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Archive for May, 2010

Much as November was spent writing fifty thousand words of a novel, so April was spent writing one hundred pages of a script — in my case a screenplay adaptation of a novel.

When I officially crossed the goal line, a much more cinematically inclined and educated friend of mine asked me what I took from the overall experience, and after he and I had nattered back and forth at each other online for a while, I decided that I should natter a bit more comprehensively and coherently on the subject.

First and foremost, much like November's novel, the script is not finished.  Not even close.  Not even the first draft.  I've got the beginning and the middle, and the climax and ending are fast approaching, but they only exist in my head at this point, and even there they are vague.  So that means I need to keep working, and if possible, keep up the momentum.

Second, the screenplay writing process was not nearly as exhausting as the novel writing process.  I'm not quite sure why.  The time span was still thirty days, but according to my stats chart, I only actually worked on the screenplay on fourteen of those days.

It could be that after fifteen hundred to two thousand words a day, three or four pages which are more white space than text thanks to screenplay formatting requirements were not nearly as intimidating.  It could be that since I was doing an adaptation, I had source material right in front of me, so it was a matter of deciding which parts to use as opposed to having to come up with all of the parts on my own.  In fact, there were times it almost felt like cheating.  I picked a novel which is not terribly long (just over two hundred and fifty pages) and not terribly complicated.  The main characters each have their own stories, but they are extremely closely connected.

Now what I really need to do is finish roughing out the rest of the scenes and then go back and really look at the whole thing, almost to the point of starting over.  I'll kill a tree or two and print the entire document so that I can scribble all over it — my preferred method of revision.

One of the major challenges for me was to try to write and visualize in movie terms.framework at the same time.  It's not enough to just see the scene in my head.  I have to think about the mechanics — what the set needs to look like, what the characters are wearing and doing, and how the shot is achieved.  I have no yet spent nearly enough time describing the settings, or at least specific salient details, or telling my characters what they should be doing while they are speaking.

Transitions are also difficult.  I need to watch movies and pay attention to the transitions while I watch.  In a novel or a short story, you can often just start a new paragraph or chapter.

I also need to watch more films which weave two stories together.  For a while, I thought about The Lake House because the otherworldly romantic component figured prominently in the story I am telling, but that film has an ongoing correspondence which ties the characters and their stories closely together, so I am not sure that it quite fits my criteria.

Gladiator is another contender.  All of the primary characters are together at the beginning, and relationships and even mutual histories are established early on.  Then they follow separate paths for a while, and then those paths collide again.  They are parallel stories rather than a main plot and a subplot.

The most important thing I take from the experience is the reminder/realization that the best way to learn to write is to write.  And after you have learned to write by writing for a while, you learn more about writing by revising.  You can read books and take classes if you want, and I am sure that they help, but they don't actually do the writing for you, and they can't give you your voice.  That is something which you have to find on your own.

Script writing was a foreign concept, a foreign language even, on April 1.  While I don't have any plans to relocate to Hollywood or New York City just yet, I know for certain that I learned more about writing a screenplay by wading right in and writing it (with the considerable aid of a fabulous script writing program which eliminated all of my formatting worries) than I ever would have by just reading a book or even taking a class.

I still have plenty to learn — more than can be covered in a single lifetime, I am sure — but I plan to learn it by finishing the first draft of this project and then going back to the beginning, taking it apart, and putting it back together again.  My next goal is to get it to the point that I am willing to let somebody read it.  After the second or third round, perhaps.

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