Thursday, April 15, 2010

Rewriting? Whoa, not so fast, let's re-outline first

Once we're "finished," Jul and I aren't great with the rewriting.

Let me explain what I mean a little bit.

The way our writing process works as partners, we break the story together -- literally sitting in the same room and writing things out on different colored Post-Its so that we can shuffle the pieces around and really, beat-by-beat, know exactly where our story is going and make sure (in theory) that it makes logical and thematic sense. And we're pretty thorough. We start with concept and characters; figure out what the beginning, middle, and end needs to be for our MC (tip: not Master of Ceremonies); then we break the storylines down (into A, B, C, etc.), beat them out, and weave them together into a cohesive whole. (Okay, obviously I'm describing the best case scenario of our process, but this really is what we attempt to do.)

Once we have that incredibly thorough outline as a guide, the actual writing of the scenes is kind of like a paint by number drawing... but a whole heck of a lot more fun, since of course the writing is where you can really make things come alive. The way we do the "actual" writing is by divvying up scenes, each writing one or two, then exchanging and revising each others' work as we go. Usually after some arguing and hurt feelings and reconciliation, but you can leave that out if you want.

Because of this "rewriting as we go" process, generally we end up having a "first draft" that's pretty polished and cohesive and, well, "finished."

Why do I bring this up? Because though our most recent pilot, Castrati, was very well liked by most everyone that read it, we knew it had one big problem that seemed to be holding it back: people read our very dramatic teaser that focuses solely on the main character and became extremely invested in his journey... then become confused when the first act throws him into a new set of circumstances with a bunch of new characters who each have their own B, C, and D stories. Stories which are much more lighthearted and romp-y.

Yes, it was a tale of two different pilots: the one that we wrote and the one that we set people up to read. In other words, a problem.

Unfortunately, everyone loves the teaser, so we kept trying to leave it intact(ish) while injecting a bit of humor to match the tone of the rest of the script... and find a way to introduce those other characters (those of the B, C, and D stories), so it's less of a shock that we later spend so much time with them. And nothing worked.

We learned rather quickly that trying to make the castration of a little boy humorous is not an easy task. And that showing snippets of four characters' lives in the teaser to get their stories going just felt weird and confusing. And that about a dozen other tricks we tried just didn't work either...

And so we brought it to our new writers group. Maybe they could give us an easy idea we just hadn't thought of. A magic bullet, if you will. Maybe we'd been killing ourselves trying to solve something that would only take a few seconds once we discovered the right words... or maybe not so much.

Instead, they made our heads spin a bit with an idea that just might work, but could drastically change the structure... and just maybe even the story. Which is scary, because we're talking about a script that just about everyone loved. That we were able to get people excited about just from telling them the idea. That a professional writer friend liked so much he recommended it to his agents and manager. Changing it too much...

But, like I said, it just might work, so we're going to go back to the drawing board (i.e. outlining) to see just what reverberations this change really will cause.

It's so hard to revise when there's new stuff to be written. Le sigh...

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