Today marks the beginning of another NaNoWriMo month and what a good time to remind ourselves our own methods and techniques to get into that writing spirit. For me, here are some steps that I had followed in the past to finish a screenplay.
Since writing is an on-going process, here are some things I learned for myself during the process of writing that could help speed things up. I highly recommend keeping a writing journal of the process so you can also map out how things are going and when things are working well and when things are not. This could help speed up the next story in the future.
This could help speed up the next story in the future.
It’s nothing really groundbreaking but it’s vital to get some form of a road map of where you are heading.
1. Free-write all your thoughts about this idea — squeeze every juice out onto paper or document file. In fact, try the pen and paper route. Turn off everything. Get a kitchen timer.
2. IDEAS ARE CHEAP BUT NOT ALL IDEAS ARE MOVIES: break it. interrogate it. slap some sense into it. get real and get raw.
3. TREAT IT KINDLY. If the decision to continue is worthy, then it’s time to write out the basic scenes or general story out. You could call this a treatment but I’ll call this an extra step in figuring out the story — an extra hurdle. This is optional but I do this anyway in my procrastination, so why not make it official? Pen and paper is preferred… three hole binder/notebook required. Keep it together.
4. CARD READER — it’s time to fashion some cards together — index or not — great some bright sharpies and figure it out — one step at a time. When I first jumped into the vomit draft it was a premature attempt since I got lost at sea. I swam back to shore and thought to myself, “I need a damn compass or that crazy contraption navigators use…” index cards IS LIKE writing a draft but it’s like doing it with even lesser words. Use keywords or phrases to help keep what that card is about or the imagery to come flooding back in — it’s all about finding the right association to mark it with. How many cards is up to you. I got about 50-55 in. You can go less or more. You’ll know what is right, especially when you move on to write the damn thing.
5. ASSESS THE CARDS. Lay ’em out. Feel what’s happening. Play snakes and ladders if you have to. Follow the best route, change it up if necessary and best of all — DELETE AND INSERT NEW CARDS AS REQUIRED.
6. VOMIT DRAFT — use the cards as a helpful reminder but don’t need them like crutch. Let the words flow. If there’s an awkward idea for a scene floating around in your head, get it out on page, even if it’s not right for this play. Script it by pen and paper, laptop, desktop, blood and skin, whatever. What’s important is to finish it.
7. 30 / 10 TECHNIQUE — this is optional but I found it useful when I ran passed troubles in the later stages… so guess what? Try it out in the initial run. It might work. Use that passion and drive and energy you get when you think about this story. Use it to drive home 30 pages. Jump cut to what you think is the last 10 pages or so (doesn’t have to be exact since I actually wrote 15 pages). This might not be your desired ending but at least you got an ending. The ending should be the most important image of your story. It’s the everlasting image of how your characters bow adieu. It’s the message — the punchline to the hour and a half/two hour step up. It’s the thing that answers — what is this movie about? if you must answer that dreaded question.
8. CONNECT THE DOTS — bridge the gap between the first 30 and the last 10. It’s messy but it’s okay — keep in mind that this is a VOMIT DRAFT — it’s smelly, messy, explosive and sure to to require a clean up.
9. REST — three days? a week? two weeks? JUST STOP THINKING ABOUT IT. NOTE: DON’T TALK ABOUT IT WITH OTHER PEOPLE, ESPECIALLY OTHER WRITERS. If you must, then keep it minimal… usually after the vomit draft it’s okay but IF YOU’RE STILL WRITING THE VOMIT… DON’T TELL ANYONE. Influences can help but they are also poison.
10. READ AND TAKE NOTES.
11. SECOND DRAFT
12. CLEAN. TIGHTEN. BACKUP. SAVE CONSTANTLY. WRITE EVERYDAY. ONE PAGE MINIMUM BUT WRITE EVERYDAY.
13. WHEN COMPLETED, SMILE AND BREATHE — take another break.
14. Sometimes getting stuck is a pain in an ass. Keep pushing forward. If you’re completely stuck in the mud, page one rewrites can help but note — they can take a toll on how many drafts you will write in the end, so be warned.
15 THIRD DRAFT — I like the number three. It’s a magical number. I still don’t know what dictates a proper draft but I guess if you made it to FADE OUT two times, then that counts as two completed drafts — everything else like those page one rewrites… they just detours. Read and collect new notes. Try not to put too much new ideas but only if you feel it can make it better. I say this because reworking ideas is a hassle and a very tedious task and can make you depressed that you suck. But hey, writing is rewriting so fuck all that sad talk. Keep breathing. Keep your head above the water and keep looking at that finish line. Hit the FADE OUT and stop and think to yourself, “I finished my screenplay and I am proud.”
16. READ AND READ AND READ — find the spelling booboos and grammar fucks. Clean it up and tighten. Don’t dive into it content wise or you’ll accidentally start another draft. Keep it focused.
17. Assess the first two – five pages — rewrite if necessary these pages — make it better — make it pop — make it visual — make it dramatic — make it a movie!
18. Assess the final two – five pages — not so much the rewrite but make sure it’s the last thing you want the audience to remember.
19. FIND YOUR TRUSTWORTHY PALS WHO ARE NOT TOO NICE BUT NOT TOO DICKS Or better yet, get a mix of both. I don’t know what is the best number but maybe five readers max.
20. Gather their thoughts and notes… consider them and if they ring true — if there is something that is apparent among all of them — you might have to take that particular thing they all noted as something of worth. Everything else — base it on your gut feelings — if you want to change something, do it. If you don’t and you think they are stupid, then that’s great too. Because guess what? You know have in your possession, your FIRST OFFICIAL DRAFT. CONGRATULATIONS say this in the mirror. indulge in the moment. It’ll probably be the only triumph moment for this story.
Those are my notes to myself and to others who want to tread on this path of glory. It’s a tough one but as long as you finish it, you’ll feel the greatness of accomplishment. It’ll make you grow and confident in tackling the next project, whether it be something in life or another story.