Here we go off the deep end…
Everything but the Major Project has now been handed in, meaning we have around 4(ish) months to get this piece of work done and dusted. But once it’s dusted, what then? I’ll get back to that point later, but for now I’m going to share what the process has taught me so far:
Writing really is a craft and can’t be rushed, unless of course, you don’t care if it turns out to be of a low standard – and I could never bring myself to hand in something that I knew I could have done much better on!
So, one lesson I value is the principle of doing the work before you actually come to writing the script. So many times in the past I’ve started writing a script, only to come up against some seriously gnarly writer’s block about five pages in and no way around it. It’s always because of the simple reason that I just don’t know where I’m going with my story or my characters. Therefore, I don’t even know what my characters want overall, let alone scene by scene. Learning to identify my protagonist in the earliest stage of development by breaking the whole story down into five ‘beats’ has made for much an improvement. Stretching those 5 beats out into 5 paragraphs and then developing those 5 paragraphs into a 5000 word treatment isn’t as arduous a task as I first thought. I assumed that this part of the process would be boring and feel tedious at first, although I’ve found that this is the point in which I get to have fun experimenting with the fate of my characters. This is the right moment to play around with ending, inciting incidents, etc.
What I ended up with in my treatment was a fully, iron-clad world to base my characters in. Deciding the rules of my world, who was in it and how it worked at this stage has prevented me from getting lost in the drafting phase of my project. I won’t lie and say that this didn’t have it’s frustrating moments – each time I showed the work to someone new they asked me questions that I couldn’t answer. This of course meant that I’d have to set about devising the answers solidly before I could move forward, and I was really impatient to get started on the script itself! Ultimately though, this has without a doubt saved me a lot of time and trouble.
I was also able to identify what each of my characters wanted in each episode of my series, and started to evaluate what they would need/want in each scene from themselves in each other. Although I began focusing purely on my main protagonist’s (Rick) arc, I ended up spending an equal amount of time on the other characters too. Initially, I went into Rick’s story planning on using other characters as tools to get him from A to B. I quickly realised that I couldn’t do that. The other characters needed arcs of their own, they needed layers. The more time I spent on them, the more I felt that I’d be doing them an injustice if their characters weren’t as fully realised in my mind as Ricks was. They deserve to have their stories told too.
With the leg work done, I set about drafting my episodes. I planned out a 6-episode series, with each episode being 30 minutes. I assumed that it would simple be a case of transferring my treatment to script format. Oh how wrong I was. I encountered a whole host of problems straight away – my first episode was 10 pages short for one thing, even though I’d stuck rigidly to my treatment. There was far too much dialogue (I blame my tendency to write for theatre and my inexperience in writing for the screen on this!), not enough action and not enough description in terms of locations and what was actually happening. I found myself going “But.. but I stuck to the treatment.. how can this be?!”
I started from scratch to redraft that first episode, and think the result is a lot better, then I redrafted it again. I feel that I’m beginning for refine the problems now –
1) Pointless conversations – there were a few of these, and others that weren’t entirely pointless but I spent far too much chatty time actually getting to the point. When I redrafted, I went through all the dialogue and changed it until each character had an objective for the scene. I had to cut some of the jokes out, which bothers me, but I figure that it’s about the story, not how many laughs I can force into each scene. Besides, if the scenes are too long and tedious, no one will find the funny moments funny anyway because they will have passed out from boredom.
2) Is it funny? – This is a question that plagues me about my own writing. I’m writing a comedy series, so I guess one of the worst case scenarios for me as that my script isn’t funny. I’ve quite a serious theme to my project, and sometimes when I’m writing I forget which genre I’m in and start leaning towards drama. This would be fine, but the thing is, this show has to be funny. It has to be. I don’t want to write a serious show about death, memory loss, guilt or any of the things that upset me personally. In a comedic framework however, writing about these topics makes me happy and the work feels much more natural to me. As I go on, I find that I’m having to consciously think about this a lot less.. and the laughter seems to be flowing a little more easily!
3) Is there an inciting incident? – It wasn’t until my first draft of episode 1 was read aloud that it occurred to me that there was no inciting incident! There was no character development either, and nothing changed. The circumstances were the same for the world and everyone in it at the end as they were at the start. What I had effectively done was write 20 pages of little things I found funny, and ignored that whole thing of, you know, story construction.
Valuable lessons indeed! Below are links to my first two episodes, 1 is on a fourth draft and 2 is on the first.