hollywouldink

Tips for Rewriting Your Screenplay

Leave a comment

Does this look familiar?

Congratulations! You're balls deep in the writing process!

So you’ve just finished a draft, or you’re getting near to that anyway, and you’re starting to think about rewrites. Before going back to the beginning and trying to fix every little problem over and over again ad nauseum, here are some tips to help guide you through this next phase in the writing process.

Tip #1

Finish your draft!

Be fearless.

My writing mentor, Fred Strype, used to say, “At some point you need to just cut the shit, and do the thing.” Inspiring stuff, right? I mean, nobody is going to read your script unless it is complete. And nobody wants to read what you, the writer, are dissatisfied with, so why not just allow yourself to write a shitty first draft, take some time off, then come back to it with a fresh perspective?

Tip #2

Stick it in a drawer.

Don't worry if your drawers aren't as cool as these Leman ones.

Putting your work down for a while is essential to the rewriting process, because you need time for your thoughts to marinate, and for your draft to stand a lone as a completed project. That’s the old. You’re focus now is on the new. The what will be. And if you’re anything like me, you won’t be able to stop thinking about it, even while the pages are tucked neatly away in a drawer.

Here’s how to think about it while you’re trying not to think about it: if character, structure, and theme are your foundation elements, you should have those in place. That’s awesome. Pat yourself on the back. That done, focus on laying “pipe” (expository information) next. How will you get out the information across in interesting and cinematic ways? Once you lay your pipe you can put up the walls. Those are your individual scenes. Paint and decor is imagery and dialogue.

Tip #3

Put a bow on it.

Treat your screenplay to something pretty.

Once I finish a first draft I make a few extra copies and send them (via snail mail – yes, the old fashioned way) to some of my closest and most trusted friends. These are people who value and respect my work, but still able to see the flaws in it and offer constructive criticism. I try to do this as soon as I finish because it usually takes a while for people, even those who love you, to make time in their busy lives to read your fledgling script.

Waiting and being patient with them is good practice for when you start sending your screenplays out to agents, managers, and production companies. Even if someone says they’ll read it as a favor, don’t expect that favor to happen on your time. That’s okay. Remember, these people aren’t going to fix your screenplay for you. And the only thing you should be concerned with is producing a piece of work that you are proud of and satisfied with.

Tip #4

Work it out.

That's what she said.

Writing should be an Olympic sport for all the stamina, and mental gymnastics it requires. Writers often find themselves hitting the wall somewhere in the rewriting process. One way to avoid this is to know exactly what your doing. Run the route several times in your mind before sitting down to bang it all out.

Here are questions you should have pretty concrete and concise answers to before starting a new draft. This list is borrowed from John Truby, and is the one I use to help sort out general character, structure, and thematic elements. I like it because it mixes Act Structure with Mythological Structure.

Try printing out this page and answering each question as economically as possible. The more you can crystalize your story idea down to it’s very essence, the better off you’ll be when trying to work out the specific cinematic elements that will help you weave all your thoughts and intentions together. I suggest focusing on the questions you have a more difficult time answering, but don’t let those minor road blockages stand in the way of making changes you know need to be made.

REWRITE CHECKLIST

(from John Truby)

The End: self-revelation

What does the hero learn about himself/herself at the end of the story?

What beliefs are challenged during the course of the story?

How is the hero wrong about himself/herself at the beginning?

The Ghost

What is the event in the past still haunting the hero?

The Predicament

What is the difficulty that the hero finds himself/herself in at the beginning of the story?

What are the weaknesses of the hero?

The Need

What is the psychological need of the hero?

What must the hero fulfill to have a better life?

The Inciting Event

What event from the outside forces the hero to take action?

The Desire

What particular goal does the hero have in the story?

What motivates the hero?

What are the stakes?

What values are at stake?

The Ally (-ies)

Who is helping the hero reach his/her goal?

How is the ally helping the hero overcome the opponent?

Is there a false ally working “under cover” for the opponent?

The Opponent

How is the opponent blocking the hero from reaching his/her goal?

Does the opponent want the same thing as the hero?

How does the opponent attack the greatest weakness of the hero?

What values come in conflict between the opponent and the hero?

The First Revelation

What information forces the hero to decide on a new course of action?

What adjustments of desire and motivation are involved?

The Plan

What is the set of guidelines that the hero will use to reach the goal?

How and why does the plan go wrong?

How is the plan altered during the course of the story?

The Opponent’s Plan

What plan will the opponent use to prevent the hero to reach his/her own goal?

What is the main counter-attack?

How and why does the plan go wrong?

How is the plan altered during the course of the story?

The Drive

What are the specific actions that the hero takes to defeat the opponent?

How do the actions of the hero change when the conflict intensifies?

Does the hero take immoral action to defeat the opponent?

Does the ally attack the hero on the issue of “immoral action”?

The Apparent Defeat

Is there a moment when the hero feels he/she has lost to the opponent?

In what way is that a devastating experience to the hero?

How does the second revelation prevent the hero from giving up the goal?

The Second Revelation

What information restores belief that the goal can still be reached?

What decision does the hero take because of that new information?

In what way does the hero become obsessed to reach the goal?

Does this obsession mean a continued moral decline?

How does the motivation change?

The Audience Rvelation

Does the audience learn something that the hero is unaware of?

Is there an “ally” working for the opposition?

The Third Revelation

What important information makes the hero equipped for the final battle?

What decision does the hero make because of that new information?

Why is this a “point of no return.”

“Visit to Death”

How does a feeling of morality motivate the hero to enter the final battle?

How is the pressure on the hero reaching its peak?

The Battle

What values are the conflicting characters representing and fighting about?

In what ways are the opposing characters similar?

In what ways are they different?

The Self-revelation

How does the life-shattering experience of the battle change the hero?

What does the hero learn about the world?

What does the hero learn about himself/herself?

What does the hero learn about what it is to be human?

What does the hero learn about how to behave towards others?

What does the hero learn about how to live “the rest of his/her life”?

Happy rewriting!

Author: hollywouldink

I'm a visual writer and teacher currently getting my MFA in Writing for the Screen & Stage at Northwestern University. Sarah Lawrence undergrad. Writer for movies, TV, theater, and literature.

Whatchu got to say about it, huh?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s