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








 

 

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

At the first draft starting gate: the spontaneity factor

If you've faithfully done your due diligence with your pre-draft exploratory work on character backstories, discovering their voices, and working out an initial plot outline for your whole story, there comes a point when you find yourself as prepared as you'll ever be to make the initial plunge into draft.

When that's where you find yourself in the process, there are a number of things to keep in mind as you face page one.  And one of the most important is what I call "the spontaneity factor."


The benefit of having done thorough pre-draft work, including a rather detailed plot outline or treatment of your story, is that you have gotten to know your traveling companions quite well and you'll be departing with them on your journey with a road map beside you that guarantees a route to the final destination.  And this gives you the freedom--the permission--to let your characters talk you into getting off the pre-planned route and explore any number of side roads that may materialize.

There's no law that says you have to adhere to the route you've charted out.  If and when your characters prompt a change in your course, let them have their way.  Welcome the unexpected and explore every impulse.  You want things to happen that are total surprises.  Your people may do things that will shock you.  And you should always be encouraged when they seemingly take over, leading the story in a new direction.  This shows that they have life and vitality in the world you've placed them in.

The beauty is that your road map is still there on the seat beside you when and if you do get lost.  It's   still available when your traveling companions agree with you that it's time to push on toward your final destination.  It'll help show you how to get your party back to the main road or figure out an alternate route that will still get the group where it eventually needs to go.  The point is that writing the first draft should be an adventure and spontaneity is a key factor in allowing it to come fully to life.

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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 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, February 21, 2017

How to avoid a script collapse...

When working with writers, I find myself saying countless times that the actual writing of a script begins long before you reach page one.  And that it's critical to convince yourself that all your pre-draft exploratory work--initial testing your story idea, character backstory development, and plot invention and outlining--is all part of the writing process of creating a solid draft that will have legs.

I like to use the analogy of the process of building a house because it so nicely illustrates this point.
The builder begins by securing the land and selecting the site for the house.  Then stakes are put in the ground where the house will stand.  Then the hole is dug for the basement or footings, concrete forms are put in place and the cement truck arrives to pour the foundation.  Then on top of the foundation framers construct the floor girders and erect the studs forming the walls and rafters and sheath the whole structure in plywood.  Window and door openings are cut in and installed, shingles put on, siding is added to the outside walls, everything gets painted or stained, etc. etc.  Then the interior is finished off--wiring, plumbing, drywall, floors, more painting, the landscaping, etc.  And finally you're looking at a completed house ready to be lived in.

But what happens if you skip or short change any of the early steps in the construction process? What if the framers, for example, cheated and put the studs and rafters 30 inches apart instead of the necessary 16 inches?  Or the concrete mixture was short on concrete and overloaded with sand or the holes for the footings were not dug below the frost line?  The house might still look beautiful when first completed (with all those shortcuts and mistakes hidden from view), but it won't stand a chance of surviving the harsh realities of time and weather.  And then you're left with something like this:


Or this:


And my contention is that this happens way too often with scripts when the entire building process is not respected and writers are in way too big a hurry to get that completed "house" up and running.

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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 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, February 14, 2017

Your Act 3 determines your Act 1...

One of the danger areas I've come across with the writers I work with is the understandable urge to get into draft as quickly as possible.  As storytellers this is a natural inclination--"let's get on with it already; enough backstory prep work and plot outlining; I want to start turning out pages."

Unfortunately what often happens when this urge is embraced is that an extraordinary amount of time is spent working and reworking Act 1 without having a clear and consistent focus on the overall structure of the story being told.  And what happens is that there is not the full awareness of what needs to be established in Act 1 that must later pay off in Act 2 and especially in Act 3. In other words, what I often see happening is that the entire story is not kept front and center as the writer immerses him/herself in those opening 25-30 pages, getting lost in trying to perfect the beginning of a script while losing sight of the whole.


Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Developing organic story structure...

As you're working on developing a new story idea it's fun to get totally consumed in your research and pre-draft character backstory work.  This is as it should be of course.  You find yourself accumulating a mountain of information that you think somehow, one way or another, could be directly or indirectly related to the story you want to end up telling in your finished script.  For many writers this is one of the most enjoyable phases of creating a new work.  And the amount of material gathered can often be extensive.

However, if you work this way (and I hope you do if your endgame is to write a script that pops off the page with characters that have a genuine life of their own operating in a world that has depth and rings authentic) then here's a little tip that will help you process all that pre-draft work and have it pay generous dividends.

Simply put, from the very early stages of developing your idea, begin setting out your plot structure for your story--as simple and basic as it might be at first--and periodically go back to it as you explore your characters backstories, their voices, and research the world your story is set in.


Tuesday, January 31, 2017

What makes a good dramaturg...?

In one way or another I've worked as a dramaturg or script consultant for over three decades.  I love partnering with writers on developing their stories and getting their scripts to really lift off the page. And throughout the many years I've worked in this capacity there has been one rule that I've always honored and tried to put into practice.

Simply put, I consider my primary responsibility in working with a writer is to make sure I understand what he or she is trying to accomplish with a project in terms of premise or what they hope to leave in the collective heart and mind of the audience--and then help the writer achieve that goal.  In other words, my job is always to aid the writer in arriving at the end result they envision.



Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Analyzing your new story idea...

The first thing I do with writers I work with who have a new story idea they want to explore is to have them do a preliminary analysis of the idea to see if it at least has the potential to contain the basic dramatic ingredients any good script possesses.

 

This involves a simple process of breaking down the idea into the various essential components, all of which will "test" the viability of the idea.  I explain this in detail in my book The Playwright's Process, presenting what I call the Story Idea Worksheet and how to use it.  It's a simple tool that allows you to begin taking a serious look at your new idea, to discover if it is something that deserves further development.

The worksheet asks that you tackle your idea by first landing on a working title, briefly describing the story's central character, and then stating simply both the dominant conscious or external want of the character and his/her dominant conscious or unconscious internal need.  This sets up the major dilemma or issue inherent in the idea.  The worksheet then asks you to list other possible characters who could possibly populate your story--characters who champion or could come against the want and need of your central character thereby setting up conflict.  Next it asks you to suggest a setting and possible special occasion that might surround the unfolding of your story--choices that might further raise the stakes for your central character and his/her dilemma.

The worksheet goes on by asking you to state in very simple terms how the major conflict/dilemma manifests itself in action and how that dilemma is ultimately resolved.  And finally it asks you to state how the central character is changed by the end of the story--a critical part of any test of an idea--and what you think the dramatic premise might be--what you're leaving with your audience at the final fade out.

This exercise has proven to be invaluable for the writers I work with.  It allows for lots of flexibility and trying things on for size.  Some writers end up doing several versions of the worksheet before committing to developing an idea further, finally settling on the one that feels strongest.

The whole point is that you have to start somewhere and analyzing a new idea in terms of seeing just how potent it might be is a good and logical starting point.  Because a story idea's potency is always dependent on how solidly it contains the essential dramatic ingredients--a good thing to discover very early in the development process and not half way through the writing of your first draft.

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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 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 22-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.

 

     

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Our bi-annual gathering of scriptwriters...

It's that time again.  Every January and June, there is this special gathering of playwrights and screenwriters in the quaint mountain village of Peterborough, NH for a ten-day marathon of sharing new work and participating in intensive workshops on our craft and our industry.  Our next get together launches this Friday, January 6.

Of course what I'm talking about is our low-residency MFA in Writing for Stage and Screen offered by the New Hampshire Institute of Art.  Talented student writers from all over the country--from New Mexico to Florida, from Texas to Michigan and from New York City to Dallas--as well as San Juan, Puerto Rico and Wabasca, Canada will all gather together to celebrate our art form with a distinquished professional faculty drawn from various aspects of our profession.


There will be intensive pitch sessions of new story ideas, craft classes in dialogue and rewriting and career oriented workshops on submission tactics and the national new play development arena. And central to the residency will be ten readings of new work written by our students this past semester, all of which are cast with professional actors and are followed by extensive feedback sessions.

To top off this residency, we've invited our alumni back for the opening weekend to share their adventures in the scriptwriting trade and to help further expand our growing networking apparatus on a national level.

Overall, these residencies are a time and place for emerging writers to share their passion for their art and expand their skill and their horizons as artists.  And all student writers leave the experience renewed and ready to go to work during the semester on their next project with their assigned professional mentor--developing a new script they'll share with the whole group at the next residency.

It's quite special.  Come join us if you can.

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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 July 21-31, 2016 and we are about to start our next residency that runs January 6-15.  We are currently accepting applications for starting the program with our June residency running from June 22-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.