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.

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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, 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.'"

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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, 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