Rewrite, Rinse and Repeat
After the last blog, I thought it would be interesting to share my thoughts on rewriting, what I think is best practice and what I ACTUALLY do.
This isn’t meant to be a ‘how-to’. There are plenty of those on the web and whole books dedicated to the subject. It’s more of a ‘how-I-do’; my thoughts on rewriting as a writer just starting out. Though if you ask me in a month or year, I’m sure I’ll have a different process.
Rewriting is one of my favourite parts of the writing process. I tend to structure a story on cue cards or a beat sheet. Then I throw down a very fast first draft, not caring too much about what I write, as long as I get it down.
Get some perspective
I try to leave a draft for about a month after it’s written. Just put it away in a draw and forget about it. It’s important to clear the mind of all the preconceptions built up during the writing.
In a month’s time I’ll dig it out for a read-through.
The read-through is incredibly important and one of the precious few times you can take a step back and see the script and story as a whole.
I don’t like to make any notes when I read it through. I take myself off to a quiet place I don’t normally go and read it in one sitting. I try to envision the film up on the screen playing as images rather than words on the page.
After I’ve read it I will give it a few hours, or even a day, than make notes on everything that isn’t working or could be improved. Or least that’s what I try to do, but often I get overly excited and scribble down notes straight away.
These are normally quite vague and read like ‘give the characters individual voices’, ‘make X scene faster/funnier/more dramatic’, ‘can we combine two sub-characters?’
The truth is, you can’t read a script for a ‘first’ time if you wrote it – there’s bits that are better than you thought, or worse. So I will try and get three or four people to also read it and give me their feedback. Ideally people who don’t know anything about the project and have no vested interest in the project, or me.
I will listen to what they say and anything that comes up again and again, or rings true, I will have a serious look at.
Feedback can be hard to hear. You can’t take it personally. I will just listen to everything they have to say and not get drawn into a debate. If they have questions, or things don’t make sense, I won’t answer them – just make a note and ask them what they think. If I need to explain something to a reader, than it’s not coming across on the page and it needs looking at!
The next step for me is to go over that list of things that need to be fixed and decide which ones I want to tackle in this re-write.
I try not to tackle all my notes in one rewrite. Two or three at most.
With that in the back of my mind, I go through the script with a red pen, taking ten or so pages at a time. I will read through them, marking changes that need to be made. I like to read it out loud if I can, but often end up doing this while I commute to work, so to avoid looking crazy, I don’t.
As I edit these pages, I also keep an eye out for weak sentences, poor descriptions, etc. I then type up all the changes on the computer. I’ll be honest, I’m dyslexic and my spelling is terrible, so I have to get my very kind girlfriend to proofread everything! (Including this. Hi!)
And the new draft is done.
I’m normally in a state of euphoria and ready to send the script out. Of course, it’s not ready to send out!
So I repeat the process. Put it away for a month and start again. Recently, as deadlines have become more pressing, this ‘rest’ time is becoming shorter and shorter.
A lot of the ‘how-to’ blogs and books often talk about ‘knowing when you are done.’ To be honest, I have no idea when a script is done… I guess when it tells the story as succinctly and with as much flare as it can. But for me, scripts are never finished. They are constantly tweaked, whether in read-throughs, shooting or the edit. They are continually moulded and improved.
So that’s my process of rewriting. Not sure it’s the best (or the quickest), but that’s how I do it. If you have any advice, tips or tricks, I would love to hear how you edit.
These are some of the best tips I’ve heard on rewriting.
Know what you want to change and focus on that.
Push the drama to the n’th degree.
Keep an eye out for story elements and themes you can rework earlier into the script.
Don’t be afraid to throw out whole scenes or characters.
Cut everything that doesn’t push the story forward (unless it’s funny).
Use adverbs (very) sparingly.
Enjoy it. It’s easier than the rest of it.