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Dodging the Draft

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This week, I finally got started on a new project.  ‘A new project!?’ you may protest, ‘but what about all the other projects that remain unfinished?’  Well this one is different.  This project is a collaboration with someone else, and also, it isn’t really new.  The pair of us have been throwing ideas around for this for a few years now.

Well, as fun as it is throwing ideas around, developing plot lines, characters and making endless amounts of notes, there does come a time when you have to stop procrastinating (though in this case it was somewhat useful, trying to get everything sorted before the real work began) and just get down to it. 

So yes, this week saw the birth of the first draft of the actual script.  Joy. 

Is it Drafty in here?

This did however throw up a debate, which got me thinking.  My first sprint through gave me about 15 pages of script in my first session, which I then sent to my collaborator.  I’ll be honest here, while I think it’s going well, a lot of the dialogue is questionable.  But hey, first draft script, it’s meant to be, right?  That’s what redrafting is for, isn’t it? 


Yes, it is drafty in here! Image courtesy of Sharon Drummond.

My collaborator read through it and agreed that it was going in the right direction, but wanted to stop and work on the dialogue, especially in the two scenes which I found most troubling to write.  And here is where we hit the debate. 

I personally want to plough through to the end, get the first draft finished, and then go back and work out the kinks.

He wants to work out the kinks as we go, just to have a more solid ‘first draft’. 

So which is the right way to go? 

For Sake of Argument…

Well this is writing of course, and there aren’t really any right or wrong answers.  It’s all about what works for you.  But let’s look at both sides of the discussion. 

If you do stop and toil on scenes, getting them just right (or at least to a very high standard) then you’re obviously going to feel better about how that first draft turns out.  You don’t have to do so much fretting about redrafting (which we all know is a pain in the arse anyway).  You get a clearer definition of what is going on, and it can feel more ‘finished’. 

Not wanting to take sides, this isn’t how I personally write (though my own methods are probably pretty flawed anyway) I err on the other side. 

I want to sprint through to the finish, get to the end while I still have the drive and the impetus to do so.  Hell, I know it’s not going to be perfect, in fact I know there are some scenes that I’m going to have to rewrite (and I spend some time working on that in the back of my head) but as I’m sure you’re aware, I am a serial drafter.  I don’t want to stop and go back and agonise over the details of a scene unitl the end, because I feel it breaks the flow.  My collaborator feels that there is no point in leaving scenes behind, and having wooden characters and stilted dialogue early on, so why not perfect it now?  Well, I should say ‘deal with it’ now. 

Counter-Intuition all over the place

He feels it is very counter intuitive to do this, while I feel it is counter intuitive to do the opposite (and so a healthy working relationship is born!)  While I do understand his point, and where he’s coming from, I come from a more prose-y background.  Writing a script (while far from easy) doesn’t feel as heavy as writing a book.  As I said, I got through about 15 pages of script in a little over an hour.  How long would it take me to write 15 pages of prose?  Significantly longer, I feel.  While I do tend to go back and redraft more while writing prose (if for no other reason than as an avoidance tactic to delay writing new stuff) when scripting I prefer not to.  The way I look at it is, it doesn’t matter how ‘perfect’ you think you might get a scene, by the time you get to the end, there is a good chance you’re going to have to go back and change it all anyway. 

Looking back at some of my other work, particularly my scripts, there is very little material remaining from my original draft.  Even what I thought of at the time as golden, just capturing the essence of what the scene is, and needing no changes… Well, yes, I had to go back and change most of it. 

It is like this for most writing, no?  It’s a wonder anything gets done. 

I’m not saying that I want to completely ignore everything once it’s been written. Even during the first draft, I will go back and do little tweaks here and there. But I don’t want to get bogged down with just one or two particularly problematic scenes, when there’s the rest of the script to get through. 

So now I turn the discussion over to you.  Which course of action do you follow, or do you feel is most effective?

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  • Lenore Brennan

    When I write, and I come to a point where I know a scene has to be rewritten, I take a moment to figure out how I would most like that scene to eventually go, and continue writing as though the scene were actually written that way.

    So I guess I always know when something isn’t working.  It’s not pretending it’s perfect to continue leaving that scene ‘unfinished’, but I think I agree with you when you say you like to keep writing while you still have that drive.  If I get caught up in one thing that needs to be fixed, I’ll never finish anything.

  • Craig

    I actually totally get what you mean.  I’m always processing stuff in my head.  If a scene needs reworking I’ll rework it a dozen times or so while I’m still moving forward.  If I’ve planned something out (which i dont always do) then I will actually jump ahead to some scene later on in the project, if i know exactly how they’re going to work.  Having those little islands of success amidst the sea of material that needs redrafting, then it gives me a confidence boost to push forward.