Murder on the High Seas
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.
IT’S ALL ABOUT STORY.
My thoughts on Paranormal 3 –
I didn’t have any preconceived ideas about Paranormal 3 as I had not seen the first two. Here’s what I think: Paranormal 3 is equivalent to paying money and entering a Fun House where ‘ghosts’ can pop out and scare you. That’s all. That’s fun and entertaining but in Paranormal 3 there is no story. Yes, I experienced sympathy for the little girl who is taunted by the ghosts, but I always feel sorry for little girls when something bad happens to them. The story didn’t convince me to. I watched the family move about the house doing their chores. But I didn’t empathize with them. I’m not bashing Paranormal 3, audiences love these movies. It’s an enjoyable scare. They are what they are. For some, that’s enough. However when I sit in the dark, I want to be invested in a good story, feel for the characters, not wait for the next scary face to fill the screen. Unlike the person next to me who jumped out of his seat sending popcorn flying. Oh, free popcorn. I guess there are some benefits.