Monday, August 23, 2010

Draft Two - Getting Notes Again

Okay, I've had a couple great days of good writing and I got some nice feedback on my novel. People seem to be as excited about it as I am. Nothing could be better.

But, in the screenwriting world here's what I've been through the last couple of days. My characters are running amok and spilling their guts. Which is great for me getting to know my characters, etc. but it's boring in a movie.

So what to do? How did I turn my scrambled egg surprise back into a lovely omelet?

As I went through what I had written, I referred back to my character arc and checked where my character was on her journey. Sometimes I found she was arcing too early - she's talking about stuff she shouldn't even realize yet. I either had to move the dialogue to later in the story or do something tricky.* Sometimes I found that I didn't need that dialogue at all and cut it. Other times, the dialogue fit.

Wow - thankfully - some of the new stuff actually was good dialogue that brought my two characters together. Well, that's what I hope. I'll know more after I get some notes this weekend. Until then, happy writing. I'll be charging ahead on my novel.

PS. I've had some emails from writers who are following the blog. Instead of answering each of them, let me remind everyone here. I started writing my 20th screenplay on July 1, 2010. I finished the first draft on August 2 and I'm now finishing the second draft at the end of August. I had a couple weeks of waiting for notes - which explains the gap in posting. If you want to read the entire journey you can start on July 1, 2010 the post is And So It Begins. Thanks for sharing. Hope this clears it up.

*It's a nice trick in a script to let your character get most of the puzzle worked out - only to miss that one big key piece that will bring it all together. Often, it's a helper character who "helps" her find that last piece. (They aren't called helper for nothing.)

Draft Two - Scrambled Eggs & Mercury Retrograde

I'm about half way through my rewrite and this is crucial week. Last week, my family was in town which seriously cut into my writing time, so this week it's time to redouble my focus. I'm not playing catch up, I'm just getting serious.

Now it's time for an analogy: If my script were a breakfast food.

My simple little first draft omelet has now turned into scrambled eggs. The omelet needed some more ingredients to make it perfect, but in the process of adding a little of this and a little of that everything lost its place. What I'm left with scrambled egg surprise.

It's not so bad. It's kind of a necessary step. What I'm doing is expanding character and what I've done is a common mistake. I front loaded all the information I have about my characters into the first opportunity they had to open their mouths. These characters are on a roll and they won't shut up. I have scenes of four page dialogues sequences. Yickes! That is really not going to fly.

I have to remind myself that just because I've made these great discoveries about my characters, I have to be patient and let it unfold. Just like you can't rush an omelet, you have to be gentle and give your story its own time to solidify.

But, for today, I'm allowing my characters to talk it out until I get through the whole script. This is letting them get it out of their system and letting me know more about them.

What I'll start tomorrow is shaping and editing. This is how I'll turn the scrambled eggs, with gobs of cheese and onions and tomatoes, mushrooms back into a fabulous omelet. More about that tomorrow.

PS. Mercury Retrograde is back for another three weeks. It's a great time to rewrite and go deeper with projects, to finish things up... So happy rewriting!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Draft Two - Eat Pray Love - Spoiler Alert

Yesterday I did some research for my project. Since I am writing a women's inspirational film, I went to see the biggest one to come out in a decade - EAT PRAY LOVE.

I had read the book and frankly, I wondered what Oprah was smoking. I thought the first two sections were mildly interesting. The author's self-effacing commentary about her journey was entertaining. But, the third section tipped me right out of the boat. Her quest for love seemed so precious and self-impressed I wanted to puke. Eat, Pray, Puke is what I called it.

Now, the film. Here's the interesting part. The third section, the one I hated in the book - was by far the best part of the movie. Maybe it was Mr. Sexiness Javier Bardem, well he certainly didn't hurt, but this part of the movie actually held my interest. Why?

Well, I think it's because it was the only part of the film that held any external conflict. The rest of the film was about someone's internal struggle - which of course is easier to play out on the pages of a book where the person can tell you directly about their struggle. But, on film, even if you give in to numerous monologues, not so much.

Once we got into the love affair - there was a question hanging - will she realize that this man is the one. Despite her internal conflict, we also had a weak ticking clock of her departure. We had another human being who might at any time say "Listen lady, I'm so sick of your self-absorbed nonsense, go mantra yourself."

What I really wanted to see was a movie about Phillip's journey. How much more interesting of a story. A man, despite his macho background, falls in love and plays Mr. Mom. And he's great at it, but once the kids are gone, the wife loses interest and breaks his heart. He finds himself lost on an island, trying to heal and finds love with possibly the only person more wrecked than he is. She's gorgeous, but she's a hot mess in the life department. What do you do with that? Fall into the Mommy role again? Or find a balance where you both can exist, feeding each other as equals until you create a life together that is better than it's two parts? NOW - THAT I want to see.

Good thing my own project has both external and internal conflicts. The lesson here is that seeing other similar projects can teach you things. They can teach you what you want to emulate and what you want to avoid. So, thank you, Eat Pray Love.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Draft Two - Okay, Now I'm really getting started

Okay - so last week I had big plans. I compiled notes. I made a new copy of my script on my computer and labeled it Draft Two. And then I worked on my novel.

Because, in a perfect world you would put your draft on a shelf long enough to forget about all your darlings. Long enough to look at it with fresh eyes before diving in and redoing it. But, this isn't a perfect world. You never have enough time for that.

That said, I took a week and worked on something else. But here it is Monday and I've got to get cranking.

My managers also wanted me to go further with the romance of the idea. The part that is cool about what the main character experiences, expand that - that's why we're at this movie. So, I've got to look for the moments to open them up.

What's problematic about this request is that it's a challenge to bring conflict into a section that you're simply adding for wish fulfillment's sake. And I never add something to my script merely to fulfill one purpose. Also, without conflict you have nothing. So, this is a challenge. How to start?

Once again I'm going to look back at my tonal guideposts for clues. As explained in my post Stumbles Are Necessary - tonal guideposts are break downs of similar films. You can always look back at them to see what they did in a section where you are lost. Often this provides an insight, which in turn jogs and idea, which gets you writing again.

I'll let you know how I did with that tomorrow. Happy writing.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Draft Two - Rewrite Day Two

Let me speak about one of the issues I'm addressing in the rewrite.

The antagonist in the story is unlikeable.

Yes, this is a valid note. Because to get us on board with the main character in this story we have to fall for the antagonist like she did. If we don't see why she would fall for him, then we will question if we know her, if we trust her logic for the rest of the story and that would be bad.

You don't question a character when you recognize their motivations as reasonable. That's the goal: To write a character that people will identify with or recognize. Not that the audience will have necessarily shared the same experiences with the character, but that they can understand and "go with" the character's choices based on the character you have drawn. The parts of the story you've woven in to show who these people are and what informs their decisions.

For example, your audience member might not pull a gun on a creep in a parking lot who is trying to rape her friend. But, if you've built a believable character who has suffered abuse in the past and who would do anything to protect her friend from the same, your audience will believe that the character would do just that. The audience will be invested. They may cringe in their seats and say "no, no" - and you hope they do - because then you've done your job. Your audience will be on board for the ride, even if that ride ends with your main characters driving off a cliff.

(If you don't know what I'm talking about then do yourself a favor and rent Thelma and Louis.)

My personal goals today (if you are invested in my actions are to finish off the chapters of my novel so I can turn them in tomorrow) and then start addressing my antagonist in the screenplay. I do this from an organic place, once I know what needs fixing, I read the script and make notes as to what bubbles up. Wish me luck.

Draft Two - Day One

After finishing the first draft in less than four weeks, I took a few days off to gather notes from readers and let their thoughts merge with my own ideas for the next draft.

Now, in my mind, the next draft is really the REAL first draft. (I call the first draft the vomit draft, because you just want to get through it quickly.) But, the "vomit draft" turned out to be pretty solid. So my next step is to get the script in good enough shape to send to my agent and come up with a plan to sell it.

The feedback I got was uniform. This is great news. When you have notes where one person wants you to go North and the other wants you to go West and still three more are debating between Northeast and East - that's when you know you need to make some significant changes.

When the notes come back echoing what you already were thinking, well happy day. Rewriting is still hard. Don't get me wrong.

In screenwriting, every time you change something it should naturally effect many more scenes and moments in the script. Since you aren't putting anything in your script that is simply serving one purpose - this is natural. You don't have jokes that are simply there for comic relief, they also reflect character. You don't have scenes that are there just to show how likable a character is - these scenes also have to move the plot forward. So when you change them you are also touching things that are connecting both forward and backward in your project. So, yes, it's like a puzzle and yes, it's darn tricky.

So when things get tricky - what do we do? We reach into our trusty bag of tricks. If the notes had come back indicating some sort of structural flaw then I would have broken out the 3x5 cards and my cork-board. The notes for this project concern deepening character, expanding moments and motivations and going further with the romance of the concept.

Getting started is always the hardest part. So how do I dive in?

First, I compile all my page notes and the notes from my readers onto a print out the script. My master copy of notes. I will re-read the script from the beginning keeping the notes in mind and jotting down any ideas that come to me to fix them.

Second, I duplicate the first draft, label it draft two and the date. At the end of that draft I type in bold all the "big" notes into a list. As I address these big issues in the rewrite, I delete them from my list. When there's nothing dangling after my "Fade Out," I know I've addressed the major issues.

If I was writing this on assignment I type up "what I heard" and how I plan on addressing it and email it back to the producers. Often, you will discover at this point whether you are on the same page or if you've heard two different things before you actually do the work. Thus saving yourself from writing in the wrong direction.

Friday, August 6, 2010

First Set of Notes

Poolside I received my first set of notes on The Project. Poolside always makes a notes session better. Just another little tip.

Actually, the notes were fantastic. I gave it to a friend who was in my target audience. Someone who I thought might identify with the character (and therefore be able to tell me when she ran afoul.) Someone who knew about the world where my script is set - so she qualified as a technical reader too.

The feedback was great. She found several areas where I could delve deeper. She even had suggestions as to what she wanted to know about the characters. She told me where she thought the characters might pause, open up as well as what was working.

Overall, she really enjoyed the script. As notes go, the fixes she suggested were needed are minimal in the grand scheme of things. There were some technical/logical problems that we found solutions for (again by the pool drinking wine - the best!).

But what was most exciting was that all of her notes wanted more of what I had started. A bad notes session is one where the person doesn't like your main character, was bored half way through, wasn't rooting for what your main character was trying to achieve. What I got was more along the lines of deepening subplots and drawing the finer points on motivation. Fantastic.

I am resisting the urge to call my managers with the ten ways my reader inspired me to make the draft better. I'm resisting the urge to qualify the draft they are reading with a "but I already know how to make it better." If they read my blog they'll know. (I seriously doubt they are reading my blog.) I'm going to instead trust that they know I wrote this extremely fast. I'm going to trust that the excitement I feel will still be with me when I hear their notes.

Then, I can get started on the rewrite. Until Monday peeps. I'm taking the weekend off. Happy Writing.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Day 28 - Active* Waiting For Notes

Update on The Project: I have in fact heard back from my fabulous managers and they are in fact reading over the weekend. They also want to read my novel pages - but I'm not sure if I'm ready to let them go, we'll see how I do today and tomorrow.

When all are ready then we'll shoot them off to my agent and then the ball will really get rolling. But, that's after notes, after revisions. We can all hope that those magic words come back, "It's great. We're ready." But, that's only happened to me once on a first draft. 1 out of 19. Not holding my breath. Even though... I enjoyed the read myself. I have no distance.

So what's great to do while you are waiting for notes. Besides, catching up on all the things that went out the window while you were writing (house, bills, friends, hair-cut)... it's a great time to read some writing books.

Here's a list of some my favorites:

Save The Cat by Blake Snyder
The Art of Dramatic Writing by Lajos Egri
On Writing by Stephen King
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

Of course, as in previous posts, I also can recommend the books from the UCLA Screenwriting department including Lew Hunter, Hal Ackerman and Richard Walters.

Active* (To writers reading is activity)

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Day 27 - A Word About "Write What You Know"

Yesterday I sat down and read the first draft without interruption. And I really enjoyed the script. There were several typos, there were a couple of spots that I thought I could go deeper, but all in all I'm really happy with it.

I still haven't heard what my managers think - but as I said, they probably won't read it until this weekend. Which gives me time to work on the novel and the side-project I'm producing.

I am also going to give this rough draft to my technical readers. As you know, if you've been following me from Day One that I am NOT writing about "what I know."

"Write what you know" has been screenwriting advice since the dawn of time. But I believe this is totally misunderstood. In a nutshell, I would advise to "write what you can feel."

I have to know my character's emotional reality. I don't have to know her world - at first. The script I've been blogging about is set in a world that I know absolutely zilch about. For the rough draft I simply worked on getting the characters through the story. When I hit a spot where they had to do something I don't have a clue how to describe accurately I just tried to make it sound as good as possible. I faked it.

Now that I think the story and the characters and the structure are on-line, it's time to start locking down the technical stuff. Let the research begin. I've found several people who are absolutely passionate about the world my script is set in. I'm asking them to give me notes with their red pens.

If they give me some story notes as well, then great. I'm just going to ask them to flag anything that they didn't believe and if they could explain to me how to get it right for people who know about this like they do.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Day 26 - Finished. Fade Out. Now the Work Begins.

Something surprising happened yesterday. I got a late start, but managed to fend off the stress and just start. I had read through my first two acts over the weekend and made some small tweak-notes. I started with addressing those to get me warmed up and that lead me to rework the last scene I had written. Then I just kept going and before I knew what was happening - I was typing Fade Out.

And then I did something really insane - I turned it in.

All my trusted readers who aren't on my team are traveling and so I gave it to my great managers. They know it's a rough draft (best not to call it vomit when asking for notes). I felt like it was a good place to get a sweeping temperature read. So, we'll see.

Usually people in Hollywood don't read anything (unless it's something really pressing) until the weekend. They don't have the time. Maybe a slight draft of 93 pages (okay, I told you that was okay for the rough draft) might get a sneak peak. We'll see.

When they do get back to me, that's when the true work begins. I will stay open and listen without attachment. I will then step back and absorb. Then I'll plunge in and make the script rock.

In the meantime, I am charging ahead on my novel. My goal is to get the chunk I promised to show my agents finished by Friday. Now, if I can accomplish that - then I will most definitely take the weekend off. Or maybe I'll work on the project I'm producing and mentoring with a young and talented writer/director friend. Yeah, probably that.

Heck I have a 20 month old mouth to feed. Nothing like a little motivation! Happy Writing.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Day 25 - A New Attitude

Okay - I am BEHIND schedule today. I'm two hours into my work day and have not written a word. Sometimes Monday's roll like this. The only thing to do is just jump in and not think about how you promised to have the rough draft to your managers this week. Or the fact that you are nearly to the point where you are going to have to show your novel to your agency.

But here I am nearing completion on two goals and I'm faced with a completely new experience: Fear.

Normally, by the time I have finished my draft I have fallen so in love with my script that I rush to turn it in.

This time, something different is cooking in my head. I'm not exactly sure why, but, this time as I approach the finish line (well, the first of many finish lines) where I will show my work to my managers, I'm excited, but NERVOUS.

Strange. For me. An Aries. Invisible. Always looking forward. This is strange.

Normally, here's how this goes down. I get notes. Love the ones I agree with, hate the ones I don't. Internally I resist the notes I don't agree with, especially if I know deep down they are right. I hem and haw and grumble. I complain to my husband, who must think Hollywood is the worst place on the planet (when honestly I believe it abundantly populated by extremely intelligent and driven people). Then, I sit down and address the notes.

Ultimately, I come up with a new draft that I am so in love with that again I rush to turn it in because I believe in it even more. Rinse. Repeat.

This time it's different.

I'm curious as to what people will say. I love my script and the characters just as much as in projects in the past, but in some way I'm just staying open. Maybe, it's drivel? Maybe it's brilliant? Probably somewhere in between. But, this time I'm honestly looking forward to letting people in. And that honesty fills me with nervous excitement. To be honest. A little fear. But, nothing I can't handle. I'm still an Aries with Leo Rising. So bring it on.

Perhaps because I've been writing both my script and my first novel simultaneously my ego doesn't know which house to live in and went on vacation. All I know is that this is very interesting and new. And it feels right. I'll keep you posted.