Random thoughts on drafting

I am really, really bad at redrafting.

No, worse than that.

Yeah, THAT bad.

So, in that vein, some thoughts, mostly to remind myself, on the nurturing, raising, harvesting, preparation and cooking of the first draft to make it into something presentable.

And oh yeah, will I be returning to that metaphor until it’s deader than my porn star career? 8-ball says "yes, and get on with it".

The purposes of the first draft.

1)To grow the script.

Doesn’t matter if you’ve planned, outlined, got your index cards all lined up, filled out every beat on the sheet, you don’t have a chance of knowing what your script is going to be until the first draft is done.

2) To be DONE

For me, done means you’ve got something that at least superficially resembles a film script that tells the story you want to.

I kind of treat the creation of the script as a film story in and of itself. The idea of the script is the invitation to adventure. Getting your ass in the seat to write the first draft is the first turning point. Writing the first draft raises the stakes until it’s done, which is dramatically the midpoint.

Because that’s when I realise I’ve got a great script in there. Somewhere. Surrounded by crap.

But, like raising vegetables, the best way to get really good stuff at the end, you have to pour on a load of old rotten crap to start with.

Which is why my scene descriptions in the first draft look like Proust. And my dialogue is so on the nose, CBEEBIES would reject it as "a bit obvious".

Ya. Rilly.

(Actual footage of Lucy V Hay getting her first look at one of my first drafts).

Because that’s how this stuff pours out of my head.

It’s more than okay for the first draft to be composed of huge blocks of text, with crappy dialogue, camera direction, stage direction, bold, underlined, italic text, scenes that drag with no point, that start five minutes before the point and just will. NOT. end.

And all that is not only fine, it’s perfect. Because of what you need to do with your first draft.

What to do with your first draft

Back to the harvesting metaphor: you need to dig what you want out of it, and clean the crap off.

Okay, to the "writing is a movie" metaphor: Our Hero has finished the first draft, and realises that the very thing he has created is an obstacle to his true love, a decent screenplay. Midpoint reversal.

New crappy metaphor: Michelangelo said he wasn’t creating, he was freeing the figures from the marble. Now imagine that the poor bastard had to build the marble block first from scratch. Welcome to the world of writing.

NOW is the time to look at excellent, brilliant stuff like this. Make sure it starts to look like a script. Go through it with fire and sword, because most of this monster is the bastard that’s between you and your goal.

Go back through it, work out what your story is. Not the plot, not the bare bones of the "things that happened"1. The story, the beating heart, the point of why one version of these events is worth anyone giving up 90+ minutes of their life for.

It’s now that you take a damn hard look at each scene, each sequence, each character, each word and ask "How is this supporting the story? Is it moving the plot, is it giving us more reason to care about what’s happening, is this drawing us in further?" Yes, supporting characters and subplots can do all these things, we don’t need to eliminate all but a single strand of plot, AS LONG AS IT SUPPORTS THE CENTRAL SPINE OF THE FILM.

If they don’t, they need taking out like Zed.

Metaphorically, if your first draft is a snail, what is the rewrite for?
...any questions?

Nothing wrong with snails. But VTOL rocket powered snails = WIN.

(Oh, for those wondering: The end of the second act is when you get your first feedback on the second draft. Because it still sucks. But it’s now a script that sucks, not some mutant shambling beast that ate your story alive, which is the first draft.)

Next time: Dialogue, and why I don’t care.

1 A sickness of some writers, particularly those who come to writing from tabletop / LARP RPG’s: "I can’t change that, that’s not what happened!" Dude, it’s all made up, forget "what happened", that’s in the way of the story, which is an entire other beast.


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