I Broke My Screenplay & That’s A Good Thing
Dust of your ledgers and balance sheets folks! I’m about to compare screenwriting to high school accounting…
My new screenplay is starting to come together. I’ve settled into a work flow that begins with writing sessions on my phone using various apps whenever time permits. (Celtx is the current champ) Then I rewrite the new pages on my laptop during my breaks at work or late at night when my family is sleeping. It’s slow but it’s progress.
When you’re writing a first draft, there’s always a point when you feel like the momentum you’ve built is unstoppable. The light at the end of the tunnel is bright and speeding towards you. But what happens when that light is a train about to smack your butt right in the face? (that’s right)
Your progress stalls.
When my script broke, I felt an extreme rush of frustration. I had finally begun to chip away at my outline after a long layoff when, suddenly, I realized something didn’t quite make sense. More specifically, my antagonist’s motivations weren’t as clear as I’d hoped. This was a crucial plot point that demanded perfection in its execution.
I spent days wondering how I lost my way. The scene I wrote simply didn’t fit in. Where did I go wrong?
In the end, I was happy I broke my screenplay because it gave me a chance to define how I want my villain to be perceived. This led to a wonderful moment when everything made sense again. I had strayed too far from my original vision. I’m happy I tried something different but I was ultimately able to simplify the scene that caused problems.
Then I found a way to make it BETTER.
When you sit back and swear at your monitor because you’ve written yourself into a corner don’t worry! Turn the problem into a positive by exploring your screenplay at it’s deepest levels.
Line by line. I didn’t take much away from high school accounting but I did learn one important problem solving skill. I remember getting case studies where you had to take on a business that fired their accountant. It was up to you to find the errors and correct the company’s books.
To do this, you had to first identify the problem and then work backwards. Line by line until you found the source of the problem.
Problems often occur early in your screenplay long before you write the scene that breaks it. When you write a scene that breaks your screenplay it’s can sometimes contain too much exposition. Why? More than likely, you’re forced to make up for plot points that weren’t set up or clear earlier in the script.
In accounting, when you find a mistake, there are always multiple errors associated with it. The rewrite process.
In my current screenplay, I went back and visited every scene my villain was mentioned and found I had not set up the danger he posed to my hero well enough. He’s an evil remorseless man who happens to be on a mission to save a lot of lives. His morality lives in the grey area but his actions are most certainly evil. I established his morality but left out the details of his unique (and ruthless) approach to solving problems.
As soon as I fixed that problem and rewrote a few lines leading up to my broken scene everything became clear. The broken scene has caused ripples throughout my screenplay and as a result, my villain is more interesting (I think).
Like I said, don’t get discouraged when you break your screenplay. Turn it into a positive and find a way to make it better. Even if it means using 11th grade accounting tips. If it makes your screenplay better, anything is worth a shot!
Note: In my previous column, I mentioned how much I read my screenplay instead of writing new pages. I find it fascinating how I could read the first 30-40 pages countless times and MISS this crucial oversight. Screenwriting is a difficult craft to master. Things may seem perfect but you never know when an issue will arise. I suppose the lesson here is to be ruthless when scrutinizing your words. Writing is rewriting. I love this stuff!
FROM THE NERD | Link, Zelda, Hyrule, Middle Earth & Screenwriting