Joining my first two posts in my writing series at Mastering Film, Screenplay First Drafts: Out of Your Brain and Onto the Page and I Can’t Read My Writing & That’s OK!, are two new pieces, the first on the majesty of Post-It notes, and the second on the most important rewriting step you take: walking away. Here are previews of the pieces, and be sure to follow the big-ass links that follow the preview to read the complete article!
We’ve talked first drafts and the pros and cons of handwriting them, but now we’re going to step backwards into what I do before I pull out the legal pads and pens and chicken scratch the page up in a week-long flurry of manic, over-caffeinated, under-rested fury:
I plan. A lot.
By plan, I don’t mean outline. I don’t outline. I take the Stephen King approach of grabbing two or more people, throwing them into a situation, and record them working themselves out of it. I have a very definite end I want to hit (and in the case of my transmedia work, where I cut off one medium and jump to another), a sketchy midpoint, and a more or less complete beginning (opening scenes are everything to me). All that stuff in between? No clue. I let the characters figure that out.
My walls are filled with Post-It Notes, divided by project (there are six sections of wall dedicated to six projects), and very few of them contain any notes about plot points. The Post-Its are filled with questions for me to answer. “What If?” is my pet phrase. “What if so and so did such and such?”
We’ve gone through a lengthy research and planning process, spewed the first draft (affectionately referred to by myself as “the vomit draft”) all over the typed (or, in my case, handwritten) page, and written “fade out” in varying degrees of legibility.
Walk away. Leave it alone. Don’t look at it. Don’t re-read it, and don’t think about it. Have a drink or four. Soak it in. You’ve just done something 80% of “screenwriters” haven’t done – written a draft of a script. You’ve taken it from idea, which is meaningless, and taken it into an executed brain dump with form, structure, and something resembling the vision of a final product (that is now, oh… another buncha dozens of drafts down the road). Savor it.