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A Screenplay Rewriting Action Plan

Next year marks the final year of my 7-year apprenticeship in active creative writing. It was never a formal thing, just 7 years since I moved from talking about writing to doing it, 7 years since I learned how to love the craft and to spend countless hours working on fictional stories.

I’ve attended courses, read blogs/screenwriting books and received training but recently, when I thought I was as motivated as ever about writing, I still found myself pissing about when I should’ve been getting on with Draft 2 of my new feature script.

Now I realise it’s because the first leg of the journey for Deeper Learning (working title) was supervised. I completed an online course with (the uncontested guru of screenwriting) Scott Myers in July/August called ‘Concept to Outline.’ I took my new seed of an idea and grew it into a complete outline under his structured (and sublime) guidance. Then it was time for #ZD30, a collective challenge to all willing writers to finish an entire draft of a novel, or script or any piece of writing in 30 days. There are no assignments but there is an active community that supports its members through the grind.

So I had a good run of momentum for my script, I let it ‘rise’ for a month or so, and then…nothing. I just couldn’t get into it. I’d forgotten about the plight of the solitary writer. It was time to come up with my own plan or let my ambitions of screenwriting drift away or spend another 7 years freewheeling.

I locked myself in a room for a day over Christmas to solve the problem and this is what I came up with, my draft 2 (or 3 or 4) action rewrite plan. I’m pleased to say that it is working so far.

Rewriting Step 1

After a period of no less than 1 month read your script. Read it without too much analysis. Read it with an open mind, celebrating the fact that you’ve gone from the intangible concept space to a more concrete realm, a script. Enjoy the fun moments and appreciate the scenes that give you shivers.

Rewriting Step 2

Read it again, this time from a stranger’s perspective. Note down every critical thought or comment you have. Is a scene blatant exposition (there were loads in mine), is the character’s intention unclear, is one of the events in the script unrealistic within the context of the story world, are your characters waffling on? Make a list. Mine came out at 41. Remember this is just to get you to the next draft, not to a shooting script.

Rewriting Step 3

Now split your list into categories; what element of scriptwriting does the comment belong to? My categories were character, plot, world, research (where I needed further information) and script (small script issues such as typos).

Rewriting Step 4

Now put your list aside and look ahead to check your writing timetable. When are you hoping to finish the next draft? What big milestones do you have coming up? Mine included a meeting I’m having at the end of January to talk about a new project so I’d like to be nearly done by then, which means I need to get all of my character exercises done in, erm…2 days.

I have 16 character-related issues, 7 plot-related issues, 4 research-related issues, 2 story world and 12 script issues.

Rewriting Step 5

Put these all in a spreadsheet and now you have an action plan. Spreadsheet? I know, I know. I used to look down on people in the office with ‘I Love Spreadsheets’ mugs, but they were right. They are helpful.

Rewriting Step 6

What are the additional steps you need to take? We’ve addressed all the identified issues in the script but how do we now get to the next draft? I’m going to go back to the process I learned in my Myers course. That is, hitting the 10 plot points and creating an outline. So it’s time to add these stages to the action plan.

Rewriting Step 7

Schedule a date against each activity bearing in mind your milestones and now you have a schedule too.

Rewriting Step 8

Finally, where would a good strategy and action plan be without measurement? Keep a note of the status of each task as you attack it. Highlight what needs to be done the next day. Hemingway used to advise writers to finish at a point where they could carry straight on from the next day and a plan like this enables you to get straight into the work, rather than pissing about for an hour on social media or however you procrastinate.

The End

And voila, for just half a day’s work I have turned a megalithic task into something that’s not only achievable but that I’m looking forward to attacking each day. Bite sized rewriting.

If you’re a writer I’d love to hear about your rewriting process.

I spent years freewheeling through my stories and telling myself that true creativity shouldn’t be micromanaged but now I know the truth and I’m ready to put the structure in.

Bonus Note

I’ve also started a tab in my spreadsheet for walkable problems. These are larger pieces of the jigsaw that aren’t figured out yet and are best attacked during a walk with my puppy (Nyx.) I am a big-time daylight avoider and would happily spend weeks not leaving my home; just writing away my time BUT this is also inefficient and anyway, the dog means I need to get out regularly so I’m using this time away from a screen to work out the bigger problems. In retrospect, none of my great ideas have ever come while sitting in front of a computer screen. So, power to the puppy walks, or free-thinking time away from your desk.

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