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June 3, 1999: the ones who pretend that you're not really you


Today was the first day that I didn't crank through my scriptwriting. I discovered a major flaw in the plot, and decided I should stop writing until I can resolve the hole, since it may require throwing out significant sections of the what I've already written. This is smart for morale reasons, but is bad for maintaining momentum. I have a list of scenes I'm just dying to write, and I write very fast. I started this, what, on Sunday?

All in all, I'm pretty impressed with my ability to do this stuff. Like I said when I started, I think this might be a really good match for my skills. I'm not worried about the fact that I ran into this plot hole--I'm writing a complex thriller with a very tightly interwoven storyline; if I weren't trying to write something so ambitious it wouldn't be a big deal.

I'm writing pretty fast, too. This is a first draft, although I'm refining everything as I go. My methodology is a little scary, though; I've written half of the script without fully resolving the plotline in outline form. I have a lot of beats written out, and I know where everything is supposed to go, I know what important stuff is supposed to happen, but I don't know how I'm going to fill in all of the second act. I don't expect the fact that I haven't worked it all out is going to cause any problems. (The plot hole isn't a matter of me having written myself into a bind--it's an error in the fundamental assumptions, in the backstory--outlining the whole story wouldn't have caught the problem.)

But I think I can stand behind everything I've written, nonetheless (except for that darn plot hole). Well, I do think I'm going to need to rewrite pretty much all of the dialogue. The dialogue I've written so far is a little too characterless--everyone talks the same. Partly that's because I don't have a clear vision for every character--I know what happens to every character, and I know how they change over the course of the story, but I don't have a clear idea of who they are. (It's also possible that my dialogue is awful--that people will say "nobody talks like that". I'm pretty sure it's basically exactly how I speak, though, so... I dunno.)

I don't see this as a problem, though. I know who they are well enough to know how they affect the course of the story. So I can write them all with indistinct speech, get down on paper the entire structure of the story, the entire way everyone acts, and what everyone says to everyone else--and then go back through the whole thing, figure out who the characters really are, and rewrite their speeches to reflect that.

Here's a run of 'wc' on my files. The files are written in the standard script format, except without page breaks. The standard format tends to be one minute per page, and a page is 50-55 lines long. (54 of actual text in the sample I have, but adding page breaks is going to require adding extra character-dialogue headers, and leaving some trailing lines blank, so it'll probably average a line or three less.)

So, rule of thumb, 100 lines is 2 minutes; the first column is the number of lines:

    591    2694   20189    script\a1.txt
   1005    4415   32751    script\a2.txt
   1147    4128   33813    script\a3.txt
   2743   11237   86753    total

So, I've got nearly 60 minutes written of a 120 minute movie. Ok, now I'm going to switch to screenwriter speak. I've got nearly 60 pages written. The first act should be about 30, the second act about 60, and the third act about 30. So, if you look, I'm nearly finished with the third act, which should in the end weigh in at around 1500 lines.

In truth, I think I may not worry about sticking too close to the "official" numbers. As it stands, the file "a3.txt" is "complete"--there's little room for adding more material. The ending of "a2.txt" leads straight to "a3.txt", and I perceive it as the turning point from the second act to the third act. However, the material leading up to this turning point is strong enough that I think I can argue that the tension has already built appropriately. (Indeed, I could probably argue that the turning point actually occurs 500 lines back in a2.txt. Really, it's a little more complicated; the turning point occurs gradually over a long sequence.)

Wow, it's so cool and fun. Too bad I'm overdirecting. Oh well, it's my first script, it'll never sell anyway. (Not that I'm writing to sell; I'm writing for the love of doing it. But I must admit, I like writing things to show other people--as you might have noticed.)

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attribution dammit: Frankenstein Aimee Mann