After I had finished “For Better Or Else”, my agent suggested that I take out the “life coach”. The reason was twofold; 1) the Life Coach took too much initiative away from my very intelligent main character, and 2) It bended genres. It looks like a romantic comedy, but it’s a buddy movie. We met in Beverly Hills and he gave me a list of comments.
After quite a lengthy discussion, I fought my way through and prevailed on keeping the life coach. But on further reflection, I wondered if I could actually do a page one rewrite? Could I take a completed screenplay and remove the other main character?
At first, I tried to simply take her out of the story and fill in the holes that were left. But this left a huge ghost, and a lot of the comedy was in the banter between the two girls. It didn’t work without the life coach in the current form. So I decided to completely rewrite the entire thing. It was a tremendous exercise in learning how to write.
Without going into too much detail, the way I solved it was to create a spreadsheet with tiles labeled with scene keywords. Then I could have a bird’s eye view of the scenes as they roll out. By seeing things “from the air” I can review the sequence with regards to character arc, where the acts break, rhythm and chronology.
Some writers use index cards. For my first two screenplays, I did it all in my head (I still do that mostly, unless I get confused). One problem with me doing scenes in my head is that I tend to make them too complex.
I’ve been learning a ton about structure and plot. My strengths are how “cinematic” my scripts are, how enjoyable the dialogs are, and overall the scenes are compact, interesting and push the story forward. Where I get messed up is I make my stories too intertwined.
If that famous internet girl (the one who decided to quit social media because she was tired of being fake) could say, “I won the genetic lottery (she was a model) then maybe I could say I won the grey matter lottery. Most everything is super easy for me to learn quickly, so to keep myself from being bored, I make plots bookmarked with subplots and substories that all interlink and fit, but are work to keep up with. I have had to learn to keep things simple.
My agent gave me a lot of homework, mostly Hitchcock films to watch. He explained to me that a story needs one main character, with one deficit, and overcomes a disruptive event to emerge victorious. It sounded too simple to me, and therefore maybe boring. Like in “Vertigo”, a guy needs to overcome his fear of heights in order to solve the crime. I was considering writing a screenplay called, “The Man With The World’s Smallest Penis”. One character, with one defect. We root for him as he overcomes his issue (therefore, he drives a Ferrari, owns a Yacht, etc.) And maybe I’ll do that someday as an exercise, but for now this story had such promise that I decided to pursue it.
I’ve finished the first draft repeatedly. Every time I think it’s ready to send out, some new angle or twist pops in to make the structure tighter, more concise. So I go back and put in the revision, and watch it ripple across the script as it touches the stories of all of the other characters and the main story chronology. It’s fascinating because it’s complicated!
My first screenplay was a suspense thriller. This one is a flat out comedy. Why did I switch genres so extremely? Because I wanted to challenge myself, to see if I could do it. I’m happy to say that it all poured out (as they all do) in one continuous stream of consciousness. That is the easy part. The hard part is editing and polishing. The editing includes having the story maintain a structure that is conventional.
Making something fit within a tight criteria makes you more creative. If you wanted to be a pencil sketch artist, that limits your expression to the single line, no shading or color. How much can you express yourself within that confine? Or with Haiku. Haiku has so many rules that you can’t break, that coming up with something thought-provoking within that prison cell is a huge accomplishment.
Same thing with screenplays. Try to keep things about 110 pages long, max. Three acts. Main character with a conflict. Crowd must relate with and root for the main character on the way to a resolution. The main character should emerge better for having gone through this challenging experience. There should be a “b” story. Keep exposition to cinema tools, and limit the dialog.
A bunch of rules! That’s what I love about it. Be creative, within these rules. Creativity isn’t always just freeflow mental barf, it also includes clever problem-solving. That’s the part that I find intriguing. Problem solving!