Monday, February 21, 2011


I spent the day yesterday editing my screenplay. As most writers will tell you, it's hard to edit. Cutting out our gems of dialogue and carefully constructed set-ups hurts like you are shaving off a section of yourself, or at least it used to until I saw a different side of the equation yesterday. With each unnecessary line I cut, I felt lighter and could feel the scene zipping along faster.

About halfway through my edit, I began to really enjoy trimming out anything and everything that I could. I felt grateful for the friend of a friend (a living, breathing screenplay writer living in LA) who took the time to read my script as a favour and gave me extremely valuable feedback. He offered a few specific technical hints which have helped me to shave precious pages from my movie when it was becoming too bloated and lengthy.

I began this long-overdue revision with a sense of trepidation. I found many reasons to procrastinate, fearing that more change would simply weaken the spine of the story and dilute down any impact it may have once had. So I waited, and yesterday I realized how great it was to have had these months off so that the story seemed fresh to me again, and I could see where it was dragging and where it was building tension the way it was supposed to.

Those fresh eyes are critical, and as I'm in that beautiful stage of writing only for myself, with no stressful deadlines, I can benefit from my own delays by getting reacquinted with my characters and finding that I still like them. My new screenwriter friend gave me incredibly valuable advice, paired with a recent read of the excellent screenwriting manual Story by Robert McKee, and suddenly issues I was blind to before jumped off the page at me. I didn't expect to have fun in this seventh re-write of a story I initially conceived at fifteen years of age, but yesterday I did find pure joy in the art of playfully creating on the page.

It's possible that working on my memoir and my novel over the past few months has strengthened my abilities as a screenwriter in ways I didn't perceive or expect. Scripts are a medium of brevity: action and focused dialogue move a script from beat to beat, through scene to scene, and eventually from act to act, until the precipitating event has culminated in a satisfying and yet somewhat unexpected conclusion.

You don't have room to grandstand or pontificate in a screenplay. You may only write what can be seen, not what is felt or thought. Moving into a novel allowed me such freedom to delve into the inner state of a person, in a way that I've never been able to do in a script, and I found the lifting of this stricture to be exhilarating. But moving back to my script, I could see where I had many unnecessary words, for film is about the image, and the power of that image must be the first consideration. Subtext trumps actual dialogue and action. The scene should be about what is churning beneath what is said and done, and I can bring that understanding to my screenplay now in a way that was absent before.

This will strengthen my writing, for all mediums, as it's critical to be ruthless with what we have written. William Faulkner said, "Kill all your darlings," and he was right. It might be exactly what you want to say, but utterly wrong for the piece you are working on, and must be cut in order for that scene to break free and move. I understood this in an intellectual way but not a practical way until yesterday's edit. Making progress in anything we do feels wonderful. It means we are on the right road, and we are getting a little better at what we do every single day.

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