Fail to Plan, Plan to Fail
I would like to share with you the process I went through when writing one of my early scripts – the perfect example of how NOT to write:
I came up with what a thought was a fantastic idea, tossed it around in my head for a few days, and began writing notes and perfecting a few choice scenes in my head. I worked out what I wanted the ending to be and in a flurry of uncontainable joy, began writing.
I wrote some scenes from the first act, some from the third act and some from the middle… essentially, I wrote the scenes I’d easily imagined in my head – in other words, the ones I found easiest to write. I worked my way forwards and backwards from those points, joining the dots and trying to fill in the huge gaps in the story. What I ultimately ended up with was a jumble of scenes that I liked and that were vaguely connected in some way.
I read through the script again and again, making extensive notes and trying valiantly to rewrite. But how can you rewrite something that isn’t structured correctly in the first place? You can’t.
I invested a ridiculous amount of time in rewriting over and over until I’d pretty much rewritten every single word, but I was still left with a script with a plot resembling Swiss cheese. I tried changing the story, the characters and even the genre, until I reached a point where I didn’t even have a story any more, just a mash-up of pretty much every single creative idea I’d ever had. I hadn’t left a single stone unturned and the story felt complete in my mind, but on the page it simply didn’t work. I instinctively knew that something was wrong but I didn’t know what it was, and I certainly didn’t know how to correct it.
After working on that same script for over two years I finally decided to ditch it forever. It was hard but the relief of starting something brand new was immense.
I spent a lot of time reading articles, books and writing blogs, trying to find the answer to how a story that I loved so much had gone so horribly wrong. It soon became blatantly clear… PLANNING. Of course I’d read all about planning before, but had chosen to ignore the advice of many. I knew better. I wasn’t like everyone else. I was a genius. I could write however I chose.
How I wrote my latest script:
I started with my main character, the situation he found himself in and his ultimate goal. I wrote a brief outline with a beginning, middle and end which included the inciting incident, the central conflict and the culmination of events (or climax).
I fleshed out the other important characters and decided who or what would stand in the way of my character achieving his goal. From this information, I constructed a more extensive outline.
Once I was happy that I knew all my characters inside out – what makes them tick, their foibles and adhering qualities, their backgrounds, speech patterns, etc., From this I produced a detailed beat sheet that charted every beat of the story without the use of a single word of dialogue.
Then, hey presto! I wrote a script.
The planning took a long time. Trying a new technique was challenging. I doubted that I knew what I was doing (comes with the territory). All I wanted to do was write dialogue… but I persevered. I waited until my script was ready for me. And it worked. Of course there were rewrites, but they were structured rewrites. This time I could see what was missing, why certain scenes didn’t work, how certain storylines could be improved, where the story fell flat.
People always ask what piece of advice you would give to other writers. Here’s mine… PLAN, PLAN, PLAN.
“Not enough gets said about the importance of abandoning crap.” (Ira Glass)