Category: revisions

My Least Favorite Draft

On the 28th I finished another revision of The Inhabitors and entered the Nicholls Fellowship Competition in order to hit the early deadline and minimize the cost of something I have a low probability of recouping my costs in. The Inhabitors has seen at least three fairly substantial revisions and I am pretty happy with where it’s at. Hopefully it will do well in all of the contests I’ve entered it into, but with this being what I feel is the strongest draft I’m hoping for an especially good showing in the Nicholls this year. At least better than washing out of the first round like I did last year.

Now that The Inhabitors is on the shelf for now, I turned my attention back to my psychological horror spec Peripheral. I’ve been putting it off for a little while because I know it needs a lot of work. Which is exactly why I’m procrastinating right now and writing this blog post instead of working on the revision. I feel like I’m going to have to substantially rewrite large parts of the script and, to be honest, that seems like a lot of work.

The second draft (or draft 1.5 for me – because my first drafts are always more akin to super-detailed outlines than actual drafts) is the worst for me. It’s coming down from the high of finishing that first draft, where you’re still excited by the ideas and the characters and proud that you’ve accomplished something. The second draft is where shit falls apart. In the case of Peripheral I already knew there were some substantial changes I wanted to make near the beginning to add weight to the ending. Things I discovered while I was writing and made a note to change instead of halting my momentum on the initial draft to double back. That was why I took so long at getting back to it.

And when I did – I realized that I made some pretty major errors. I went through my character sheets to re-familiarize myself and realized that as I was writing the script I had, for some reason, gotten away from what I originally wanted these characters to be. This explains why I felt like something was majorly off with the first draft. It’s not always a bad thing to let your characters discover themselves a bit while writing, to let them dictate the story, but I went pretty far off the rails with this one. All that prep I did up front won’t amount to much unless I fix it.

That’s where I am. I’m confident in this story and its characters, I’m just lacking some confidence that I’ll do them justice. But, like myself and bajillions of others before me have said, the only way out is through.

Guess I’ll go work on that revision now…

The Importance of Theme

I mentioned in my last post that because of the critique I was given on my latest project I was able to nail down my theme, which had changed from what I originally intended partway through writing. This was an important step for one huge reason that I will helpfully state for you bolded and underlined.

Theme Dictates Story

Essentially, the theme tells your audience what the story is about. Don’t confuse this with a moral, those are different. The theme is the message of the story, the final summarization of the actions of the characters. It can often be boiled down to one word. For example, one of the themes of Cloud Atlas is Jurassic Park is that nature will always have the upper-hand over mankind.

The theme is the culmination of actions and events. In The Inhabitors I had a serious problem with theme. I thought the theme was about death. Grieving. Coming to terms with your own mortality. I tried very hard to write to that, but there is a part in the script where the theme just shows up without my realizing it.

It takes place after the first major turning point in a conversation between the antagonist and a supporting character. It’s a well-worn theme, but I think it’s approached in a unique way here. The theme is redemption, and the question posed by this theme is whether or not someone can find redemption by explaining the reasons for their digressions. If who we think is a bad person has a reason for every immoral thing they’ve ever done, can we find forgiveness in that understanding? Is there empathy to be had? On a greater scale, can God forgive us for our sins if those sins were done for a reason? Are any of those reasons merely rationalizations?

The theme often bleeds into the moral of the story. This is what causes confusion when speaking to theme in an academic sense. It is also another reason why it’s so important. How can you push your characters toward something without knowing what that is? I’ve read from different people that you should either know your theme before writing, or find your theme through writing. Personally, I don’t think it matters too much. The theme will find you and if it doesn’t there might be a problem with your story.

The reason being is that storytelling is about having something to say. Something to add to another person’s understanding. Yet another reason why theme is important to your writing. The question of what an artist is trying to say dictates how the story is told.

I understand this post may seem a bit scattershot. That’s because I went into it with a clear idea of my theme for the post: Why is theme important? But as I wrote I started to realize more about its relation to other aspects of storytelling. Morals. Execution.

My point is, theme can be a sneaky bastard but its imperative to good storytelling. Stay open to changes in theme through the first draft, as your characters may open themselves up to a more coherent or deeper theme than the one you initially started with.

When to Stop Revising

Here’s the thing about writing – it’s difficult to stop. Once you love an idea, or characters, it can be difficult to let them go and watch them struggle in the world. You always have a different take on a scene, or a plot hole that needs filling, or a loose end that could use some tying up. I think most writer’s would agree, nothing you write is ever finished and nothing you write is ever perfect. So where does it end?

Some writers have a set number of drafts they like to do. I think this has to do with confidence. Knowing your talents, and how long it takes for you to fine-tune things. I’m not particularly one of those people. I’m pretty consistently thinking of ways for my stories and characters to be stronger, especially if I pull out a story I haven’t looked at in a long time. Those are the stories I often have the urge to rewrite from scratch.

For me, I think outside feedback is the only way I can know if I’m truly done. Once it’s in a spot where I’m mostly happy with the writing, story, and characters, and people outside of my circle seem to enjoy it (whether that be a paid consultant or a writer’s group) that’s probably a good place to think of a story as “done” until someone offers you money to keep working it.

I ran into this problem with The Time Bubble and I am expecting to run into this problem with my latest script. What I realized with The Time Bubble is that 1.) I can have a fairly accurate perspective on my own writing if given enough time away from it, 2.) I never take enough time away from it, and 3.) due to writing being a subjective exercise, it is important to have goals with your writing and seek out criticism that strengthens those goals. For example, I placed well in certain amateur contests with The Time Bubble, but when it was given to Black List 3.0 it fared poorly over two revisions. Because of the types of scripts, and the overall quality of scripts, on BL3.0 I tend to put more weight on the results there than other places.

With the current script I feel better about where it is than with The Time Bubble. Even when I felt like The Time Bubble was done something about it still felt off. I recently finished another revision that I might take back to BL3.0 and have entered in another contest (Screencrafting’s Action and Thriller competition – more on that in a later post), and my gut is telling me it may be the best it can be. If it doesn’t do well over the next few weeks or months, then it may have been a flawed concept to begin with. Or my execution doesn’t jive with the concept. Either way, it may not be worth the time and energy to keep tweaking and rewriting.

I do not have these feelings (yet) about the latest script. It is smaller in scope than The Time Bubble, but less of a linear story. Where The Time Bubble was logical in its progression due to the needs of the plot, this latest project relied more on characters and their decisions to push the narrative. That made the third act much harder to crack, but the story much more affecting and, dare I say, simpler to execute than The Time Bubble. I’m probably wrong, but I don’t think this latest project will require the same amount of revision.

I think in the end each project is different. Some will need more work than others. The important thing to realize, and this is something I’m not sure I’ve fully accepted, is that the project is probably done when you’re happy with it. You have the best understanding of the world and the characters, so if you think everything plays out as it should, stays true to the characters, and doesn’t have any gaping plot holes, what more can you do? At that point only outside eyes will tell you if it works or not.

By then it’s out of your hands anyway.

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