Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The first act, and rewriting

This month I've been doing my second page-one rewrite of a script that I started over a year ago. I had considered just giving it up, but the concept and characters still intrigue me enough to take another crack at it. Am I beating a dead horse? Maybe. But it's also a chance to experiment... with the plot, with my writing style, even with my approach to screenwriting in general.

Ordinarily, once I'm writing a draft, I try to plow through and get to the end as quickly as possible. I thought I was going to do that this time. But then something interesting happened: I didn't. Instead, 30 pages into it I've taken a step back to re-examine everything I've done, solicit feedback, and tinker with it at will. The danger in doing something like this is obvious: I'm writing a script, not a 30-page chunk of a script. The longer I spend messing with that section, the harder it could be to get the other 70-odd pages churned out.

I'm aware of all that, though; and right now, this seems like the way to go. The first act of a script is really incredibly important, and very hard to pull off well. It's setup. It's build-up. It's establishing characters and situations. In other words, it's not very sexy -- and yet it has to be if you want anyone to read it. So maybe it's not so crazy to think about spending more time on this part than on any other section of the script. The first page, the first several pages... they might be skimmed impatiently in hopes of getting to the exciting stuff, but if you write them with that in mind, you've lost the game from the beginning.

Another thing: it's a lot easier to rewrite this way, I'm finding. Rewriting discrete chunks of a 100+ page script can be a nightmare. Okay, I changed that. Does this still make sense? Hmm, it doesn't. Better change it. OK, now that doesn't make sense. Let's see. Skip ahead a little... ooh, just realized this is going to completely screw up that monologue on page 20. And so on. But working on 30 pages in a vacuum removes all those issues. It doesn't matter if what I change here affects stuff later on, because I haven't written any of that yet. I have a plot and a basic outline, but I'm flexible. It's pretty liberating.

We'll see how well this works when I'm done. Have I screwed myself over and killed my momentum? Or will polishing off the perfect first act energize me to crank out a great rest of the script?

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