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.

                                        *                    *                   *                   *

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.

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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.

                                        *                    *                   *                   *

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


Tuesday, April 4, 2017

How to handle the "bad day"

I know I've posted about this before, but how to deal with a bad writing day is something worth revisiting.  All of us experience these painful first draft sessions when everything comes to a grinding halt and the whole project you've been slaving over suddenly appears ridiculous.  And the negative voice grows to a fever pitch in volume asking "who are you trying to kid?"

Writers who have developed long successful careers have figured out how to handle this, depressing as it may be when it happens.  They've learned that they don't have a choice but to embrace these roadblocks as just part of the process and they've trained themselves to push through the inevitable moments of uncertainty, doubt, and a sense of being totally lost.

For example, Tony Award-winning playwright John Guare once told me when this happens, his solution is to "let it sit...It's not writer's block.  It's just that inside, down deep, you're trying to figure it out.  And it's just saying 'Leave me alone for a bit.  Just go away and do something else, because I'm trying to figure this out.  Come back in a couple of days.'  And I trust that process."

Or as multiple Tony Award -winner Terrence McNally tells us:  You should write with confidence and courage and boldness and be grown up enough when you have a bad day to just go out and get some ice cream and say, in the immortal words of Scarlett O'Hara, 'I'll think about it tomorrow.'"

Academy Award-winning screenwriter and playwright John Patrick Shanley puts it this way:  "You look at it and say, 'I don't know what to do,' and then you tell yourself, 'Well, you haven't known what to do before, and someday you will know what to do.  Put it away and go on with whatever else you're doing.'"

First drafts are tough largely because they don't have that sense of polish and professionalism of successful scripts you're familiar with.  And you have to just accept that your initial pages you're turning out may very well not measure up.  Just keep in mind that every one of these successful scripts was brought into existence in the same way yours is.  And the finished work might be the fifth, tenth, or twentieth  reworking of the very first pass through the story.

And especially with that first draft, bad days come with the territory.

                                           *                    *                   *                   *

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, March 28, 2017

Giving your characters rope...

As you plunge into your first draft on any project it's imperative that you allow your characters free rein to wander where they want to wander.  To let them surprise you as they find their rhythm and start wanting to go places you haven't charted for them to go in your pre-draft work.  In other words, give them some rope...
This is an essential requirement if you ever hope to write a script with a sense of spontaneity and that comes fully to life.  And it's what keeps the writing of that draft a true adventure.

However, there is one caveat.

To keep your characters from getting hopelessly lost and turning back to you for guidance (which they most certainly will), it's equally imperative that you have a well crafted plot outline worked out beforehand that supplies a basic road map to get you from the starting gate of your story to your final destination.  It can never be written in stone, but it should definitely supply a charted path from beginning to end if and when you need it.  Because this is what frees you up and liberates you--by allowing those wonderful characters you've fallen in love with to take as much rope as they feel they need as they journey through the wilderness of your first draft.

And then when they do get lost, you have the means to pull them back on track.

                                           *                    *                   *                   *

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, March 21, 2017

How to protect your artistic vision...

As you face the challenge of writing your first draft there is one cardinal rule you should always keep in mind.  It's actually one of the simplest rules to follow, but often one of the hardest to put into practice.  It has to do with the writer's urge to share his or her work, to communicate to others what you are creating on the page.

In a nutshell, the rule is to resist the powerful temptation to invite other people to take a look at your first draft pages and show them the progress you're making--to get reinforcement, encouragement, and positive response in order to garner the emotional fuel you need to continue the often arduous task of trudging through the writing of that initial draft.

As you work through that first scripting of your story from beginning to end it's absolutely essential that you fight against this urge to share your pages as they're being produced because doing so is the one sure-fire way to lose control of your own artistic voice and vision, at least how it relates to the tale you're struggling to tell.
Without fail, friends and trusted colleagues are always eager to step forward to take a look as your pages materialize.  They like you, they want to help you, to encourage you, to give you positive feedback, to make you feel good about all that effort you're putting into your project.  And along the way, they love to point out what they really liked, what surprised them, where it took them as your story progressed, what it reminded them of as they consumed your pages--all in an effort to make you feel wonderful about yourself as a writer and storyteller.

The problem is, if you do succumb to this temptation to share your work while it's being given birth in your first draft, you destroy entirely your own private artistic experience with your material.  It is, instead, forever contaminated with the well-meaning input of those friends who talked you into letting them see your pages when you were in a moment of weakness and fear that what you were producing was terrible.  You won't be able to get their feedback out of your head.  Their attempts to encourage you, to bolster your attitude towards what's on those early pages, to "help" you write something you can be completely proud of are all well-meaning efforts and are delivered with love.  After all, these folks are your friends and want nothing more than for you to have amazing success as a writer.

What they don't understand is that the last thing you need as you struggle through your first draft is their input.  This is your story and your telling of it.  You deserve to have it stay a private and locked experience between you and the characters who populate your tale as long as possible and certainly through the writing of a completed draft and a first rewrite.  There comes a time soon enough that others can level their thoughts on what you've created, but you owe it to yourself to keep it to yourself at least through that first pass and until after you've had a chance to privately take a look at what you've come up with.

                                 *                    *                   *                   *

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, March 14, 2017

At the first draft starting gate: the takeoff

There are two ways you can position yourself to begin the actual writing of your first draft.


One is to review all your pre-draft exploratory work one more time--any character work, backstory timelines, plot outlining and anything else you've explored regarding your developing story--and then, leaving all this material handy for reference, simply plunge in with page one and see where it leads knowing you can refer to any or all of this developmental material at any time.

The other approach is to put all your prep work away and don't review it at all, the theory being that you've done the pre-draft work and thinking, so it's up there in your head somewhere for guidance if and when you get stuck in the actual writing of your draft.  The thinking here is that this allows your characters more freedom to do and say what they want in the moment and reduces the temptation to force them into a predetermined mold.

Of course, there's not one best way to get started.  You simply have to discover a procedure that you feel comfortable with, that puts you at ease.  If all your prep work makes you nervous, get it off the table and file it away.  If it gives you a sense of security at the starting gate, keep it there in front of you.  Just always remember that first drafts often have a way of taking on a life of their own fairly quickly and you should give yourself permission to explore where your characters might take you regardless of any predetermined route you've worked out for them.

Ultimately, no one but you really cares how you get started with the actual writing of your script. People are only interested in how good the finished product is.  As the late, great playwright Romulus Linney told me about getting started with his first drafts:  "I have mulled it over and thought about it this way and that way, and there is always a moment when you say, 'Okay, for better or worse, here we go.'"

                                 *                    *                   *                   *

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, March 7, 2017

At the first draft starting gate: the ripple effect

I've always appreciated the phrase "ripple effect" because it nicely describes what occurs when you plunge into the writing of your first draft.  It implies that discoveries continue to be made as the starting gate is finally lifted and you begin the actual writing regardless of how much pre-draft exploratory work you've done.  And this is as it should be.


Because of this, however, in almost all cases, it's wiser to write that first draft in order from beginning to end so that the new stuff you are sure to uncover--subtle quirks of character, a surprise aspect of a relationship between characters, a slightly different voice that emerges in those early pages than you expected--are incorporated in the ongoing narrative as it unfolds.  These discoveries cause ripples that extend outward and throughout the telling of your story, some large, some small, but all critical in terms of how your actual draft develops from start to finish.

I'm not saying that early exploratory writing--actual dialogue scenes with your characters--shouldn't be attempted and played with prior to starting your draft.  But the purpose they serve is to hear and capture the voices of your people and aspects of their personalities, attitudes, relationships, etc.  So my advice is to have these scenes be from episodes outside of the script itself--backstory events that will give your characters a chance to express themselves and reveal to you more about their quirks and special personality traits.

One of my favorite examples about the experience of writing a scene prematurely and out of order was offered by Edward Albee in my interview with him at the Dramatists Guild many years ago, as he explained what happened as he was writing Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?:

I was writing the first act...and got an idea for a scene for the third act...which I wrote down.  It was about seven pages, and I thought it was pretty good.  Then I went back and finished the first act, wrote the second act, and got into the third act and remembered I'd written these seven pages for the third act.  I found them and read them, and I still thought they were pretty good.  And I tried to put them in the play, but I discovered that the characters wouldn't say them.  They no longer fit into the play because I'd written them too soon... They were perfectly valid.  It was good dialogue... but I clearly didn't want the characters to say them anymore because I'd written them too damn soon.

Lucky for all of us, Albee had the discipline and instincts to reject these seven pages--something that's often not easy to do.  The point being that it's almost always safer and more productive to start your first draft at the beginning and push your way through in order, one scene at a time.  And let the ripples come as they may.

                                 *                    *                   *                   *

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