Friday, December 05, 2008

Time to make the donuts better

Last night was writers group so I got notes on Not Dead Yet.

The good news is, things have improved. It turns out that keeping Grandma alive a lot longer was a beautiful decision because now when I kill her people are sad. Apparently I made her pretty cool. I modeled her from my grandma who is, in fact, one of the coolest people I know.

One of the better things I changed was a scene in a pharmacy where my female lead is cornered by zombies. Originally I had a scene where she pulls out a broom handle and whacks at them until her people come to save her. Then in the middle of one of Bill Martell's seminars at the Expo I decided to rewrite that scene by figuring out all the ways you could kill a zombie in a pharmacy. I made a list. Imagine that, designing a scene out of your character's surroundings, not just some contrived bullshit. So anyway I redesigned the scene based on the list I made and instead of being a badass, she ends up cornered by the drinks fridge. And the note I got on that scene was "I really thought she was about to die."


On the downside, I still have a shitload of work to do. I need to do the same thing with my other action scenes that I did with that pharmacy. Apparently I like to write complicated action scenes that go on too long and confuse people, so I have to simplify. A clear goal, a clear sense of geography within the scene, even if it means scrapping some of my favorite jokes.

Unfortunately I also keep getting the same note over and over and even though I keep trying to fix it I guess I'm not trying hard enough: apparently my theme is still unclear. I'm hoping that some of the changes I already need to make will take care of that too because I've never been a big fan of any character standing up and waving and yelling HEY. HEY YOU. THIS IS THE THEME.

So in the end I have a lot to do here, and then I'll probably get more notes and have more work to do after that. Good thing I like zombies.


  1. If it gets to the point where the only thing people don't get is your theme, be thankful. Themes people can figure out on their own - the rest, well . . ..

  2. Anonymous12:22 PM

    I'm not a big fan of being so direct / obvious with the theme either. However, I have started putting the theme somewhere around page five in my scripts. (Save the Cat says to have it by page five and I see the merit in everything in this book.) It's not really that big of a deal to me if I can just slip it in casually -- and hopefully it'll be funny or interesting -- in the script. It's usually just one to three lines and if it's one more thing I can do to satisfy the reader, then I'll do it. Also, by physically writing the theme in the script, it keeps me more conscious of the theme.

    Steve Lee

  3. Anonymous1:44 PM

    I, too, cringe when an author tells me the point of his story, but when it's said at the beginning, it's still up for discussion, so it's far less noticeable. Keep in mind also that you, as a screenwriter who has read Save the Cat, are far more attuned to 'HEY! HERE'S THE THEME!' than your average viewer, or even your average script reader.

  4. I've never read Save the Cat and I never will, mostly because I'm turned off by several people I know who quote it constantly the way people used to quote Syd Field.

    But the sentiment is still a good one.

  5. Anonymous4:16 PM

    Theme isn't all that elusive when you truly know what the theme of your screenplay is... In fact, each character can have their own theme and your screenplay can have more than one theme.

    Another method of course is to think ONE HUGE OVERRIDING THEME that covers your story and then all the little themes of the characters fall into place under that.

    The trick -- if you can call it that -- is to keep those themes in front of you as you're writing.

    Eventually, if you REALLY know your characters, the themes will come alive within the context of everything your characters do because they are defined by their themes.

    We have faith INYA.



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