a pro script reader ponders movies, reading, writing and the occasional personal flashback

Monday, February 20, 2006

The Joy of the "What If?" (Script Slip, Part II)

So even as I keep pounding out notes on other people's scripts, I'm getting more notes back on mine, which again is a process I've only recently gone back to.

It was an uncertain one, too. I slipped my script to a lot of new online friends whose response I wasn't too sure of.

So far I'm thrilled, and excited about my rewrite. Because the notes I'm getting are great, and some are even truly extensive.

The problem, of course, is that aside from a few key things (the last scene needs work, the villain needs better establishing), a lot of the notes are really very different. I've had readers extensively pick at certain scenes or ideas that all the other readers haven't even mentioned.

Many people don't realize what a tapestry a screenplay really is. Screenplays have a myriad of choices along the way, and though there may be one best way to tell any story, there sure as hell are a half-dozen pretty good ways, and several-hundred slightly-better-than-mediocre ways, and some times it's hard to tell which is which.

So I'm getting notes now that make me reassess a lot. That make me chew over plot points, and character backstory, and even key relationships in the script. Is it necessary that these two characters be related? Does it make sense that this character would have that job? Would this minor character really behave in that fashion to someone that they don't know?

What I'm realizing, is that there really isn't any particular right and wrong to these questions in and of themselves. It's how they feed into what the story is that you are trying to tell.

What it's all getting me to get back in touch with is the joy of the "What If". These notes are pushing my to grab corners of my script and shake it, to see what will fall out. Too often, I tend to accept sequences that work, and not ask myself if they could work better.

So the What If. What if this reader is right, and this might be a more interesting option? Where could that lead? Is that better? What about what that reader said; wouldn't that go with this other suggestion, and make that whole segment of the script tighter and more interesting?

I think this is the key to the whole feedback debate. It's not about blindly taking the suggestions of someone who may or may not know what is best for your script, but letting these suggestions (which generally are inspired by some flaw in your script, real or perceived) lead you to where the What If? is. Where the choice in your script is, that really turns out not to be as tightly-stitched as you thought it was.

(It's also another reason why "I liked it" really isn't helpful as a note. When you are giving someone notes, try to find ways to jumpstart the What If? in their own head).

I've already completely rebuilt a bit chunk of my first act. It's not due to any particular note, but in filtering a lot of responses through my own take on my script. And it's better.

So thanks to those who took the time, and got me to start asking the tough questions about my script.

And I'd like to hope that, while I'm giving notes, that even if I roar off down a tapestry thread that the writer ultimately doesn't have any interest in going in, that at least I'll get them to grapple with a whole bunch of What Ifs.

Because at the end, that's how the great scripts are built.


At 4:40 PM, Blogger stu willis said...

I actually think getting intoxicated on the possibilities of a story is one of the most pleasureable things in writing...

Good notes should inspire that creative fire.

At 7:14 PM, Blogger MaryAn Batchellor said...

Sorry to use this tired ol' cliche, Scott, but if the cliche fits...

Welcome to our world!

At 12:48 AM, Anonymous Lucy said...

I don't know if this would help, but this is what I do - if two *unconnected* people (esp.whose opinion I value) say the say the same thing, then I change it. Otherwise, differing opinions can totally screw with your script and ultimately your sanity as you try and please everyone. I once went back to the drawing board repeatedly over a 3 year period because of it and ended up with a different screenplay!

At 4:37 AM, Blogger stu willis said...

(BTW, Scott, I'm really happy for you that you're writing has been reinspired)

Lucy - I think sometimes you need to be careful of whether people are identifying the symptom or the problem. If people say there's a problem with Act III, perhaps the SYMPTOM is Act III, and the real problem is in Act I... or the relationships between the characters... or the backstory... or you writing style...

And sometimes, you just have to have faith in what you're doing... which is pretty bloody hard to do.

At 8:25 AM, Anonymous Lucy said...

Hi Stu, very true, but I guess I mean the things that are already niggling in my brain - would he do this? Do that? Does that ring true or not? Is this a Deus Ex Machinas? If those two people confirm what really I already know, then I know I have to do something about it.

But you're 100% right on having faith - sometimes you just have to go with something, even if other people think it sucks. Just recently one producer thought it "unneccessary" one of my films was set in the 1980's - I think it defines the whole ethos of the piece. So it stays. Of course, if she was waving a wad of cash at me, maybe it would have been a different story...

At 6:41 AM, Blogger Thomas Crymes said...

Never underestimate the wad of cash.

At 10:41 AM, Anonymous James Patrick Joyce said...

When I write reviews on Zoetrope, I even mention that I am offering only my opinion and that suggested alterations are provided only for example.

The cool thing is when someone takes something I suggested, runs with it and comes up with a result that I hadn’t expected.

I got to see the revised draft of a screenplay that I critiqued and, in response to some things I’d mentioned, the writer completely cut a scene that really helped the pacing. I hadn’t even thought of that particular solution.

At 7:24 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

if you're still slipping the script around feel free to send it my way

At 1:52 PM, Anonymous SS said...

Thought of this today and it sat well. Writing a first draft is about making decisions - redrafting is about making sure those decisions were right.



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