Sunday, February 05, 2006

Stick a Fork In It

(the screenplay format was messing up the sidebar, so I removed it)


The new feature script I began in January to finish by the end of February is done, with three and a half weeks to spare.

Last time I posted an update was about two and half weeks ago, when I had a complete outline. Sort of a long time between updates, but for a secular humanist I have an ornery superstitious streak and didn't want to post how things were going.

They went well. I averaged about five pages an hour.

Better still, those hours passed in that delightful, timeless flow state we get when we're creating, if we're lucky. About as good as it gets, isn't it?

A few methods I use, for those interested in craft details (if you're not, go look at something cute):

1) Fairly detailed character bios
2) Beat sheet outline format
3) Stopping for the day when things were going well, and before beginning a scene I felt confident about

Between #1 and #2, at no time was I stuck on a scene or at a loss for what the characters would say. In fact, they often surprised me. One turned out to be a Dodgers fan, the bitch. Who knew?

#3 is a trick attributed to Hemingway. It's a great feeling, being excited about getting back to the story rather than worrying that there's no gas in the tank.

A note about #2. I've always believed in outlining, but for features have had trouble finding a format that works for me. Standard outline form reminds me too much of school term papers. Writing the story in full prose feels too heavyweight. Index cards have never rung my bell, because my handwriting is terrible and I think (and type) much faster than I can print.

I've found TV scripts easier to write (I finished one of those in January as well), mostly because I wrote the pages from a beat sheet format.

On a typical beat sheet, you work out the entire plot scene by scene, building toward the act outs. Some writers describe the scene in prose, some in just a few words. Mine tend to be brief stream-of-consciousness fragments.

Here are a few examples from my CSI spec:

Yes, she was hanged (petechiae). Ligature marks confirm. OJ. Toxicology shows Vicodin, and that she likely had an addiction. Hair smells of cigarette smoke. “Uh, you two want a private moment?” Secrets.


Police there. Hank covered in blood. Confessing. Has gun still. People watching outside. Kids. Helen pulls them back. CSIs note this.


Catherine and Sara walk through the house, imagining the shooting. Celia dead in the yard, three gunshots.

FLASHBACK of shooting


Daniel arrives. Distraught. Fought with Trish the last time he saw her.
Features don't have act outs exactly (or do, depending on what school of thought you may subscribe to), but do have internal structures to build around.

And it's a fluid format. One scene may expand to several, or get rearranged, or vanish altogether if the story requires. But the bones are there.

Just a few lines. A high-level view of where the scene takes place, what needs to happen in it, tonal notes, maybe a snippet of dialogue. But from such bits does a final script grow.

As for my new script, it gets to bake a week or two before facing the rewrite knives. Not for nothing are we told -- again by Hemingway -- that the first draft of anything is crap.


Fun Joel said...

Congrats on finishing! :-) Let me know if you need fresh eyes to look at it.

Shahua said...

Done? With three and a half weeks to spare? Consider me awe inspired!

Tried your challenge with a TV pilot (hero team with no powers) I was working on. Only up to the character and plot outlines. You, as they say, rock.