Ask “THE SCRIPT MENTOR”, Part II

th1Q- How does one stay motivated? I’ve been struggling over the same story for a long time, and I’m getting bored of my own story. How are you able to be so prolific with YOUR writing?

A- I certainly understand how the interest/motivation wanes over time- the same characters, the same (but different) dialogue, the same outcome, blah, blah. Imagine for a second having to read them and NOT having written them- the same characters, the same dialogue (with minor changes), the same outcome…AND the same mistakes over and over again. That’s my life! But we chose our lives, and if we threw our problems in the middle with a hundred other people’s lives and their problems, I’d take mine back first every time. So would you. That’s the beauty of writing.
Yes, you will get to the point where you’re not going to work on that anymore- for now. Hell, I cannot tell you (actually I can, but I’d be embarrassed) how many partial scripts I have in various on line files. Let’s say it’s more than one, but less than the number of grains of sand in the Sahara. But not much less… 😉
Right now, the scripts that I am working on- open and actually touch almost daily- are “PEANUT AND CRACKER JACK”, “BLURRED LINES”, “SECRET AGENT BOB”, “SILOS” and “UNDEAD REDEMPTION”. I also just started a collab on one of my very first concepts called “GHOST PLAYA”; I started an outline 1:30 this morning. So, to say “I get it” is NOT a throw-away condescension in any way. I really do.
You might benefit by having several projects open at once. To me, writing is a very emotional response. If I’m not in a good frame of mind, creatively, it doesn’t get done. I have plenty of other things that keep me busy at the computer instead; time-suckers (no games- I hate games). When the mood is right, which is probably 85-90% of the time (I can’t write when I’m angry, and politics and sports usually make me angry), I write. My point is, everyone has a process and you have to decide which works for you. If you put it away, coming back in 6-8 weeks to it really is like meeting up with an old friend. You pick up right where you left off, and glad to see each other again.
If you want to start a new project, no sweat- I’m still here if/when needed. You’re a good writer. What you lack is time on the job. Nobody is great coming out of the gate. You try to apply what little you may have learned and taken to heart, and start developing a marketable concept.

Q- I understand that you are looking for 180 words per page/minute in a spec script. I find some of this kind of contradictory. A film is supposed to be visual. That means less dialogue; “show, don’t tell”.

A- I understand your hesitancy in what I’m sharing with you. This is where trust comes in. You’re right- a film IS visual. This is not a film; this is a script. Consider your position for a minute: You hesitate to make the necessary suggested changes- reducing the verbiage and wordweight to improve the flow and the “read” of your story, for the fear of reducing it to 70 pages or less, rendering the project useless., in your opinion. Is that about accurate?
So, in essence, you would RATHER keep the extraneous elements of your story in your ultimate effort to reach a certain page count. Is that about it?
I’m sharing with you what readers are looking for, and what they key in on. This point is not debated anywhere- ever. I didn’t make up the expression “more white than black”. What I DID do was create a formula for achieving that lean material. I believe it is a formula that works; it’s worked for me, and it’s worked for many others who have successfully gone through THE SCRIPT MENTORprogram. Can you achieve success without this limitation or putting this word count into practice? Of course! First of all, it’s only a GUIDELINE. You will exceed the word count from page to page, on occasion. I’m working on the averages, ten page sections at a time. That’s how it works in quality control.
I attached your page 60 transposed into Word document for the purpose of this exercise and demonstration. According to my word count, your page 60- the “action sequence” you were so worried about writing under the suggested word count- came in at 417 words on the page. Quite frankly, I thought the standard 8 X 11 page document only held around 350, as this was always the highest word count I’ve come across, so I’m a bit taken aback by that number myself. In five minutes, I took that page 60 and, without knowing anymore about the plot, characters or even the specific SCENE that’s taking place, reduce the overall wordweight by two-thirds, down to 145 words. This was accomplished by cutting out the fat, using better cinematic language, and a few punctuation changes.
It’s about choices: you can write it like a screenplay or write it like a novel. If I wanted to get “lost” in the writing, your version is much more descriptive and much more enjoyable to read- for a novel. But it’s not about getting “lost” in the words. It’s about moving along at a fast pace getting to the end. THAT’S what “movies” do, and therefore, that’s what scripts must do. Allow the reader to “fill in the blanks”. Do you need to describe each minor player’s physical appearance? No; they’re set pieces, essentially. You wouldn’t describe every chair in the scene, either.
I hope this exercise, not only proves a point, but shows you a little how it’s done. The numbers are guidelines, but like any guidelines, they’re in place for a purpose: to get the overall wordweight down. Everyone will tell you it’s necessary to control the number of words and the overwriting, but NO ONE except THE SCRIPT MENTOR will give you hard and fast numbers on how to accomplish this. Keep in mind, too- this is an average over the length of the script, which I choose to measure in ten page increments. If, over the length of the script, it eventually comes out to 200 words per page, it might very well NOT be an issue. I’ve read several good scripts that averaged slightly under or slightly over 200 word mark. If you shoot for 150-180, it might end up 190, and still be fantastic.
Also, we are ONLY talking about spec scripts from unproduced writers here. Oscar winning scripts, and most produced scripts tend to be much heavier in wordweight. That’s fine for them. They’ve earned that right. As a whole, we spec writers have not. We must work to get our projects read and eventually, produced.

Q- I keep sharing my concepts, screenplays and loglines with friends and fellow writers through various on line “writing groups”- and I rarely, if ever, get any positive feedback whatsoever. What can I do to keep my head in the game and my spirit alive?

A- I’m sorry you’re feeling a bit “beat up” at the moment. It’s one of the truths in this business- you have to have very thick skin. You’ll get negative feedback even AFTER you know you’ve nailed it. Do you know how many contest feedback/reviews I got that trashed my writing even after all of the success these scripts have had? It’s crazy, and not something you really get used to. You just flow with it.
In our case, my goal is to take care of the BIG issues first and let the small ones work themselves out. The Script Mentor may be the ONLY place that believes that 90% of the issues in most screenplays are format related. We also may be the only ones that believe that fixing these issues first will help improve the overall screenplay several hundred-fold. This is by design.
I’m not overly concerned about the “marketability” of a story at this juncture, especially if it’s the very first one you’ve written. Rarely are the first concepts EVER marketable, but it doesn’t mean the time spent writing it is for naught. In baseball, you play scrimmage games. They don’t mean anything, but in the long run, the experienced gleaned through these games: in-game strategy, at bats, fielding opportunities, etc.- all have a dramatic impact on your playing ability down the line.

No different here.

If it takes a new concept to help make you re-charge your batteries, have at it. Come up with some ideas, and include a “theme” for each concept; what YOU want the reader to walk away thinking this is what the story is about. If you’ve seen “Gravity” (saw it the other night; loved it), the theme was actually stated halfway through: the need to let go. It is so clearly played out throughout the story; a very strong thread of emotion tying everything together.
Once you have your concept and them, send them to me, if you’d like, with an explanation as to why you want to write each one. Just a line or two should suffice. We all need a reason to write a particular story. It doesn’t have to earth-shattering, but it has to want to keep you coming back to the computer to write it.

Q- I am working through my script, as you suggested, and trying to write using more “cinematic language”. This is first example I come across is:
“Rogue goes to the door.”
Are you looking for me to use more action words such as “Rogue strides to the door”?

A- Exactly. There are over fifty ways to describe someone’s walk, most of which define an attitude. This is important in describing action. If he “slithered” to the door, that implies one thing, “bounced” implies another, “sauntered” yet another. This is the “cinematic language” that I’m always referring to. You can use “walk” or its variation, in a script- once!
Now in this example above, “strides” indicates confidence and pride. If it fits that particular character at the particular time in that particular scene, it’s probably a good fit.

Q- Another example is:
“The goon goes for his gun.”
Would it be better as “The goon grabs at his gun”?

A- Yes, that would be one way. When I referred to “goes” and “begins to”, I’m usually referring to the habit people have (yourself included) where they write the way they talk in an informal setting. “He said this to her, and she goes “Screw you, asshole”, or someone “goes to get up and answer the door”. This is how most people talk, but we shouldn’t write like that.
“He begins to get ready to leave, opens the door and disappears”- we only “begin to get ready” if for some reason we stop, and this action of stopping is important. If we “begin to get ready to leave” and we leave, we just have to say “he leaves”; there’s no beginning to get ready part.
If someone “starts to leave” when the phone rings, and they stop and get the phone, that’s one thing. That’s a specific action, for a specific reason.
If someone “starts to leave, gathers up his books, opens the door and departs”, then just write that the person left.
It’s all about word economy, and these are areas that can cut out 5-10% additional fat in terms of wordweight. There are so many examples of this in a given script; I’m sure I don’t even get them all (I’d like to think I do, but occasionally one or two can slip by).

Q- Another thing I noticed that I write:
“Rogue looks on in surprise.”
Is it okay to write “Rogue is surprised”?

A- You can do even better than that. Show instead of Tell. How does one “look surprised”? What happens to their face?
“Rogue and the waitress return to his room. Without hesitation, she rips off her shirt and unsnaps her bra; her pendulous breasts swing free. She turns to Rogue; her eyes scream desperation.
Brows raised, Rogue cracks a slight smile.
ROGUE: “I thought I tipped you already.”

Notice the use of the cinematic language- rips, pendulous, desperation, etc. I described the specific action, giving it a deeper, two-dimensional meaning. I described his facial reactions; as opposed to saying he was surprised, or shocked or happy. His retort is in line with his aloofness and his “cool” demeanor- nothing fazes this guy. He’s in charge.

I hope this helps.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s