WEDNESDAY'S SCRIPT TIP:

REWRITE CHECKLIST


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Everybody says that writing is rewriting... but what exactly are we supposed to be rewriting? I'm one of those people who is constantly rewriting my scripts. If a producer requests one of my scripts, I often do a quick rewrite before sending it to him. No matter how many times I've rewritten the script I always seem to find something to fix - whether it's a better line of dialogue or a couple of words that can be cut. The only time I stop rewriting is when I sell the script... then I do all of the producer's rewrites!

1) Does your script start when the story starts? Some scripts go many pages BEFORE the story starts - cut those pages. Once the conflict is resolved, FADE OUT (because there's no more story).

2) Same with scenes - do you start the scene when things get juicy? Do you end the scene when it stops being juicy? Start when things HAPPEN - not when people arrive.

3) Any scene that isn't part of the story you are telling shouldn't be part of the screenplay.

4) Do you have a protagonist with a conflict and resolves it? The protagonist resolves the conflict - not the cavalry.

5) Any character that isn't part of the story shouldn't be part of the screenplay.

6) Are ALL of your characters motivated? Do they do EVERYTHING for a logical reason?

7) Your antagonist is usually the most important character - they get the story rolling. What is your antagonist's goal? What is their motivation? Most pre-pros don't think enough about their antagonist and end up with an excuse for the story instead of a REASON for the story.

8) Do all of your characters sound different? Have different vocabularies? Can you cover the names and know who's speaking?

9) Is your dialogue original? If we've heard the line before, get rid o it! While you're at it - is there a better way to say that line? You don't want everyone in your script to sound like overly cute sit-com kids, but you want the kind of dialogue that's clever and interesting... not dull and mundane. In Mike Rich's THE ROOKIE Dennis Quaid's wife doesn't say "Hurry home, I miss you" she says "Lord knows it will be nice to have both sides of the bed warm again." Good dialogue shows us character.

Movie Magic 6

10) Is your story VISUAL? Can you skip the dialogue and tell what's happening by reading the ACTIONS OF THE CHARACTERS? Film is a visual medium and screenplays are about people DOING THINGS. Are your characters doing something in every scene and is what they are doing telling the story?

11) It's not called "description" it's called "action". We aren't describing still lives, we're writing MOVIES. If a sentence doesn't have an ACTIVE verb, cut it. Rewriting means looking at every WORD in your script and trimming the ones that are deadwood. Can you rework this sentence to trim a word and make the meaning more clear?

12) I can't stress this enough - story is conflict. Is there conflict in every scene of your screenplay? Are all of these conflicts part of the central conflict of your script? Scenes where everyone agrees with each other are pointless scenes... but creating a pointless conflict to prop up a pointless scene isn't an improvement. If your story is about a detective who finds evidence pointing to his wife as a killer, a scene where the detective's partner argues with his daughter about dropping out of college has nothing to do with your story no matter how juicy the argument is. Focus on the story you're telling - and make sure that every scene in your script deals with some aspect of that conflict.

Writing Screenplays That Sell

Every script is different - some of my scripts turn out pretty good in one draft and just need a little tweaking. Others I'm still working on years later, trying to get them right. No matter what, every time I send a script out I tend to do a quick read-through to see if there's something I can improve. Usually there is.

You want to fix any major flaws before you send it out... and the reason why you may suddenly see flaws now that weren't there before is because you have become a better writer. That is a good thing!

What you don't want to do is fall into the trap of rewriting one script for the rest of your life. That's why I always suggest writing another script between rewrites of the old one. This insures you'll see your script with "fresh eyes" for every rewrite... plus you'll bring all of the new skills you learn while working on that other project to your rewrite. Plus you will always have a *new* script to rewrite! And you are also making some progress - the scripts are stacking up.

You reach a point where there are no major flaws and it either works or it doesn't. If it works, get it out there. One of the reasons why I do the quick rewrite before I send a script out: nothing allows you to spot that bad line of dialogue like knowing someone important is about to read it. I usually spend a few hours fixing that stuff, then I send the script out into the world to earn its own damned living. Recently I had someone request a script, and I did the read-through and realized a scene would be so much better if another character was watching our hero's complete failure in an early scene... so I wrote about three lines to add that, and the whole script is a million times better! This script has been sent out a dozen times before *without* those three lines.

And if you send it out and the world throws it back? No big deal! Write some more scripts and see if the world wants any of those. Eventually all of that rewriting will pay off... and you'll have the fun of doing rewrites for producers... "Does it have to be an Old Mill?" "The script is called THE OLD MILL!"



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