Monday, April 26, 2010

Lupus Moon Update #15

Rewrites are taking much longer than I wanted them to, but I'm confident the final product will be worth it. Shaundra gave the first draft high marks with minor issues. The most damning criticism? Something I secretly knew, but didn't want to admit. but it didn't change the fact.

The climax sucked.

Not that it wasn't set up well. On the third night of the full moon, Tristan unleashes his entire pack on Weeping Springs and it's up to a combined effort from Alex, Kristen, Neiland and the folks of the town to end their reign. Alex fights her way through Weeping Springs - cache rapidly approaching empty - until she reaches the lycas' den, a dilapidated gold mill in the mountains. There, the final henchmen are dispatched before it's Alex v. Tristan...

And that's where the script goes to shit. This isn't some mysterious lapse in writing ability. I know exactly what happened. I simply got tired. Tired of working on the script. Tired of not being done with it. Tired of writing fights. Tired of creatively wringing out my brain. Just plain. Good ol' fashioned. Tired. I was so happy to write "FADE OUT." that I willingly offered a draft for feedback who's climax I knew was less than. If Shaundra didn't like the final fight I had already prepared my safety net...

"I'll fix it in rewrites."

And when she came back and said she felt the climax was, indeed, wack, I said just that. I just needed time. To sit back, get a breath, gain some perspective and come back to it. And that's exactly what I did.

I'm in the process of installing the new climax. One that I ran by Shaundra Friday night and she seemed to like more. In the interim, I'd created/laid out my new step-by-step system for writing and editing scripts, as well as put together a personal format guide to streamline my process. Lupus Moon will be the first vict, er, product of this new system. I don't know how long it'll take to complete, but it's more about getting the script as sharp as possible before it goes out for coverage. A lot's riding on this, and you only get once chance to make a first impression.

And I plan to knock 'em dead.


Playing by the (New) Rules

"What's your style?"

A question I've always dreaded. Simply because I had no answer. What was my style? In a profession where there's a specific format for composing a screenplay, what is style? Sure, I can point to a few famous screenwriters and tell you what their style is - it's so off the beaten path that it stands out (Shane Black is famous for his side comments to the reader and even himself in his scripts). It's also the thing screenwriting teachers and books tell you not to do. So what do I do to set myself apart?

I've seen it said before and now I can proudly attest to the truth of it: You won't know what your "style" is until after you've written several screenplays. It takes that long to get the rules down - the basics - and combine them with your particular set of likes and dislikes to create what will become your signature. It's more than just periods, commas, white space and colons - but how you use them.

In trying to determine what my style would be, I made a mistake common to amateur screenwriters - I would read scripts by other writers, like some of the things I saw or say "Hey, it worked for them and they got sold," and copy them into my script. They weren't my organic creations, therefore I wasn't invested in them, and when I saw another writer do the same thing a different way, I'd decide I liked their way - and my "style" would change again. The result wound up being several scripts, supposedly completed, all with different "styles." And when it came time to prep one to go out, I'd always feel the need to revise it to match my current set of standards: I'd waste more time rewriting the same few scripts over and over and not moving on to new things.

In my opinion, there's two issues at play when it comes to determining one's style - format and preference.

Regarding format, for years I've suffered from the lack of an irrefutable set of rules for my scripts - techniques set in stone so that I'd spend less time agonizing over things - like how to format a move from one part of a location to another, such as going to a bedroom inside an already-established house - and more time writing. Sure, there's a shitload of books out there on proper format, but what happens when you're faced with something that's not covered in the books?

It took a couple of days, but using information gleaned - read: stolen wholesale - from this document (which DID have rules for moving from one part of a location to another), combined with Cole/Haag's Standard Script Formats - Part I (Screenplay) - considered by many in the industry as the final word in script formatting, and a few of my own personal choices, I was able to fashion a personal format sheet. It's already been a tremendous help; I've been able to adhere to the rules without feeling the need to change something based on what I saw a Shane Black or David Goyer do).

Preference is something I struggled with as recently as Friday, April 23, 2010. I've been reading the screenplay for Batman Begins, written by David Goyer and Christopher Nolan. It's a great script for a great movie, and a really fun read. The thing I love most about this work (besides the command of vocabulary; I've learned several new words from reading this script) is the efficient way in which action is handled. I'm one of those writers who, against all good reason and sense, feels the need to fully choreograph fight scenes. Besides being maddeningly complex (I'm no fight coordinator - I've never even been in a real fight), it takes a lot of space on the page, which can really slow down the read and make a studio exec's eyes glaze over. In Batman Begins, Goyer and Nolan employ the liberal use of short, choppy sentences - sometimes only bits of phrases separated by dashes or blocks ending in ellipses - to depict action scenes. By dropping all unnecessary words, the reader gets all the action as quickly as possible, which also best mimics the way the viewer of the finished film will see it. In short, it's genius.

It's also not my style. After reading most of the script, I decided that's the way I'd write - and Lupus Moon would be the first recipient of my new preference in word efficiency. Problem is, as I continues to alter my baby, it, well, just didn't feel... right. I was forcing myself to be someone else, actually to rip them off completely. What I read with such admiration in Goyer and Nolan's script was bombing miserably in mine. In short, I was fucking my script up - royally.

There's still plenty I can take from reading Batman Begins. I need to improve my descriptive verb and adjective use, and expand my vocabulary - especially in the area of technical, fighting and mechanical terms (I've already picked up a few new words for actions I frequently use in my work, so that's a bag full of win in of itself). The most important thing, however, is a fresh prospective on my preferences in sentence structure. While I'll continue to work on keeping my descriptions and action as pithy - and powerful - as possible, it's more important to "do me" than try and ape someone else. In the long run, the script will be better, no matter how many words used.

So what's my style? Since I'm still working on Lupus Moon and putting all this together for the first time and have yet to see or feel the result, I guess my best answer is,

"Lemme get back to you on that."

Back to the Night Shift

A couple months ago I made the decision, in an effort to be more like the professionals, to set a schedule where I did my writing in the morning when I got up. It worked well and I liked it fine (I even completed the first draft of Lupus Moon following this plan), but i could never escape the fact that I just wasn't being myself.

I've always been a night writer. It's when I'm at my best, it seems. I've spent countless days just wasting away the daytime hours, saying I was going to write, only to finally sit down in the late afternoon or evening and getting started. I also have a knack of dating and time-stamping my drafts and treatments when I finish: a quick glance at the times shows I'm very much a night owl. It's just me. Hell, my favorite comic book superhero is Batman ( I have a Bat-logo hanging above my office computer and I even call my office the Batcave), the ultimate late night worker. I was missing working those late nights when most everyone had settled down until morning, when a combination of an earlier nap and the peaceful calm resulted in a brain that was at it's sharpest creatively. I'd even bought a coffee maker in December to assist with late-night writing sessions (but it worked just as well to help me get up in the morning).

So, after doing some thought about it (there are plenty of professional writers who work at nights, btw - I don't know what I was thinking), I decided to go home to the night shift. I've been back at it for a couple weeks now and it's already yielded results. Plus it just feels right, and that sense of zen is coming through in the writing. of course, I'm free to write during the day if the inspiration is there, which only adds to productivity.

Moral of the story: No matter what you see others do, you are your own person. Be true to yourself. You'll be happier and, most likely, more efficient.