Thursday, September 30, 2010

Laps and Short Cuts.

Yesterday after school, a whole gaggle of elementary ed kids came over to the park next door to my apartment for soccer practice. Though somewhat noisy, I appreciate these kids a whole lot more than the teenagers who come loiter in our parking lot and who never say anything distinguishable but manage to shout at each other for forty-five minutes straight. Anyway. I was in the kitchen getting something to drink, and I glanced over at the park. I immediately felt a surge of sympathy because these super cute mini soccer players were in the middle of running laps [being a slow, asthmatic runner myself, I think those laps contributed to my eventual renouncing of involvement in all sports]. Except, as I watched, these kids started cutting corners. Really blatantly too. Running in front of the goal instead of behind, making the field an oval, all sorts of not so sneaky tricks.

This reminded me of my writing life and how I've stopped trying to get out of laps.

See, I hate prewriting. It feels very inorganic to me. And it's boring. And, it sounds like a waste of time. Isn't it fun when you dedicate a couple of hours to writing and all you end up with are pages like this--

I feel like I'm always prewriting or outlining or restructuring. Not writing. Even HW Guy once said, "Wow, it sounds like you prewrite a lot." I don't. I hate it. I think I just end up doing it more slowly than everyone else, so I'm doing the same [or less] amount of than everyone else but it just takes me longer.

Here's the thing, though, the truth that I'm trying to swallow--it works. When I wrote my first screenplay, I had a page long summary scrawled out on yellow legal pad paper and that was it. I flew through that first draft. And I still adore that story. You should never take your first screenwriting experience as the rule for the rest of your writing life. I think that very rarely will any other script flow with the intensity and ease and life that you're first screenplay does. The rest of the time, greater degrees of planning should be involved to help you get through a first draft, let alone make it something readable and enjoyable.

Now that I'm working on a new TV pilot [tentatively and terribly named
Places], structure is aggressively important, more so than in a feature. How many acts do you have? How much screen time does each story line get within an act? How are you going to structure the story so that each act ends on a climatic note? And then, you start getting nit-picky. What's the best way to introduce all the characters? Is this the best setting for this scene? Will this conflict play out too on the nose? What's the overarching theme and how does it play into each of the story lines?

It's not a lot of fun. When I heard Aaron Sorkin speak, this was the time he referred to as being full of pacing and wall climbing. But I'd rather struggle with questions here instead of in the draft. If I'm stuck on an outline, how much more lost would I be in the script? I feel like I saved myself a lot of work not only in the first draft but also in the rewriting stages. I worked structure, pacing, and plotting issues out in my outline instead of my script, draft 17. I even refined character relationships and nailed down something resembling a theme.

I still don't enjoy prewriting. I still try to move on as soon as possible. But I also try to pace myself. If an idea can't translate into an outline, how is it going to translate into a script? But a story ain't a screenplay until there are words on the page.

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