Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The window into your story...

I can't stress enough how critical it is to land on the perfect title for your script.  A title needs to be examined and questioned during the rewriting process just as much if not more than any scene, plot adjustment, or bit of dialogue.  It's your window into your story and it has to be wide open and deliciously exciting and alluring.  It has to grab you and pull you in.
Because of this, it's imperative that your rewriting phase include a good hard look at the working title you've been living with.  Several questions need to be asked:

--Is your title still working as well as it did when you first came up with it?

--Has the writing of your first draft and your subsequent reworking of it opened up any new possibilities?

--Are there any specific references or turns of phrase in your dialogue that now pop out at you?

--Does anything now hold a double or triple meaning, working on several levels at once?

--Have you locked into a working title and gotten so used to it that you pass right over a brilliant title lying there in, or between, the lines?

--Are you honestly challenging yourself to find something better?

Don't ever be leery or afraid to try a new title on for size and live with it for a while.  You can always go back to your earlier one.  And if you think you may have found something, go so far as to make up a new title page.  Then wait and see if it grows on you.

Keep searching and testing until you're absolutely convinced you've found the perfect title.  Keep challenging yourself to find something better.  It may happen early or far into the writing process, but you'll know when you've hit gold--you'll feel it.  So don't settle for something you've simply grown used to.   Because a good title always throws that initial window open wide and seduces you to enter into the adventure inside.

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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 6-15, and we are still considering applications for starting the program with our June 2017 residency running from June 22-July 1.  If you're interested, email me at buzzmclaughlin@gmail.com.

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, May 16, 2017

Your rewriting mantra...

Less is more.  Another cliche, another basic truth.  Especially in script writing.  My suggestion is to make a continuous loop tape of this three-word sentence and have it running in your head whenever you work on rewrites.

Early drafts, especially first drafts, are notorious for over explaining and forcing information.  On your first pass-through, you are exploring and discovering as you go, at least to some degree.  A certain amount of overwriting is normal and inevitable.

Now, however, with the finished draft in your hands, you know where your story ends up and the initial route it took to get there.  This allows you to apply the "less is more" principle with a good measure of confidence as you work your way through subsequent drafts.

Probably the best explanation I've ever heard of a writer's rewriting process is what Academy Award winning screenwriter and playwright Horton Foote once told me:  I am merciless about it, and I say to myself "is this scene too long, or have we lost the wants here?  Are they talking too much?...Is there too much exposition?  How can I do this more simply?  I believe in elimination.  I always ask myself, "What can I do without?"

Your job now is to get everything out of the script that the audience can discover for themselves.  So in your rewriting strive to put as much between the lines as you have in the lines.  That's when less really becomes more.

                                        *                    *                   *                   *

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 6-15, and we are still considering applications for starting the program with our June 2017 residency running from June 22-July 1.  If you're interested, email me at buzzmclaughlin@gmail.com.

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, May 9, 2017

The ability to discard...

One of the things that's always impressed me when talking about the rewriting process with successful writers is that they all seem to have one trait in common:  They're ruthless when it comes to cutting material that isn't exactly right.

Most have said in one way or another that it's when they finally were able to discipline themselves and develop the ability to cut material in their working draft that their writing started to take off. They've found it liberating and exciting.  And have embraced the absolute necessity of not allowing their scripts under any circumstances to be saddled with material that isn't working fully.

The little writer's cliche "If in doubt, cut it out" comes into play here.  You may not fully understand your doubt about a line or exchange, but if you feel at all uneasy about it, trust that probably there's something wrong with it.  And usually the problem turns out to be that the material in question isn't really needed and in fact slows down the forward movement of the script.  It's essential that you train yourself to become sensitive to this built-in sensor and not to ignore its warning buzzer when it sounds, quiet as it may be at times.

This ability to discard has been a major factor in the success of all great writers.  It's one of those elements of the craft that they've mastered, and its application has played a key role in lifting their work into a league of its own.

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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 6-15, and we are still considering applications for starting the program with our June 2017 residency running from June 22-July 1.

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, May 2, 2017

The tyranny of the written revisited...

I know I posted a piece on this subject last fall, but I think it's worth repeating when it comes to the rewriting process...

Without question, the most formidable hurdle for most writers (including myself) is freeing themselves from words already written.


You can repeat the phrase "words are cheap" a thousand times, but when it comes down to tossing out a scene, a page, or even a single line of dialogue, a protective wall will often rise up and a threatening voice will say:  "Don't you dare touch this!" or "This is clearly an essential part of the script!" or "This was written with great pain and suffering and it stays!"

What's important to remember as you start going back into a first draft script is to not allow your mix of words to harden too quickly.  And struggle to not fall in love with anything in that initial draft. Keep telling yourself this is very much a work in progress and don't be afraid to try things that your first pass through your story is giving you clues about.  You can always go back to where you were if a new insight doesn't pan out.  Just don't let anything set too early.  Stay limber with your pages and don't hold on too tight.

I have a long-time client that I admire precisely because of his ability to stay loose and flexible.  He never hesitates to throw out scenes and rewrite and rearrange material to make his script stronger. And his work definitely improves with each subsequent pass through, to the tune of several scripts receiving professional productions throughout the country and abroad and getting several published by Samuel French.

The implied warning here is to not become your own worst enemy and insist on keeping material that weakens your evolving play or screenplay.  The tyranny of the written can easily dim the potential brilliance of any script-in-the-making.

                                         *                    *                   *                   *

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 6-15, and we are still considering applications for starting the program with our June 2017 residency running from June 22-July 1.

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, April 25, 2017

The rewriting process: Getting some distance

I like the analogy that a finished first draft is like a freshly baked pie.  When you first take it out of the oven, you have to put it on the rack to cool.  If you dig into it right away, it falls apart, the insides come oozing out as you attempt to put a piece on your plate.  And if you try tasting it, your mouth gets burned.

In my experience, gaining a bit of distance from a very first draft is essential.  The degree of objectivity gained with even a few days of "cooling off" helps enormously as you go back to appraise what you've come up with.  During this time find some way to engage yourself in another all-consuming project, perhaps even start working on another new script idea.  Or as Marsha Norman explained to me, "You should just find wonderful things to read between the time you put the play away and the next time you pick it up.  You should fill your mind up with other language, other characters' concerns."  However you do this, the idea is to get some distance, get the project out of your head as much as you possibly can.

During this breather period, it's also critical that the script remains a private experience.  Your script is still incubating.  It's a very delicate phase and this is not yet the time to start sharing your initial draft with anyone.  Getting input from others now could forever destroy that special, intimate relationship you've been nurturing with your work and that you still have a use for.

The point here is that your ability to judge a first draft's merits can only be trusted if you keep it to yourself and allow yourself to gain some objectivity.  And the only way you can achieve that is to put it on your own private rack for awhile and walk out of the kitchen.  I've never encountered an exception to this.

                                         *                    *                   *                   *

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 just ended, running from January 6-15, and we are currently accepting applications for starting the program with our June 2017 residency running from June 23-July 2.  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, April 18, 2017

The one essential ingredient for a successful writer...

To wrap up my recent series of posts on writing your first draft, it's worth stating the obvious:  One way or another all successful writers have found a way to sit themselves down on a regular basis and turn out pages day after day, week after week, year after year.  And the operative word here is discipline.
Almost every writer struggles with this to one degree or another.  And the best of them have found a way to fight their way through the ever-present alluring distractions of their daily lives and sit themselves down and focus on the task at hand.  It may be painful, even agonizing, to order your body into your writing space and force your mind and fingers to crank up yet again, but this the only way scripts get written.

You've got to produce actual pages, lots of them.  One at a time.  Steadily, stubbornly.  With determination.  Sometimes with gritted teeth.  And sometimes with great pleasure.  Page after page after page...day after day after day...

Here are some our most successful writers on the subject:

The late Wendy Wasserstein:

I'm innately a very undisciplined writer.  I'll be distracted by anything, basically.  I take phone calls, I speak too many places.  But finally, when I think, "this is too much, I can't do this any more, I must write," I set aside time and say, "Wendy, every day for x amount of hours you'll be in a room writing--no telephone.  You must do this or you're going to go mad."  So that's what happens.  It really takes discipline.

Playwright Terrence McNally:

I have to sit at my desk to work....I have to sit there and look at that computer screen.  And not talk on the phone.  You have to be really grown up...  Once you start on a play, it's an enormous emotional, physical, spiritual commitment.  It's a big thing to write a play.  

And screenwriter and playwright John Patrick Shanley:

At a certain point I had a job, so I had to get up at five o'clock every morning and write for three hours, and then I would go to work...My only rule was that I had to be sitting at that typewriter.  I didn't care if I wrote anything or, if I did what it was.  Just so long as I was sitting at the typewriter, then I was writing.  So I created a space and habit in my life with that.

Somewhere inside you have to find that commitment.  Because without self-discipline, even a towering gift lies dormant.

                                          *                    *                   *                   *

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 just ended, running from January 6-15, and we are currently accepting applications for starting the program with our June 2017 residency running from June 23-July 2.  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, April 11, 2017

Another tip on tackling that first draft...

Recently I've been sharing a number of posts on various aspects to keep in mind as you write your first draft. Hopefully you're finding them useful.  Here's another tip to keep in mind...

In my experience as a writer and a script consultant working with hundreds of fellow writers, probably the one practice followed by most is that once you feel you're finally ready to plunge into your first draft armed with your pre-draft exploratory work and plot outline, it's important to just push through the whole thing as fast as you can without stopping to fix or make major adjustments along the way.


Just keep going till the final fade out and then take a deep breath and congratulate yourself for finding a way through to the end.  What you have when you arrive at your destination may very well need serious revision, but at least now you'll hopefully have something relatively whole to work with.

Over the years, here's what some top-tier writers have shared with me about this:

Michael Weller:  Half of getting through a first draft is just being too stupid to know how bad it is and to just keep going and going and push through to the end.  Then you go back and say, "Okay, how can I persuade myself that this thing really happened?"

Romulus Linney:  You try to go right through.  You want to write that first draft a fast as you can.  Faulkner called it the tightrope.  On a tightrope you don't want to look down and question yourself, "Is this really a good idea?"  You just walk across.

Marsha Norman:  It's a mistake to go back and revise too much until you see what you have.

Lanford Wilson:  I'm just trying to stack up work--in other words, to keep going...When I get finished...and have it there, that's when I say: "What in the hell is this now ?"...The first draft is a creative process, and I'm the artist or the writer at that point.  When I finish, I become an editor--that's a little schizophrenic--and the editor doesn't have nearly the fun the writer has.

I could go on, but the point is clear.  Not all writers work this way, but the vast majority of the most successful ones do.   

                                          *                    *                   *                   *

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 just ended, running from January 6-15, and we are currently accepting applications for starting the program with our June 2017 residency running from June 23-July 2.  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