Monday, August 22, 2005

Who's On First

Over on Ink Slinger, Paul Guyot details taking notes from the network on his new pilot. The whole thing's worth a read, of course, but I was particularly struck by his take on one of Hemingway's famous (apocryphal? I've never been able to source it) adages on writing: The first draft of anything is shit.

Paul's point? "First" may not mean what you think it means.

Not the first completed draft (which also will suck, true), with its minor holes and nubby bits that don't work right, but the first solid draft. This may not make sense unless you've heard M. Night Shymalan's description of how it took something like five drafts of THE SIXTH SENSE to figure out that Bruce Willis' character was dead, and another several to get it right. He had five first drafts.

One of my feature scripts was finished, baked, soup-to-nuts done. Except that one core thread of the story involved a long-buried conspiracy, something that my readers, bless them, didn't find very interesting.

First draft.

Another script, likewise scrubbed pink and glowing and ready for school pictures, upon closer examination revealed an abrupt tone change halfway through. The movie at the script's end was not the movie at its start.

Another first draft.

This realization can be crushing, because unlike the smaller chores of catching typos and tweaking dialogue that characterize version 0.5 of a script, there's nothing to do in these cases but haul the patient into surgery and open the fucker up. Then, faced with entrails and tubes and panicked nurses, figure out how to repair what didn't seem broken.

That past conspiracy? Gone. Lots of hard rewrites, doubting my ability to reknit a sweater from all that loose yarn I'd pulled out. I centered the script on the present, found the right places to reference the past, and I'll be damned if a richer story didn't emerge.

It's not perfect, of course. But it's a second draft.

1 comment:

Dr. Gori said...

MANT = First Draft, no interest from anyone
MAPHID = Second Draft, Oxygen and CMT mildly interested
MANSQUITO = Final Draft, sold to Sci-Fi Channel

Enough said.