Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Charging through your first draft...?

Sitting with my wife this morning discussing the novel she's in the middle of writing, she shared with me that in her last writing session she had to put the brakes on her forward progress and go back and insert certain details that she'd rushed right over on her first pass through a section of her story.

This brings up an interesting question for writers of any kind of fiction:  Should you stop your forward progress as you push through your first draft to go back and insert material into territory you've already covered--or--is stopping your forward momentum on your first pass through worth the risk of derailing your forward progress?


As we discussed this, I realized that there really isn't a definitive answer.  Some writers, like the late Pulitzer Prize winner Lanford Wilson once told me, it is imperative for him to just push through that first draft and never stop and go back.  Along the way, he takes quick notes of ideas he might later go back and add.  But for him it was imperative to just push through to the end and then insert what else is needed throughout. 

Lanford explained:  "I'm writing pages, I'm not writing a play.  I'm writing 90 or 102 pages, that's all I'm trying to do.  I'm just trying to stack up work--in other words, to keep going...if something comes up...I'll just make a note and go on as though I've made the change.  And then, as soon as I' finish, I go back and change all that."

On the other hand, sometimes in my experience there are plot elements that you suddenly discover you've skipped over or that present themselves out of the blue that need to be addressed on the spot.  And the reason is that these "discoveries" have the potential to radically change the part of your story that you haven't pushed through yet. 

So there's really no definitive answer to this.  You just have to slog your way through that draft, whether or not you occasionally stop and go back and fix or you take Lanford's approach and finish your first draft and then go back and make adjustments.  Then again, maybe it's a combination of both...?

It's a messy business. 

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I'm the Program Director of the low-residency MFA in Writing for Stage and Screen being offered by the New Hampshire Institute of Art.  Our last residency ran from January 5 to 14 and we're currently  considering applications for starting the program at our June 2018 residency that runs from June 22 to July 1.  The application deadline for a June start is May 1.  If you're interested in finding out more about our program or working with me as a script client, email me at buzzmclaughlin@gmail.com and we can start a dialogue.

I'm also a playwright and screenwriter, producing partner in my production company Either/Or Films (The Sensation of Sight and Only Daughter) a professional script consultant, and the author of The Playwright's Process.  You can follow me on Twitter @eitherorfilms or @mfastagescreen.  I’m also on Facebook at buzzmclaughlinscriptconsulting.  


Wednesday, February 21, 2018

A writing mantra that pays dividends...

So you have an exciting new idea you want to develop.  You've been mulling over the basics of the story in your head and are eager to dive into it and get started.

But wait.  What exactly does that mean?  To start on page one and see what evolves as the pages accumulate? To let the characters emerge as you place them in the unfolding story and let them wander where they will?  With you holding your breath as you wait to see if the writing actually leads you somewhere exciting?

In my experience, that's not the writing process that will consistently pay the best dividends.

Instead, what's first needed is a careful assessment of who your central character is going to be, what his or her primary external want and internal need is, how this character might face serious obstacles represented by other major characters, where your central figure lands at the end, and how he or she is significantly changed by the journey they've experienced.

And then the baggage your main characters walk into the story carrying needs to be explored thoroughly.


Think of them as standing at a closed starting gate with filled backpacks strapped to them and holding duffel bags and suitcases loaded to the brim.  It's your job to systematically open each of these pieces of luggage and examine every item inside.  This is the backstory stuff that these characters are going to walk into your story with once the gate is opened.  You're kidding yourself if you think you don't need to know what burdens they're carrying with them as they enter your tale at the front end.

And this leads you to fertile ground for initial plot invention and the structuring of your story. 

So many writers I work with make the mistake of being way too impatient to get to the actual production of script pages.  And in most cases this leads to an inevitable floundering and ultimate abandonment of what started out as a great idea.

Instead, I suggest that you take a deep breath, tackle this essential pre-draft exploratory work thoroughly and have as your mantra "I am already writing my script."

Because, of course, you are.

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I'm the Program Director of the low-residency MFA in Writing for Stage and Screen being offered by the New Hampshire Institute of Art.  Our last residency ran from January 5 to 14 and we're currently  considering applications for starting the program at our June 2018 residency that runs from June 22 to July 1.  The application deadline for a June start is May 1.  If you're interested in finding out more about our program, email me at buzzmclaughlin@gmail.com and we can start a dialogue.

I'm also a playwright and screenwriter, producing partner in my production company Either/Or Films (The Sensation of Sight and Only Daughter) a professional script consultant, and the author of The Playwright's Process.  You can follow me on Twitter @eitherorfilms or @mfastagescreen.  I’m also on Facebook at buzzmclaughlinscriptconsulting.  


Wednesday, January 31, 2018

An MFA program that works

I've recently returned from our low-residency MFA in Writing for Stage and Screen program's January residency in Peterborough, NH.  As Program Director I'm happy to say that again it was a big success. 

By "success" I mean that all of our student writers were once again immersed fully in this retreat-like setting, attending classes, workshops, special talks by Visiting Artists, and, most importantly, were able to share a new full-length script they wrote during the previous semester with their fellow students, our faculty of established writers, and the many actors and other industry professionals that join us for our ten-day bi-annual intensive.
 
As I've said before on this blog, I think the biggest draw for our two-year program is that before graduation, all our student writers will have written at least four full-length scripts.  And they walk away with a strong beginning body of work under their arm, work that's been given initial testing with professional actors in table readings and/or staged public concert readings.  It's this feature that makes our program unique nationally and its success is most accurately evidenced by the serious and growing recognition that our student and alumni scripts are receiving in the marketplace.

I urge any readers of this blog who are considering looking into MFA playwriting or screenwriting programs to take a look at ours.  It is designed for serious writers who are intent on building a solid foundation on which to launch a successful writing career in our industry.


Oh, and thanks to current student and photographer Kara Krantz for the photos.

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I'm the Program Director of the low-residency MFA in Writing for Stage and Screen being offered by the New Hampshire Institute of Art.  Our last residency ran from January 5 to 14 and we're currently  considering applications for starting the program at our June 2018 residency that runs from June 22 to July 1.  The application deadline for a June start is May 1.  If you're interested in finding out more about our program, email me at buzzmclaughlin@gmail.com and we can start a dialogue.

I'm also a playwright and screenwriter, producing partner in my production company Either/Or Films (The Sensation of Sight and Only Daughter) a professional script consultant, and the author of The Playwright's Process.  You can follow me on Twitter @eitherorfilms or @mfastagescreen.  I’m also on Facebook at buzzmclaughlinscriptconsulting.   

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Beginning the rewriting process...a little tip

When you've recovered from completing the very first complete draft of your script and are about to take a look at what you've got, it's useful to think of yourself as potter at the wheel.  Your first draft is your raw clay, and your job now is to work and rework that clay in your hands as it spins on the wheel.


You may have to work through it over and over until it has the exact texture, thickness, and shape you want.  Like a potter, you only produce a finished piece of quality in this way, one pass-through after another.  And slowly your script responds to your steady, gentle coaxing.  There's real craft involve here, of course.  But success also depends on attitude, on patience as you take it one step at a time, on getting in there and working through it again and again.

In the end, you have to trust that eventually a piece will emerge that you can take off the wheel, glaze, and fire in the kiln.

                                        *                    *                   *                   *

I'm the Program Director of the low-residency MFA in Writing for Stage and Screen being offered by the New Hampshire Institute of Art.  Our last residency ran from June 22 to July 1 and we're currently still considering applications for starting the program this coming January at our residency scheduled for January 5-14, 2018.  If you're interested in finding out more about our program, email me at buzzmclaughlin@gmail.com and we can start a dialogue.

I'm also a playwright and screenwriter, producing partner in my production company Either/Or Films (The Sensation of Sight and Only Daughter) a professional script consultant, and the author of The Playwright's Process.  You can follow me on Twitter @eitherorfilms or @mfastagescreen.  I’m also on Facebook at buzzmclaughlinscriptconsulting.   

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The two pillars of a good story

The true test of a viable story--one that ultimately will lift off the page and really deliver the goods--is the strength of your plot points at the end of your structural Act I and Act II.  These are the I-beams of any well constructed story, whether it be a play, screenplay, teleplay, or any narrative fiction.  They each dictate what has to have already happened and what will happen as the story unfolds.


The plot point at  the end of Act I always spins the story in a surprising new direction and demands a set up in Act I that leads to this act ending.  And the plot point at the end of Act II has to accomplish the same--spinning the story in an unexpected way into Act III and the climactic scene and ultimate resolution of your tale, and this plot point again will dictate the developing struggle of Act II that leads to this act ending.

Of course there are a lot of other plot elements that also have to be in place like the Act I inciting incident and the the Act II mid-point, etc. etc.  But the initial development of any good story has to start with these two plot points.  Everything else can then be built on top of these essential structural pillars.

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I'm the Program Director of the low-residency MFA in Writing for Stage and Screen being offered by the New Hampshire Institute of Art.  Our last residency ran from June 22 to July 1 and we're current considering applications for starting the program next January at our residency scheduled for January 5-14, 2018.  If you're interested in finding out more about our program, email me at buzzmclaughlin@gmail.com and we can start a dialogue.

I'm also a playwright and screenwriter, producing partner in my production company Either/Or Films (The Sensation of Sight and Only Daughter) a professional script consultant, and the author of The Playwright's Process.  You can follow me on Twitter @eitherorfilms or @mfastagescreen.  I’m also on Facebook at buzzmclaughlinscriptconsulting.     

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

How to guarantee progress on your first draft...

There's a simple little practice many writers I know use (including myself) to keep them moving forward when grinding out their first draft. It's painless and almost always effective at keeping you eager to return to the work tomorrow to pick up where you left off today.


The secret is to as much as possible always stop work for the day when you're feeling good about what you've accomplished and when you knowing exactly where you'll be resuming at your next session. In other words, don't ever walk away when you're lost or frustrated with your daily progress  --that's a sure bet that you won't be thrilled to return to the work and you'll have a hard time sitting back down and having that problem staring you in the face. 

I like what playwright David Ives told me about this regarding a couple of master writers:  "John O'Hara used to stop writing every day in the middle of a sentence so that the next day he could continue that sentence and have a springboard, a way in.  Hemingway said you should always stop when you know where you're going--and never stop when you don't know what's next because you'll be lost."

A simple practice, but don't we need all the help we can muster?

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I'm the Program Director of the low-residency MFA in Writing for Stage and Screen being offered by the New Hampshire Institute of Art.  Our last residency ran from June 22 to July 1 and we're current considering applications for starting the program next January at our residency scheduled for January 5-14, 2018.  If you're interested in finding out more about our program, email me at buzzmclaughlin@gmail.com and we can start a dialogue.

I'm also a playwright and screenwriter, producing partner in my production company Either/Or Films (The Sensation of Sight and Only Daughter) a professional script consultant, and the author of The Playwright's Process.  You can follow me on Twitter @eitherorfilms or @mfastagescreen.  I’m also on Facebook at buzzmclaughlinscriptconsulting.     

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Script prep: Laying out the cards...

I'm currently in the middle of developing a script up in my second story home office and I thought it might be informative to share a bit of the plot outlining phase of my pre-draft process.


What you see here is my day bed taken over by my project.  What's obviously apparent is that I still like to use the old index card method of laying out the scenes--playing with how to structure the telling of my tale. 

I've laid out the three acts, with the white cards the A plot and the blue cards the B plot.  I find working with actual cards like this allows me to get a tactile feel for the developing story and I can add, remove, and shuffle scenes with ease.  When I'm working on Act 3 for example, I have acts 1 and 2 instantly available at a glance and I can actually see and feel the emerging structure of the whole script right there in front of me and make adjustments as needed.  There are digital software versions for doing this of course, but this simple visual method still works best for me.

The only drawback is that for the duration of my plot outlining, I have to find somewhere else to take my short afternoon naps.

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I'm the Program Director of the low-residency MFA in Writing for Stage and Screen being offered by the New Hampshire Institute of Art.  Our last residency ran from June 22 to July 1 and we're current considering applications for starting the program next January at our residency scheduled for January 5-14, 2018.  If you're interested in finding out more about our program, email me at buzzmclaughlin@gmail.com and we can start a dialogue.

I'm also a playwright and screenwriter, producing partner in my production company Either/Or Films (The Sensation of Sight and Only Daughter) a professional script consultant, and the author of The Playwright's Process.  You can follow me on Twitter @eitherorfilms or @mfastagescreen.  I’m also on Facebook at buzzmclaughlinscriptconsulting.