Friday, July 30, 2010

Day 24 - How Long Should My Script Be?

So, I have finished my second act, one day ahead of schedule and now it's full-steam ahead until I type those two magic words... FADE OUT.

(Fade Out is a bit old-fashioned, but I also like eating soft-boiled eggs in antique egg cups. Humor me.)

My goal is to turn in my vomit draft to my trusted readers next week. I'll keep you posted. In the meantime, in order to get ready for our readers, let's discuss length and format.

A first draft can come in a little wonky in the length department - that's perfectly okay. Sometimes when you get to the end your script comes in a lean and mean 95 pages. Sometimes, you're at a heavy 125. I've had both. Neither is what you want to end up with after your next draft - but for the vomit draft - well done!

The goal in this rough, first draft is to finish. I highly recommend celebrating this moment. In this business the good times are very good, but they are also few and far between. To stay sane and out of rehab, I recommend commending yourself at every worthy occasion. Finishing your first draft is one of these moments. I try to drink a glass of champagne, or go out for a nice meal. I will also take the weekend off.

Why? Because even though you've come a long way, the hard work has just begun. Writing is rewriting. There's a very small window of time between when you finish a draft and when the notes come pouring in. This is your time to relax and bask in the delusion that the script's perfect and you are a genius. That window will slam closed on your fingers soon enough. But, for now... Enjoy.

Eventually you'll want your finished product to come in around 110 pages. Before the e-reader became the reading device of choice, there was a thickness by which screenplays were judged. As a former development executive, I'll admit "thick scripts" often went to the bottom of the read pile. I wonder now if people scan to the end of their pdf files to see what the total page count comes in at?

Just to be safe, try to hit 110.

Reading on a computer screen is here to stay - so I recommend reading your own script off the computer, too. (In addition to printing out pages and marking them up with ink.) Because the look of a script - how it meets the readers eye - is important.

Here's a quick list of what to do to make your script look right.

1. If you are a beginner, get your hands on some screenplays and check out their format. A script in Germany will look a lot different from a script in Hollywood - so imitate the market you're trying to sell to. (TV scripts are another ball of wax - but the same rules apply. If you are writing a single camera comedy - get a copy of a similar show. Etc.)

There are great resources online - but also the WGA library and the Academy Library have fantastic collections if you happen to be in Los Angeles. If not, there's a great on-line site where you can download all manner of scripts called Drew's Script-o-Rama.

2. Don't leave a word dangling by itself, forcing the sentence onto a second line.

There are a million ways to say the same thing, so pick one that won't leave one word stranded. Less is always more. Readers hate to read. Remember that. Readers love to be swept up in your story, make them forget they are reading. Then, they'll love you.

Paragraphs in screenplays should never be longer than five sentences. You might notice that most of this blog is chopped up into paragraphs of five sentences or less. Old habits die hard.

3. Don't overwrite your description. I am WAY guilty of this. Save it for your novel. If you have to explain what your character is thinking or feeling in the action - then you need to rewrite that scene. Find a way to show it. And I don't mean have your character talk to herself or a goat (which I just did yesterday in my own script). I'll fix it, don't worry. This is the vomit draft!

4. You don't have to use proper grammar if your style choice really drives your point home. But, too much of a gimmick really gets annoying, beware.

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