Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The next lesson I have learned

Every time I write a script I learn something new that I need to do. Yesterday I got a new set of notes that gave me my lesson for this particular piece.

Obviously, with my first script I learned how to write a script. And do flashbacks and voice overs. Oh yeah, they were all there.

I wrote a script about brothers who were thieves which taught me to never write something I know nothing about.

I wrote a story about a former assassin in witness protection told me that  a good idea does not a good script make. You have to have a story too. One event has to lead to another in a logical method, and you can't just throw a bunch of action scenes together and hope somebody likes it.

A Supernatural script taught me that sometimes no matter how hard you try, a story just doesn't work. And that I'm not really a TV writer.

With Not Dead Yet I learned the value of editing your writing to the simplest, most straightforward language. I still write naturally, but the last thing I do before I ship the script off to the world is to do one pass where all I'm looking for is words to cut.

Burnside taught me that no matter how cool everybody thinks your story is, that doesn't mean anyone will buy it.

And now Salvage has taught me to remember that people like surprises. I only had one real reversal, and it's not all that surprising to the keen viewer. So today I sat down and changed it all around to incorporate a reversal, which necessitated moving events all over the place. It also meant that the setting of my final set piece moved all the way to the beginning of act 2, which meant I had to rewrite the final piece. I went from 108 pages to 89 pages with a keystroke.

That's daunting. But after I started reworking it I found some pretty funny stuff. And pacing. My pacing picked up big time because my characters weren't just waiting to get to the next scene, they were surprised and forced to rethink their assumptions.

I will remember that for next time. In my ever increasing toolbox, I can now add, Don't Forget Reversals.


  1. Can you define reversals?

  2. Unexpected changes, basically. Your story is on a track from the minute it starts, so a reversal is where the track switches and sends your characters in a new direction they weren't expecting. Keeps everybody on their toes.

    At least, that's how I define it.

  3. Yeah - absolutely! Plays hell with those outlines though don't it? It's like trying to balance some insane impossible equation. What fun.

  4. On reversals - think Jaws.

    Some people get attacked, and Brody wants to close the beaches until the shark's gone. The Town Council refuses. That's a reversal. Now Brody needs a new plan - bringing in a shark expert, setting up shark patrols, and so forth.

    But it doesn't work, and more people die. Another reversal. So Brody comes up with another new plan - go out with Quint and kill the shark.

    They try bringing the shark up with a fishing line. But it's too big. Reversal.

    New plan - shoot the shark with barrels to force it to the surface where they can kill it. The shark's too strong and stays underwater. Reversal.

    Then the shark attacks the boat, and then it starts chasing the boat. New plan - lure the shark into the shallows and kill it. But Quint burns out the boat motor. Now they're stranded at sea. Reversal.

    And so forth.

    Patrick Sweeney
    I Blame Ninjas


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