Concentrate On What’s Working
By Jacob Krueger
Each week, as part of the “10 Things to Know About Revision” article series, we’re going to be discussing a simple thing you can do right now to breathe life into your rewrite, and make the process not only effective but also fun!
One of the most common mistakes screenwriters make when revising a screenplay is to concentrate on what’s not working rather than what is. This not only sucks all the fun out of your rewrite-it also chips away at the confidence you need in order to get your best writing on the page.
It takes very little skill to look at an early draft of a screenplay and tear it apart. Anyone who’s ever seen a movie knows how easy it is to rant and rave about every ridiculous plot twist or corny line of dialogue in the latest Hollywood blockbuster.
And when it comes to our own work, we’re even more hyperaware of our many flaws and shortcomings, both real and imagined. We’ve been trained since birth to think critically, censor our strongest ideas, and beat ourselves up over our writing. Thinking about your script in this way is not only unhelpful, it’s downright lazy!
If you really want to push yourself in your revision, stop focusing on what’s not working in your screenplay, and start looking for what is already working, even in your most disastrous pages.
Ask yourself what your story is really about (this may have changed since you first sat down to write) and make a list of everything in your script that seems to serve that thematic intention, no matter how problematic or flawed.
Write down every moment that you like in your script, every line of dialogue that feels connected or real, every image that grabs your attention, every moment that makes you laugh or cry or care.
Set aside your judgment, and think about the opportunities that still exist, even in the most troubling elements of your script. What can be built upon, expanded, explored, pushed further, looked at more closely or amplified in its specificity or intent?
Seek out the powerful moments early in your script that might lead you to the structural twists and turns you need later in the story. And think about the big turning points later in your story that may point the way to what needs to be revised or clarified earlier in the script.
Identify the compelling lines of dialogue that might help you understand how your character really talks in a rewrite of your dialogue? And ask yourself how that understanding might help you add more specificity to your less compelling lines.
Chart out memorable images and actions that capture who your character really is and what they really want. And think about how those elements might come back in different ways later in the story as you build the structure of your character’s change.
For some of you, this may be hard. For many emerging writers, it’s difficult to even recognize the things that are beautiful about their writing, especially in early draft when those elements are still in their most raw form. In fact, many well-meaning writers end up throwing out their most inspired scenes, haven mistaken the natural feelings of vulnerability that come with exposing their true voice on the page for some kind of problem with the script, and responding with intense embarrassment or even shame over the writing that most deserves to be celebrated.
If you need help seeing your own work clearly, then seek some help from someone you trust. Take a class or find a mentor who helps you see the opportunities, rather than the problems, so you can fully appreciate the foundation upon which you’re building, and enter your rewrite full of confidence and excitement about your writing.
Once you’ve found all the things you truly love about your screenplay, and worked to understand what you’re really building and what matters most to you, it’s easy to shift your attention to the things that aren’t working, that need to be improved, or that are getting in the way of your most compelling moments.
But now, rather than using those elements to tear yourself down, you’ll be able to see them in the context of what you’re really building, and better understand which of your concerns are really worth worrying about, and which are merely distractions from the real focus of your rewrite.
To find out more information check out our upcoming classes.