Tuesday, July 25, 2017

On testing your new story idea...

So here it is, the end of July.  Summer is hitting its peak and if you're like me, you're kicking back a bit on the writing routine--not walking away from it, but taking some time in the hammock to ponder potential new story ideas that you might tackle in earnest after Labor Day.

And the first question that has to be asked as you take a look at that germ of an idea that has floated into your head is who is this story about?  Who is the central character taking the primary journey and how is this character changed in the process?  What's the arc?  And what's driving it forward?

Identifying whose story you want to tell is absolutely critical as your first step in constructing your tale.  And once you've landed on this character, then you can begin to ponder two things about what's motoring that character forward through your story.  You can try several approaches to this, but essentially you need to ask:  What is the primary external want of this character and what is his or her deep-seated and usually hidden internal need?

The external want is the surface driving force that pushes your central character forward.  It's what gives your story momentum as the character runs into roadblocks and obstacles represented by other characters who are preventing the fulfillment of that want.   In almost all cases your central character is hell bent on achieving this want.  And what ignites the story and keeps it running at a solid clip is the series of increasingly potent dilemmas that not achieving that want present and that have to be dealt with.

The internal need is what the central character really has to come to terms with in his or her life.  In almost all stories, it's under the surface and hidden from the consciousness of the character.  However, it's the one thing that the character really needs to have happen in order to come to terms with him or herself and to find a lasting solution to the angst they are constantly living with.  It's the real destination of your story and from which rises your dramatic premise--what you're ultimately leaving in the hearts and minds of your audience.

These are the first things you need to ponder about that new idea that's bouncing around in your head. Try different characters on for size.  Play around with various approaches to want and need.  Just be aware that, in my opinion, this is where to begin your journey towards constructing a solid script with the critical underpinnings that will support your story from beginning to end.

                                        *                    *                   *                   *

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, 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, July 11, 2017

Another scriptwriters' retreat...

Last month, from June 22 until July 1, the MFA program I run out of the New Hampshire Institute of Art held it's bi-annual intensive residency in Peterborough, NH.

It was another jammed-packed creative gathering of student writers from around the country teaming up with our faculty of professional writers, SAG and Equity actors, and several other industry professionals.  A stimulating time for all of us, we ran classes every morning and table readings and rehearsed concert readings of students' full-length plays, screenplays, and tv pilots of new original series in the afternoons and evenings.  With meals together in between.


In all we gave voice to 11 scripts--a marathon of story telling being lifted off the page for the first time.  Writers had the opportunity to work with the actors before every reading, discussing how each of the major roles should be played.  And then extensive directed feedback from the entire collected group of professionals followed each reading, giving every student writer the opportunity to see how and where his or her script might be improved.


A lot of attention in classes was given to the writer's position in the industry--how to prepare for entering the field and once launched, how to sustain a career.  Gail Currey, the former Studio Head of Dreamworks Animation and one of our Visiting Artists, gave an inspiring talk about what it takes to maintain and build a career in our industry and how to maneuver the inner workings of the film industry and the script development process.


Workshops on grant writing for writers, synopsis writing, rewriting, dialogue writing, screenplay story development, and more kept our mornings buzzing.

Also, all our student writers pitched new story ideas that they'll be developing into working drafts during the fall semester (between now and the next residency in January 2018).  Professional writer/mentors were assigned to each writer and who will be working closely with our students as they go through the process of creating their new script to share at the next residency.

Breathless as all this may sound, our ten-day residency was pretty much a non-stop creative exploration from beginning to end.  Everyone departed charged and ready to get to work on their next project--hopefully wiser, with their skills and craft further sharpened.

                                         *                    *                   *                   *

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, 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, June 13, 2017

On releasing your script for the first time...

I can't stress enough how important the first sharing of your work is.  You're about to cross a line in the life of the project that you can't ever cross back over.  Outside input will now enter your creative process for the first time.  And it's going to have an impact, positive or negative or both.  It's going to reshape how you think about your script and all the work you've done up until this point.


Pulitzer Prize-winner Lanford Wilson once described to me his take on the initial private creation of a work:

It's such a mysterious and delicate process...as all of this is filtered through some sort of machine that we call "the Muse" and down onto the paper.  And you don't know where half of that comes from.  And you don't know what's going to stop it or what's going to impede that flow.

And this delicate relationship you have with your project changes for good as soon as you begin sharing your script with others.

Because of this, the initial feedback you seek should be from carefully selected sources and needs to be tightly controlled.  Many of the writers I've worked with rely on one or two trusted people who have become invaluable as early readers of their work.  And in many cases, it took a long time to find them.

Once located, however, these folks are a wonderful asset and an important part of the on-going writing process--or, perhaps more accurately, of the birthing process.  These friends become like midwives at the birth of a child, helping to guide each script into the world.  And they often continue in this role as the child "grows."  You, the writer, have to go through the labor, give birth, and care for each child's development, but these trusted people often continue to play a crucial role.

So when you're ready for that initial release of a new script, look for people (one or two tops) who have four basic qualities:  a perceptive mind, a generous spirit, a good working knowledge of the medium you're working in, and no fear to honestly tell you what they really think.

                                        *                    *                   *                   *

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 our next gathering runs this month from June 22 - July 1.  We're current considering applications for starting the program next January at our residency scheduled for January 5-14, 2018.  If you're interested, 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, June 6, 2017

Which draft is this...?

There's an interesting shift that takes place when you think you're finally ready to share your script for the first time.

This may be your third, fourth, or fifth (or more) private draft that you've been slaving over for months, but now that you've determined that you're ready to take the plunge and release it for the first time, suddenly all those drafts become your "first draft."

In other words, all the rewriting work you've done up to this point has been just getting the script presentable for its initial exposure to the outside world.  No one should ever know how many earlier drafts you have slogged through to get it to this point--that's information only you should be privy to.

A corollary to this is to always identify the draft you first release to the world by date and not by number (as in "first draft," "second draft," and so on).  You'll always be working on a the latest draft of the script, regardless of which "number" it is, and dating each draft identifies it for you and any others who may need to know what version they're working with.  But it doesn't broadcast how many drafts you've been through--info that's really nobody else's business.  I'm always amazed when I see title pages with the draft number prominently displayed.  That's your secret to keep.

And, come to think of it, it's probably best if even you don't keep an actual count.

                                         *                    *                   *                   *

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 (if you hurry) we can still consider 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 30, 2017

The writer's scanning machine...

Once you think you've made all the necessary revisions and your script seems to be really working from start to finish, I suggest you take this rewriting phase one step further before releasing it to the world for the first time.


Put your opus away for a few days.  Then, when you set eyes on it again, try to reprogram your mind to become an ultra-sensitive scanning machine that you're going to feed each page into.  Turn yourself into a hypercritical, word-sensitive, fine-tuning device that can pick up even the slightest static of doubt or nag of uncertainty.  With this machine, nothing gets through that isn't absolutely right.  When anything stops you, a word choice, the smallest whisper questioning something, have the beeper in your mind go off and stop and fix it.  Don't move on until you can scan back over the same material and sail right through.

The point here is to make your script as good as you can before you solicit responses from others for the first time.  That's the only way you're going to make genuine progress with it from here on out.  If you're not happy with what you're asking others to respond to, why waste their time?

Another way of putting this is that in the art of scriptwriting there's no room for sloppiness or laziness.  Anything less than your absolute best effort just doesn't cut it.  And in the end you never get away with it.  True professionalism means more than extraordinary talent.  It means patience and hard work and being honest with yourself as to how good your writing really is.

John Patrick Shanley (winner of an Oscar, Pulitzer, and Tony with his work) once related to me a struggle he was having with a script:  I kept writing, over and over, ten pages for six weeks, seven days a week.  I kept writing the same ten pages over and over again, and I just kept saying, "This isn't true enough, this isn't true enough."  And I kept on trying to write it more truly.  It was one of the most grueling things I've ever done.  A horribly painful thing to do.  

Every writer who has consistent success in the profession takes this as a matter of course.  Becoming your own scanning machine (or whatever you want to call it), therefore, is simply one of the essential requirements.

                                        *                    *                   *                   *

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 (if you hurry) we can still consider 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 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.

                                        *                    *                   *                   *

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.