Okay, now I am procrastinating. I don’t want to start working yet.
So here’s a little something called the ‘writing cycle’. I don’t know if it’s actually called the ‘writing cycle’, but that what I call it.
1. Concept – The idea. This is (without a doubt) the most difficult, frustrating and rewarding part of the process. You are never more free than at this moment. What is the story? What is the point? Who is the hero? What is the conflict (incl. villain)? How is it resolved? You should always have an ending in mind. A weak finish will ruin all preceding good work. The resolution you have now may not be the same as the draft version, but that does not diminish the importance of having a destination from the beginning. Toss ideas away if there is anything remotely similar. If ideas are too valuable to you, then you don’t have enough and shouldn’t be writing.
2. Outline 1 – Short version (beat sheet) of an outline detailing the salient features of the narrative. Here’s where you start reigning yourself in. There is less and less freedom from this point on. General points – how do we meet the hero? The villain? How is the conflict established (inciting incident)? What hurdles does the hero encounter? Does the hero succeed at overcoming hurdles (moral deficit)? Who helps the hero? Who hinders the hero? And how? You already have an ending in mind, there’s your last point. Get there.
3. Character Outlines – Figure out your characters. Give them minds of their own, not yours.
4. Outline 2 – Long version (step outline) of outline 1. Flush out your points. Start establishing scenes. This will become the bible for writing the screenplay. Be detailed. This should include everything but the actual dialogue. You need to know the who. what, where and when. You need to know what the characters are thinking and doing. You need to write everything down. This is when the story is written. There should be very few unknowns once you begin writing the first draft of the screenplay. Keep in mind, things always change once the characters are given a voice – be free to follow their thoughts.
5. First Draft – I work with a partner. At this point, we split whichever Act we’re going to write first. It’s not always Act One! We write our share separately, piece it together and review. The review is not an edit. We read what we’ve written to make sure we’re still writing the same story as each other. We make sure our characters aren’t too far apart, etc. More often than not, and much to our surprise, our first drafts usually come together seamlessly. I think that’s due in large part to the detailed planning of the Outline. We split subsequent Acts and follow this process until complete.
6. Edit 1 – Unequivocally the most arduous, time consuming and boring part of the process. Page by page, line by line, word by word, read through. I read our scripts cover to cover at least ten times while we’re working on it. Fix dialogue inconsistencies. Rewrite scenes that don’t work. Remove superfluous scenes. Don’t kid yourself, those scenes are in there. The one question you always have to ask is: does this scene/line/action move the story along? If it doesn’t, take it out. Fix the pacing of the story. Weigh scenes against each other. Identify important scenes and make sure you didn’t write them into insignificance.
7. Let other’s read it. Get impressions. Make changes accordingly.
8. Start from point #1 (above) and write something else. This is very important. We’ve read the script at least ten times at this point. We are not reading it anymore, but looking at the pages. We can’t find any more mistakes or problems, even though they’re clearly present (as time always proves). When you’ve finished the next screenplay (up to point #7 above), do not start another new script, but return to the original (next point).
9. Edit 2 – A number of months have gone by since we’ve looked at the screenplay. We read it again – almost always feels like someone else wrote it! Mistakes are clearer. It is easier to refine the material. Go through the script just as you would for the first edit. What you do from here is up to you. I wouldn’t recommend getting hung up on anything in this edit. If it doesn’t work at this point…it won’t. Leave it to die or visit it as if it were a sick relative in the hospital.
10. Start the process a third time. When you reach point #7, return to the second screenplay for the #2 edit. The idea is to use the time it takes to write a script to let another script cool-down. We stay one script ahead of ourselves. There’s always something that needs to be edited. The cool-down process is essential. You need to be able to distance yourself from your work. The only way to do so is to get up and walk away from it.
This is the cycle we follow. It’s only a process. There is nothing here about story structure, character or plot development, revealing information to the audience, playing with mass psychology, etc.
Three quotes are always in my mind:
The sources of the following two are unknown to me.
“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have time to write.”
A child, who would grow up to be a great writer (don’t know who), and his classmates were asked to write an essay based on a story from The Bible. The essay was to be whatever length each student thought necessary for their particular subject. When it came time to submit the essays, every student handed in at least two full pages of writing, except for one. The boy who would grow into a great writer submitted a single sentence and received top marks for the assignment. His essay was based on the Wedding at Cana – “The waters of Cana saw their Master and blushed.” [I would like to thank Mr. Gn for passing this bit of wisdom on to his son, who shared it with me.]
The Duke of Wellington wrote a very long letter with a post-script something to the effect of, “My apologies for the length of this missive for I have not the time to write anything shorter.”