check out the Introduction to the series if you missed that!

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