Get it out of your head and on to the page

After over a year of listening to Pilar Alessandra’s On The Page screenwriting blog (iTunes, FeedBurner), I was lucky enough to attend a London event meeting her alongside UK-based screenwriters. It was inspirational.

I’ve already written about some of her ten minute exercises, but this evening reminded me of something else: spending too long preparing can mean you never start.

The following tip deliberately uses terminology to put you off: Name your first draft your ‘Vomit Draft.’ If you have that sub-title at the top of every page, it’ll excuse you from spending too much time judging the first version of your script as you write. You can get all the ideas out in one go.

You know you’ll never show anyone else your Vomit Draft. That means you won’t risk anyone else judging your abilities (or you as person) based on that draft. If you don’t worry about making it perfect, you’ll have a terrible version of script done very quickly. This is good news because “writing is rewriting.”

Here’s where I digress: One of the problems with being a freelancer is the clients. It’s not just that they don’t know what they want, it’s that they only know what they don’t want when you show it to them. That problem is useful when it comes to editing your own script. Once you see a scene written down, once you read the way a character talks, you can see something is wrong, and you can come up with ways of improving what’s been written.

Another example of using rewriting as writing uses the example of having someone else asking you about your story. You might have a vague idea, but if another person asks you some specific questions, you might be able to firm up the idea.

You can practice doing this for someone else if they’ve just woken up and tell you about a dream they just had. Their dream will fade away very quickly as they become more awake and remember who they are and what the day might bring. To stop the fade, ask them specific questions about their dream: “Was it the house as it is now, or was as it was when you were growing up?” “Was the park full of people, or was it deserted?” “Did she whisper or did she shout?” The dreamer can then either remember dream more clearly or provide an answer that makes sense at that moment.

Your vomit draft is the dream. The re-write happens when you ask questions about the dream.

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