Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Re: Writing

Hey - sorry for the radio silence. Have had a crazy 7 weeks without much space to blog. Multiple script drafts, two development trips to London, a large essay and the possibility of redundancy from my day-job have kept me plenty busy!

Last time I wrote I was plowing through the first draft of my latest project - a half hour TV pilot being written as part of my screenwriting MA. Since then I've completed three full drafts. As predicted, the process has been one of constantly stripping things back and refocusing to bring the story in on length and in the best shape possible.

My initial 'vomit draft' (where I just bash things out without censoring myself) came in at 42 pages. A rough rule of thumb is that a correctly formatted screenplay should equal about one page per minute. Though the rule isn't air-tight, my script was well over and I needed to cut at least 10 pages - almost a quarter of the script - which was pretty daunting.

On completing a draft its hard to see beyond the elation of having finished something - so making any cuts or changes can seem like impossible demands. But after a few days working on other projects, I was able to come back to it with fresh eyes. With some distance it was obvious numerous sections were too long, overly complex or just not needed and I was able to cut 7 pages without losing anything essential, and in one case I substantially re-wrote a subplot that was initially dull into something much more satisfying.

This became my official first draft which I sent out to my fellow MA screenwriters and our tutor to get their feedback. Asking people to read your work, especially when it is in a raw state, and then to give you honest feedback is not easy but is something every writer needs to get used to. We get too close to our own 'babies' and unable to see where things don't make sense or could be clearer. Sometimes the bits we think are the most interesting are the dullest and vice versa. My group were great with me - very encouraging about what was working and offering lots of helpful suggestions to make it better.

I then had 9 days to complete my second draft based on their notes and my own reflections. I finished that yesterday and am currently really happy with it. I've got it to a healthy length (30.5 pages) and the whole thing has a lot more energy and drive - something that was missing from the last version.

I've now got a few days to wait to get some more feedback (during which time I need to read and make notes on my fellow writers' projects). Depending on how well my changes are received, I will then move on to a 'polish draft' - brushing up every stage direction, line and moment to make them the best they can be before my deadline on the 1st of April.

From pitch to final draft I will have had less than 3 months to complete this script but this is a realistic timescale - often TV drama requires even shorter turn-arounds so this has been good training and I've enjoyed it immensely.

I know a lot of people who never complete a project because they get frightened by it not being "perfect" straight away. I think what this process shows is the importance of drafting; accepting that earlier versions will be flawed but seeing them through in order to have a good starting point from which to build the next version, then the next, then the next until its a good as you can make it.

Anyway, I have four scripts to read so best get on!