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.  

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

How to make your script come truly to life...or the cliche that keeps on giving...

I've just been working on a script with a client of mine and an old truism once again became abundantly clear--the devil is in the details.  Or to put it in more proper dramaturgical terms, the ultimate success of your script--to bring it fully to life--depends on how well you're able to have your audience/reader fall in love with your characters and the only way to really accomplish that is to weave into your telling of your tale an accumulation of the small yet powerful bits of information about your characters and how they behave within their world.
I like to call this the writer's paradox and it goes something like this:  The more detailed, specific, and personal you become in your writing, the more universal it's appeal.  A paradox for sure, because on first glance you'd assume the opposite.  But audiences need many handholds to climb into a story and the best handholds by far are always the little things that make your people unique.  We want to fall in love with your characters, we want to embrace them.  It's the details--the little seemingly insignificant things unique to each personality--that give us access.

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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, 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 17, 2017

Your first draft: resisting the urge to share...

I realize that many of my new posts are to some degree a repeat of older posts.  But there are some topics that are worth repeating.  One of these is how important it is to resist the urge to share pages with other folks while you are in the midst of writing your first draft.

My contention is that finding the strength to resist the often powerful urge to get feedback on your draft-in-the-making pays significant dividends.  There's a private bond that you, the writer, develop with your characters and your developing script that produces a special creative energy--and energy that can be tapped in no other way.  And you want to protect this personal and private artistic vision that's at the source of this energy.  But this special condition can only come into play if you can manage to keep yourself from seeking outside reassurance, encouragement, and/or opinions as your draft materializes.

As soon as you let someone else in on your work in progress, this special bond is forever broken and it's impossible to recreate it.  Even if the feedback you get is wildly positive, the writing process from that point forward will not be the same.  To some degree you will proceed with that feedback in your head and your special relationship with your material will be forever contaminated.  Lost will be your special connection between you and your developing draft--a relationship that needs to be protected and honored until you have a full working draft of your script in your hands.  And it's only when you reach that stage in the process that you should give yourself the green light to share your work with carefully chosen readers.  But not before.

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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, 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 3, 2017

The dangers of writing out of order...

There are writers I work with who have shared with me that they often write their first drafts out of order--initially writing scenes that take place at various places in their unfolding story.  They say that this gets them warmed up and connects them with the material they're working with, discovering the tone of the piece as well as getting a better bead on the principle characters and their voices.


My contention is that there are lurking dangers when you take this approach to your first draft.  Here are a few of them:

--There's a tendency to fall in love with key scenes you've written early that take place deep into the unfolding story.  And it's often very difficult to toss these pages out when you finally get to where those scenes belong in your plot even though they no longer really fit.  Many new discoveries have been made as your draft has taken shape and mostly likely scenes are now obsolete to one degree or another.

--There's a ripple effect operating as you write your first draft, meaning that one thing builds on another and many slight and not so slight adjustments in voice and behavior naturally occur as you work your way through your script.  But this can only be to your advantage if you write your draft from beginning to end.  Otherwise it's short circuited and you never allow this organic growth to happen as you work your way through, especially as you try to squeeze in that scene that you wrote too soon--a scene that most likely is void of many of the discoveries you've made along the way.

--Another aspect of the ripple effect is the subtle and not so subtle changes that occur in the actual plot of your story as you work through its telling from start to finish, incorporating the cumulative discoveries you've made along the way.  And that beautiful scene you wrote out of order will no longer quite fit.  And if you've fallen in love with the scene, there's the strong temptation to still try to force it in there--like trying to put a square peg into a round hole.  And this can be the death-knell to your script. 

--In a sense, writing a draft out of order is the lazy approach to tackling your draft.  By this I mean it tends to indicate that you've been in too big a hurry to get into the actual writing of the script and haven't had the patience to do the essential extensive pre-draft character work--digging into backstories and exploring the nine-tenths of your tale that's going to forever remain under the surface in the subtext. These critical discoveries don't happen by initially writing a scene that takes place deep into your script because you don't know who your people are or have a sense of the subtleties of personalities and relationships that will have evolved by that point in your story.

So the message here?  When you're ready to go to draft, start on page one.

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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, 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, September 12, 2017

Why most scripts are toss-aways

It may sound harsh, but most new scripts that are out there making the rounds will end up before long in the proverbial circular file.  As much as 90 percent or more is my estimate.


The reason?  Because most writers are are in much too big of a hurry to get into draft and let their accumulating pages dictate where their story goes.  And doing so makes them feel like they're making lovely progress when in fact in most cases they are blindly heading into the weeds.

What so often happens is that 30, 50, or 70 pages in it begins to be clear that something isn't right--the story needs another character to bolster a major element in the story, or a character who has taken up a lot of space in the story no longer has a structural reason for being in such a prominent position, or a new major exciting plot element suddenly surfaces that hasn't been even whispered about in the preceding pages.... It's inevitable that new discoveries like this will always be made as more and more pages materialize.

The problem--and I have run into this countless times as a script consultant and teacher--is that when gut instincts tell writers that major adjustments should be made usually involving reworking significant portions of a script-in-the making, they have so fallen in love with all those pages already in the stack that it becomes almost impossible to consider throwing them out.  They remember vividly the pain and struggle it took to produce them and in their judgement it's all very well written. So there's an attempt to "fix" around and in between those already written precious pages, with the rationalization that these patch ups are doing the trick.

Sadly, these fixes rarely work because what's really required is a major rewrite and finding the guts to throw out sometimes large portions of what's been already written and sometimes starting over from page one.  So the "finished" draft ends up a crippled patchwork of what could have been.  Those "darlings" are all still intact, but the story unfolds in fits and starts at best.

So what do I suggest?  Don't start your draft until you're ready.  Not until after you've done extensive character exploratory backstory work and worked out a detailed plot outline that has steady forward momentum and that has your central character landing where you want that character to land.  Many past posts on this blog deal with various aspects of this pre-draft work and a good portion of my book deals with this as well.

The message here is not to rush into draft before you're ready.  And always remember that you already are writing your script as you work through your pre-draft explorations.

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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, 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, August 22, 2017

A crucial test for your new story idea...

There a number of ways of initially evaluating the potential of a new story idea that's come into your head.  My last post dealt with determining who your story is about and the initial questions to ask about that central character.  Another early "test" is to simply ask to what degree that central character comes out a changed person by the end of the tale.

I know this sounds obvious and so basic that it doesn't even warrant mention, but so often writers ignore asking this up front and therefore miss giving that new potential idea an initial structural shape that can be built on in imaginative ways.  It's often the trigger that opens the storytelling floodgates, allowing for the creative development of a new idea.

Every story involves a journey by the central character from one place to another and the most powerful stories always have that character go through some sort of sea change.  In other words, he or she is a significantly changed person when they arrive at the story's destination.



Think of an arc, a trajectory that the character is moving through, starting with the early set up of the main dilemma, then the intensifying struggle to deal with that dilemma, and finally landing at a place of resolution.  And it's having an early handle on how the character is a changed person when reaching the tale's destination that allows for it to initially take root and grow in your mind.

Of course this landing place can change and often does as you develop an idea further.  However, this early focus on how the character is significantly changed (or might be changed) by the end of your story is one of your strongest launching tools as you enter the story development process.

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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, 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 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.

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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, 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.

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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, 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.

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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 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.

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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