Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Can the plot of your script carry the load...?

One of my favorite script clients recently sent me a first draft of a new play.  It was the first time I'd seen or even heard of this particular project.  So I read it with great anticipation.  However, before I got to the third act, I knew that the plot was on increasingly thin ice, that the story was getting top heavy and that the script's structural engineering insufficient and faculty.  To put it bluntly, the whole thing came crashing down like a house of cards.

What happened here was that this writer likes to work out his plot structure as he writes his draft and doesn't want to create the framework for his plot before plunging into the actual script.  As a result, what inevitably happens time and again is that everything--all those many, many first draft pages--have to be put aside and the structure of the story has to be developed and planned out from the ground up.

It's like building a three story building and realizing when you get up to building the third floor that the load has become so great that this final floor can't be supported by what you've built underneath--the foundation and first and second floor can't hold the third.

It might look something like this underneath the surface...

So everything has to be dismantled stick by stick (or scene by scene, page by page) until you're back to square one and you're looking at your original hole in the ground.  And you have no choice--painful as it may be--but to figure out and create viable working drawings before you can attempt reconstructing your edifice.

The problem here is that many writers work this way--plunging into draft way too soon--and most of them have a huge problem with letting go of the pages and scenes they've already written in acts one and two.  I run into this time and again.  The reality is that, to do it right and have a fighting chance to eventually write a script that works, everything in that first draft effort needs to be dismantled and put aside and the story carefully reworked and designed from the ground up.  You have to be willing to let those original pages go. And instead, the story needs to be outlined carefully--engineered in fact--so that when it's reconstructed as a script it's able to carry the full load of the story--a critical part of which is your third act that sits on top of the other two.

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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 January 3-11, 2016 and we are now considering applications for starting the program with our July 2016 residency that runs July 21-31.  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 Playwrights Process.

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