Creating An Unforgettable Screenplay, Part 3: Draft 1 Through 100
by Christine Autrand Mitchell
BEGINNING WRITER (whining):…It’s a great idea. I can’t get it out of my head. But I only have, like, this one scene. I don’t know where to start…
ME: There’s no rule that says that you have to start at the beginning of the story. It’s not like you’re working on a typewriter and you want your pages to line up, right?
Yes, I’ve had this discussion with client writers and those folks who know I write and accost me (kind of like meeting someone and discovering they’re a doctor to seize the opportunity to ask about some recurrent pain).
Get it down (Draft 1)
Your first draft is meant to be a piece of crap - like the turd on your lawn. It’s an official rule - that’s why it’s the first draft. It is the opportunity allotted you to get your idea onto paper or a hard drive so you don’t forget it, get it organized, play with what follows or precedes, and let you decide whether typing so many words is really worth spending your time on.
JUST WRITE IT DOWN. If you don’t do it, you’ll never know and your life will be a game of procrastination (read the millions of articles about procrastination - it’s its own industry). Write it down. No excuses.
You can Outline if you’re not ready to commit to formatting yet, sticky note it, write it as a paragraph, a summary or whatever you choose. Just get it down.
The idea for a first draft is to get as much of your story told. Then, read how-to books and produced scripts (free on internet).
Patchwork (Draft 2)
The second (or early) draft(s) is all about patching. With computers (and script software like Final Draft, Movie Magic Screenwriter or free downloads from Celtx), we can add scenes, dialog and direction at any point in our screenplay.
The first draft was most likely too short, or perhaps too long (90 to 120 pages is the norm for spec), either way, it’s most likely still something you’d pick up with a shovel from your lawn.
Here you can delete what doesn’t directly affect the plot or add material you may later want. You can save each draft as a new version, which I highly recommend, to not lose something a subsequent draft may require. And, back up your work!
Once you’ve got a story from beginning to end, whether 3 or 7-act structure, or even if you have no friggin clue what those are, it’s time to craft the story and format.
There must be at least one solid story arc to take you from beginning to end (plot). There are struggles along the way and your protagonist(s) will either overcome or succumb to them in the end. The more, the better.
A good screenplay will have multiple story arcs, though they may vary in length. Your dialog needs to sound natural - read it aloud or ask actors to read for you. Your direction should be succinct. Your formatting should be corrected.
In order to have arrived at your final draft, your screenplay will have undergone the following:
• your draft requires so few changes you feel you’re wasting your time editing.
• you have more revisions and drafts than you can catalog.
• you gave up at least once but returned because the story HAD to be told!
• it’s been read by several others who are not relatives or a best friend, whom you told: “This story is about…” If you can succinctly say it and the script reflects it, according to your readers, you are at the end, my friend.
• (Optional) it was read by an experienced writer who charged you but has the wherewithal to do detailed coverage (see TLL article).
Why are you still reading this article? Start writing!
Christine Autrand Mitchell was raised across four countries and splits her time between writing and filmmaking. She writes screenplays, fiction, non-fiction and plays, and is an editor and script analyst. She has credits as a Producer, Director and Casting Director, and heads Entandem Productions.
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