Monday, February 07, 2011

I know what the problem is

A few weeks ago while I worked on the third draft of my current script I thought about how I didn't really have a solid goal for my protagonist. Sure enough, big note at the writers group meeting - what's the goal?
So I did a rewrite this weekend, an all day writing marathon on Saturday where I blocked out everything else and just went from beginning to end, adding in my protag's goal. And I hated my pages.

I kept thinking all night last night that now I've given my protag a goal, but it comes on page 50. I know that's too late in the story. Part of me thought maybe I can just send this to the group and....

Yeah but I know that won't work.  The thing is, I have a good group. If I see it, they'll see it. If I don't know my character they notice. If I have a vague idea of the events in this story they'll notice. And if my protag doesn't know what her objective is for half the screenplay, they'll notice. I know what I need to do. If I want to stop getting macro notes I need to do it.

So I said to myself, Self, this event that gives your protag an objective needs to be moved up.

But it's hard. Moving this event up means I'll have to change things I thought were set in stone. It's a domino that isn't so easily fixed. So I can either ignore the problem and get a new set of notes telling me to fix it and have to do it anyway, or I can sit down with this damn thing, put aside all distractions AGAIN, and fix it now.

Time to get to work.


  1. I hear ya. Im going through the exact same thing - moving stuff up, cutting out the original half Act II know when you're done, you'll stand back and see how much better it is. But it sure is a bitch in the meantime. Good luck!

  2. Anonymous5:55 AM

    Hi Emily,
    love your blog! And you are soooo right about the mess it makes, when you try and move a single scene, like the inciting incident. I hate that mess, I've been clearing mine up for days now. I even have a specific name for it - Evil Dominoes. A word of consolation: I was told once, that all that mess only comes to true writers - because only scenes, that were truly and thoughtfully connected with each other in the first place, could leave such a bloodbath when you tear them apart. If it was bad writing - it would be much, much easier.

    Good luck! Carin

  3. Yes, it is hard. Sometimes taking an affordable "vacation" from the "script-scenes" can be helpful.

    For example if you were in the UK, taking a scenic train ride, can naturally inspire and fix...

    It works for me - trips on train, buses, ferrys...inspire/help to solve script mess...and sometimes other messes.

  4. Good luck, Linda. We're all going to need it.

    Carin, that's very well put. I like that. Evil Dominoes.

    Benjamin, for me that's a shower. Whenever I get confused I know I'll probably figure it out while I'm getting clean. There's not much else to do in there but think.

  5. I think you gave me that exact note on my script Emily.

    I need to find a way to lay that track down in the outlining and scene card stage and make sure it's strong.


  6. My best advice is don't second guess yourself. Some of the best movies are "day in the life" stuff.

    The goal should actually be the logline, though.

    A <> tries to cross town on a <>.

    Complications ensue when a <> moves next door, forcing a <> to reevaluate his life.

  7. I think rewriting is all about second guessing yourself. Also, remember I write action scripts. You don't have a character without a goal in an action script. This actually isn't the same as the inciting incident. I have an inciting incident that gives my character a problem, but then she solves that problem so I need to give her something else specific to do so she's not simply reacting.

    The point of this post is that instead of denying the problem and hoping nobody will notice, it's better to get it over with and fix it.

  8. Often the difficult fix opens all kinds of doors that make the rest of the script better - but it's a lot of work. One of the problems I had on this thing I'm working on was changing the lead girl's age from 12 to 16-17. That means boys. *Everyone* told me not to worry about it, to ignore the whole biys thing, it wasn't a script about boys. But the script just wasn't working. I could sweep the problem under the rug and maybe even make it kinda work... but there would still be the problem. So I rewrote what I had so far and changed the character's female best friend into a potential love interest... and now every scene between the two is stronger... and the end (which I should get to in a few days) will make people cry. (without me stepping on their toes in the cinema). Sometimes things look like too much work, but there are rewards for that work.

  9. That's why all of my rewrites make place in the outline. I don't go to script until I have mapped out every sequence, every piece of conflict, every character's motivations and all valid plot points for the story.

    As an example, I've written several scripts in the last few years and everyone went through at least four revisions of the entire outline.

    My outlines are always SEQUENCE based but by that I mean CONTINUOUS locations so I usually end up with 50-60 sequences.

    Once something makes it into the script, it rarely has any problems as I've beat it into my head for week sor months - depenidn ont he amount of "real-world for the story" research is required.

    One script required me to go through an Economics Degree (figuratively). Another I had to learn SEAL team lingo and research WMDs.

    A goal in my mind is not an immediate problem but the final resolution.

    If the protag's goal(final resolution) is not in the log line, that's where the problem is.

  10. So you never rewrite AT ALL?

    I outline a lot too, but that doesn't mean what works for me in the outline stage will work once it goes to script.

    I guess we all just work differently.

  11. No I have added and changed. But I usually can get a nice plot line in my outline.

    My big problem is that I need to know the person suggesting changes has studied this as hard as I have.

    Anyone can say, that sucks. It takes a knowledgable person to explain why.
    In the years I have been serious about this, I have gotten critique that was so off-kilter, I wondered if the person actually read the script.

    And some of that I paid for.

    A good example is the short I'm trying to get shot right now. The director asked for an additional scene or two based on the emotion we were trying to get across and those additions slid right in perfectly.

    I find that there is a difference in letting directors or actors read a script than other writers or analyst\readers.

    The actors and director are looking for the positive while writers and readers are looking for the negative.

    I remember Julie Gray had a story about changing a script 27 times (REALLY) and it still not working for the development guy.

    He probably didn't know the difference between a scene transition and an INSERT.

    Again, I try to find the MACRO and let the micro slide. Viewers are looking for logic and emotion and won't care if you have a plot twist.

    If I find that the outline works visually, the dialog will write itself.

    Bigger isn't always better. True Grit has no competition right now for Box Office totals and that's a simple hunt the bad guy movie, but it has good actors and emotion.

    I guess I'm opposite Hollywood where I'll say make more Sex and the City(type movies) rather than Battleship or three Snow White movies.

    Johnny Depp made Alice. The Mad Hatter didn't make Johnny Depp.

    And can someone please tell writers that 99% of period pieces will SUCK on the big screen in 2011.

  12. Forget usual acts 1-2-3 and sequencing, its usually co-writing, with friends and wives. It is good to write without anyone. Then it get clearer

    Mick Lo


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