Thursday, June 4, 2009

Writing vs. Typing

I still struggle with the issue of how much -- and what kind of -- pre-writing I need to do before firing up the screenwriting software and producing script pages. Certainly I'm doing more of it at this stage in my development than I ever have before. On the script I'm working on now, I did several pages of preliminary idea scribbles and research notes; three one-page character essays for the protagonists; and three progressively longer versions of an outline, the longest of which was ten pages.

After all that was done, and I'd shown the last outline to a couple of people whose opinions I value (fiancee; writing colleague), I typed FADE IN and went off to the races. As of this blogging, I'm 33 pages into the script. Much of the writing has flown quite easily because -- well, because it's not really writing; it's typing. I'm just giving new, more verbose language to the thoughts that are already in my head. And yes, there's a huge difference between the two concepts.

In previous scripts -- even working from an outline -- I ended up having to do a lot of actual writing during the scripting process. Sometimes it would be obvious that a necessary scene was missing; or a planned scene was unnecessary and needed to be replaced with something more interesting and useful; or an entire plot thread or character just plain didn't work on the script page. All of which frequently put me in the position of writing a scene, then staring at the blinking cursor until I could figure out what needed to happen in the next one. I'll be honest; sometimes this was fun. Because it was writing. It was creating something from nothing.

On the other hand, most writers know what generally happens when you create something from nothing. (Answer: it sucks.) In the pre-writing phase, wiping out the stuff that sucks and replacing it with stuff that doesn't is a fairly straightforward proposition. Why be wedded to the words you're writing in an outline? They're not for public consumption and you're not going to sell them. When you're writing real script pages, though, it's much harder to accept that a scene I've just invented and written needs to be scratched and replaced. For one thing, it's all formatted and pretty, with clever dialogue and description. It looks like a final product even if it's nothing resembling that. For another thing, I don't want to lose momentum. I can sort of take my time and get things right in the outlining stage, but writing the script itself always makes me impatient. When I'm on page 1, I want to be on page 10; when I'm on page 10 I want to be on page 30. By the time I'm on page 60, I desperately want to be done. So, even if pages 13-17 turned out to be absolute waste of time, I'm probably going to keep them and move on. Repeat that enough times and I end up with a final script that represents a writing exercise more than a workable draft.

Typing is better. Having already come up with the scene I'm currently writing, I can add nuances and thematic stuff to it as I go along; the dialogue is better because I've already thought roughly about what people are going to say to each other; and scene length stays manageable because I'm not spinning my wheels trying to figure out the point of the scene as I type. It doesn't have the same feeling of danger and excitement as off-the-cuff writing does, but I don't know of many writers who do it all for the sake of enjoying the process. Besides, any enjoyment gained from the actual keystrokes is fleeting; my true goal is to one day look at a finished product and realize that, for once, it doesn't suck.