Murder on the High Seas
You have completed the script/novel checklist from Part One. You have polished it more than your mother’s good silverware. You are finally ready to let it go out into the world.
It is still not fit to send to agents, producers, managers, publishers, and studio people.
It’s not ready? I’ve done all the work. It’s a great story. The dialogue is crackling. Why can’t I launch it into the world now?
So far only your eyes have been made contact with your novel/script. You need another pair of eyes to read it. You want to send out your absolute best effort. You don’t get a second chance.
- Story points you think are clear are incomprehensive to another pair of eyes.
- The great speech you wrote reads like a long boring lecture to another reader.
- What you thought is a great twist ending is telegraphed on page twenty.
- You used “your” when you meant “you’re” like fifty times. You used the word “like” in an annoying way one thousand times.
Whom do you let read it?
- Friends? Only if you want them to say, “It’s great I can’t wait to see it up on the big screen. Or, I don’t know what to wear to your first book signing.” Hmm, no real feedback there.
- Family? Only if you want them to ask, “Is this what you’ve been working on instead of doing more important things around the house?” Not much help there either.
Here’s whom you should let read it:
- Your trusted fellow screenwriters or script/novel consultants. They are familiar with the techniques of writing screenplays or novels; story, structure and format. They know how to give proper criticism, “Here’s where it wasn’t working for me. The main character never changes. This should be an O.S. not a V.O. The second act drags. What does your main character really want?
If you’re getting feedback from more than one source, look for consistent notes and criticisms. They are most likely true. Make those changes. Read it again. It’s ready for your final polish. Read it again.
It’s ready to be sent out but I can’t let it go!
More excuses: “There’s just one more adjustment I need to make. I don’t think my opening and closing images work. The All Is Lost moment needs to be stronger. I think it will be better if her best friend is French.”
Question: What is holding you back? Answer: FEAR. “What if no one likes it?” “If I don’t get any positive responses I’ve been wasting my time.”
All writers have those fears. You’ve done the work. It is ready. It is the best you could do. It has your unique voice, originality and story. Yes, it’s finally time to send your precious baby off. You’ve put all you could into bringing it up; nurturing it, letting it mature into a good honest full rounded script/novel.
YOU ARE FINISHED! SEND IT OUT!…… And start the next project immediately. Good luck!
Any excuses you like to share? Leave a comment below or email me at: Stephen@rewritedr.com.
You’ve worked on your script/novel for months or even years with dozens of rewrites. You’ve had all the time in the world to complete it. You want this baby of yours to be perfect; rejection proof, before sending it out into the judgmental world of agents, managers, production companies, publishers.
So when do I know I’m truly finished ?
Have you completed this screenplay/manuscript checklist?
- Did you read your script/novel straight through at one sitting?
- Did you specifically look for emotional turning points, three act structure, and clear plot points. Are they working? Are they strong? Contain big emotional moments? Does the story slow down at any point?
- Did your characters have arcs, uniqueness and consistency?
- Did you read your dialogue out loud? Is it on-the-nose dialogue or more complex by using subtext? If it’s a script, have you had a reading of it with actors or friends?
- Is your prose clear and clean and in tone with the story? If it’s a script, are the action/description lines short but powerful and add great visuals?
- Do your scenes or chapters flow? Does each one move the story forward? Can some be cut or combined? Is there complexity to them?
- If it’s a screenplay, can you make it more cinematic, or add set-up/payoffs or interesting transitions?
- If you feel you’ve completed all the above steps, you’ve earned the right to put it in a drawer for a day or two. After a short time away, re-read it again. Still working for you? Good.
- Do your first polish draft. Look at each word and each sentence. Are there misspellings or wrong punctuation? Did you vary your word choices? Have you replaced the “to be” verbs with more powerful action verbs? Is the script/manuscript in the correct format?
After all that, if you feel like you want to tweak it more – STOP!!! DON’T MOVE! TAKE YOUR HANDS AWAY FROM THE KEYBOARD!
Writers that still want to fiddle with it, tell me: “I think I’m almost there but I still have to find that perfect ending” OR “I just have to nail a killer opening and then I’m done” OR “If I just punch up my dialogue a little more, then it’s ready.”
You are afraid to finish. You’ve worked on this dream project and now it will be judged. It will be out of your hands and you are about to find out if someone else likes it. You are staring in the face of rejection. That’s scary. But if you’ve followed the above checklist it is almost ready.
What do you mean, “almost”? There’s more? But I thought you said I was done.
You are, almost.
Click on Part Two to see Part Two.
THAT’S RIGHT, YOU HEARD ME.
Try this: As an experiment, copy your script into a new document but cut off the first 5 or 10 or 20 pages. Read your new 30 pages. Does it start with your hero in action? Is your script zipping along? Were those first 20 pages mainly backstory? Don’t worry, you can place any missing vital information later. Don’t start explaining who this person is. Set him in action then slowly reveal him.
FIRST TWO PAGES. Man wakes up. Man kisses his wife. Man drives to work. Man goes into an office building. Man goes up elevator. Man on rooftop takes out a rifle. Man starts shooting.
FIRST PAGE: Man opens a rooftop door. Man goes to the ledge. Man takes out a rifle. Man starts shooting.
Which grips you? Which one will keep the reader/producer/agent, who only read the first 20 pages, going?
It always goes back to: SHOW DON’T TELL.
In the November Mystery Writers of America newsletter, author Reed Farrel Coleman mentions several mantras writers can use when they get tense about ReWriting. One especially resonated with me:
Fall in love with writing, not with what you’ve written.
Writing is about rewriting. That’s the learning process. That’s the time to take the script/manuscript apart, see what’s working and what’s not and then put it back together. And then do it all over again and again. Be willing to cut out sections that don’t work, whether it’s an entire act or one sentence. Writers fear that if they make changes they won’t know any other way to make it better. It’s the fear of the unknown which we all experience. But I say you can make it better. I know this for a fact. Even though at the time you don’t see how it could be different you can do it. If you generated the first idea you can certainly create a superior idea. Give it time but it’s there in your head, you just haven’t tapped into it yet. That’s what your love affair with writing is all about: Being willing to give up what you have written but have faith you will find a better way to express it.