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

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Stalking the Perfect Sequence

Consecutive days screenwriting for at least one hour: 8 (through yesterday).

Thanks to my actually writing more last week than in any week in recent memory, I was nearing the end of my spec TV script this past weekend, when a guy in my writing group sent out a cry for help: he was supposed to be up Monday night (last night), but his computer was dead, and he wasn't going to be able to rescue his pages in time. He wanted to know if anyone wanted to switch with him.

Because I was almost done -- and I wasn't scheduled to be up for two more weeks -- I agreed, and swapped with him. Then I lowered my head, and tried to get the script finished and polished to a reasonable level.

The problem was that I didn't really have the climactic sequence yet. I know basically what was supposed to happen -- the good guys confront the bad guy, the bad guy loses, though a little more complex than that -- but I wasn't sure where it took place, or what the beats really were, or who the bad guy even was. Because of the structure of the script, he's a character we don't meet until this moment.

He could be anyone. He could do anything. He could have any power, he could have any flaw.

So I pondered, and I brainstormed, and I jotted some things down, and I came up with something, a spark of an idea, and I typed it up, and I poked at it, and I typed some more.

And it works, except for a glaring logic hole pointed out at the reading last night that I'm going to have to patch, though I think I know how.

The sequence I came up with is interesting, and it's different. It's definitely original. Is it the perfect sequence, the best possible way to climax my story?

I'm not sure. I don't think it's totally perfect. It has a few mental bumpy patches.

But then the question becomes this -- how far do you go to chase the perfect sequence?

I'm sure there are literally 1000 different ways to put together this sequence, mostly depending on what is going on with the bad guy. But if you have a way that works pretty well, is it worth spending lots of extra time to try to chase something that might be perfect -- something that might not even exist?

I think it's a conundrum that writers often face. This was one of my flaws when I was younger; because I have a way-too-logical brain, I would often accept the answer that fits as the only answer -- it worked on the Math SATs. Screenwriting, though, doesn't have absolute "right" or "wrong"; there are a million degrees of declination in whether a scene works or not, and just because you write something that works, doesn;t mean you should accept it as the be-all, end-all answer and go onto the next scene.

You need to poke, to prod, to consider, to say what-if, to massage every sequence to make sure it is the best it can be.

But at the same time, you need to know when to pull the plug. You can only chase the perfect scene for too long, before it's counterproductive; you're wasting time better spent on starting something else, you're polishing scripts so much that they are losing the edges that make them interesting.

So I don't know; in this case, I think I might let my climax stand for now. It's good enough, and this TV spec is really just intended as a writing sample, something to stick in my portfolio, and not to sell.

Insanely enough, what I did was spec an episode of Heroes: Origins, a TV series that isn't even on TV yet. So there's no real structural template for it; I'm just guessing.

I wanted to do something different. Sue me. Wait, don't.

But I had a story, that didn't seem strong enough for a feature or a TV pilot (particularly now, since upcoming series "Journeyman" and "Pushing Daisies" both share nagging elements with my idea), but which wound up fitting perfectly with the idea of an hourlong Heroes: Origins episode.

So today I'm going to make the few fixes that came out of the reading last night (where the response was largely good), correct all the nagging typos that jumped out along the way (damn it) and then call it ready, for now.

If I smoked, I'd light a cigar. Another baby born, to be turned loose on the streets, diaper wiggling around his ankles.

Tomorrow, it's back to the low-budget thriller. Hoo-ah.


At 2:37 PM, Blogger Fun Joel said...

Good post, and good job, brother!

At 7:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I certainly agree that you can go nuts trying to find the perfect way to write every scene, but if any scene or sequence should be perfect, it should be the climax.

The climax is the one scene that will leave a lasting impression, the one scene that can make or break the entire script.

So, long answer short I think this does need to be perfect, and if there are doubts - then keep poking at it...


At 8:36 PM, Blogger E.C. Henry said...

Holy smokes, you, Scott the Reader, Scott the Great, (insert my two word nick-name for you that haven't approved yet) has to fix his own "nagging typos!" Stop the press! What's the world coming to?! I thought you were above that.

Great post, by the way, and congrats on writing 1 hour a day for 8 consecutive days.

To answer your question, "how far do you go to chase the perfect sequence?" Well-p, I go very far. I think about it a lot. Index card it, outline the scene, 1st draft, beat sheet out the scene, makes notes about what I liked/disliked, recently I've started physcially drawing the scene out, and I keep a character roster and start a profile of all major characters. I do a lot of work when I write that doesn't show necessarily show on the page, BUT it gives me the confidence that I am indeed the master over the domiain I'm writing in, and that makes ALL THE DIFFERENCE IN THE WORLD.

Glad to hear the ending you came up with is "differnet," "interesting" and "original." That's AWESMOME, Scott. The process of making discoveries when you write is one of the biggest joys a writer can have. See, you're not only a good reader, you're a CREATIVE WRITER too. You're a two tool man. Kind of like Ichiro (sorry my Mariners are in pennant race and last I heard they beating the Twins)

- E.C. Henry from Bonney Lake, WA

At 4:08 AM, Anonymous S. A. Petrich said...

Hey, Scott, I took you up on the "one hour of writing each day" resolution...

Two days, thirteen pages.


At 8:47 AM, Anonymous AndyB. said...

Keep up the good work, Scott. Or rather, keep up the daily work, and maybe decide later how good it is?

If the sequence works for now, let it stand until something better occurs to you.

I've been spending so much time trying to assess the worth of my stories and concepts that I find I do very little actual writing (other than work stufff). You're smart to do the daily thing, methinks.



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