Rewriting Your Script – A Checklist
Today I wanted to take some time and chat about rewrites.
You’ve digested serious notes on your project, and realized that although you’re not the greatest writer ever, this is a story worth telling, and telling right.
I’ve put together this list from various books, websites, articles, etc. This is a good process, since some of you are asking us in emails or PMs, “You/Roy gave us great notes, but some of the stuff is drastic, so what should we do with them?”
The following list assumes you’ve received detailed notes either from us, or any other source that you feel has merit. (If you don’t agree with our notes, feel free to skip this exercise, lol.)
1.) Read your ENTIRE script from Page 1.
It’s going to suck.
Trust me, I’ve recently reread three of my previous scripts before I started reading for this site and come to the conclusion I was a horrible writer. BUT, now that I know what to look for I’m already giving myself notes and writing down big problem areas.
This is the time to take AS MANY notes as possible on bad dialogue, lame payoffs, typos, anything YOU consider a problem. You shouldn’t be checking the other set of detailed notes, just have them in the back of your mind, and try finding your own problem areas first.
Once done with this step, go back and see where your notes and the other person’s match up. (Or where they don’t.)
2.) If it’s not advancing your story, TOSS IT OUT!
Now’s the time to implement the detailed notes you got from your outside source.
What parts of the story slowed things down?
Were there scenes that didn’t tie into your overall plot?
What characters needed a revamp so they’re not a roadblock to the flow of your story?
Unfortunately, this step could mean a favorite scene becomes a casualty of good storytelling. The most important thing you can do for a reader is get him/her through your world quickly. (It’s not enough to just have an enjoyable story.)
Large chunks of your script might be tossed out, but don’t let it get you down, if it’s done in honor of fast paced plot, you’ve made the right choice.
3.) Come in late, get out early, and make scenes FLOW.
Looking at your script you’re left with only your crucial scenes.
Now it’s time to look at each scene like a single story. Does it flow well, and make sense with the rest of the plot?
This should be a resounding “yes” but if it’s not, and you deemed it crucial, any problems need to be addressed.
As Roy and I are always pointing out, the reader should come in late to the scene, where things are already happening. Is that the case with each of your scenes, or are we still exchanging pleasantries about the weather in some of them?
If there’s things like character intros to other characters, small talk, exposition we’ve just experienced in another scene, CUT IT OUT!
Same thing with getting out early. No small talk, no chit chat.
Dialogue and description DRIVES the story forward, it doesn’t act as filler so we get more for the price of admission.
4.) Polish Your Description
From the first line on page one to Fade Out, we’re setting a tone for the reader with our description.
In most cases (like yours truly) as writers we tend to go over the top, but we can’t.
This is probably the biggest help I’ve received from this site, that we need to be creative, short, and edgy with the words we use for our description.
Take a look at some of the better scoring pro scripts we’ve reviewed on this site. Does your script have it’s own unique tone? Is the way you describe events in your story interesting all by itself?
It needs to be. If you drone on with action or description your reader will tune out.
5.) Unique Characters – Voices, Arcs, Etc.
Scenes are done, now it’s time to look at the most relatable part of your story, the characters.
Each character should sound unique, and if you can’t cover up character names and know who’s talking, that’s a problem.
Can you cut this dialogue?
Is there a unique way that particular character would say this?
Does each character serve a purpose related to the overall story?
Are your characters just opening a door for your main character, or do they serve a higher function? Instead of a random man opening the bank door for a cop, maybe that man’s the robber who’s patiently holding the door for the cop and slipping away right under the nose of police.
Above all else, are your characters interesting? They need to inspire a certain emotion in your audience. Not all have to be liked (in fact the audience is more entertained when a character’s bad), BUT they’ve got to make us feel something.
6.) Does Every Plot Point Pay Off?
This is the fine tooth comb of the process.
Does every item specifically mentioned have a roll before Fade Out?
What about every scene?
If a character is doing something specific or using something specific and that’s not related to the plot, it’s got to go or be generalized to fit.
Most things like specific songs, movies, brands watched/used/listened to by characters will be found here. We all have preferences, but now’s not the time to include them UNLESS you can tie them in with a cool plot twist.
7.) Time for ANOTHER Reread.
Again, it’s going to suck BUT by this point you should have a stronger story.
Realistically NOTHING should be staring you in the face as a serious problem by this step, but if it is, make a note and go back through the above list to see if you can work out the problem.
During the above step, you should SPECIFICALLY be looking for typos as well. Remember, this is THE EASIEST problem to fix.
We’re not just talking about misspelling a word, but make sure verb tense is right, you’re using the right word (i.e. they’re, there, their), agreement, etc. All of this needs to be correct to eliminate as many easy problems as possible BEFORE a reader sees it.
Check out The Screenwriter’s Bible: A Complete Guide to Writing, Formatting, and Selling Your Scriptfor some great formatting tips.
Rewriting is a crucial step, but know when to set a project aside.
If you’re on your umpteenth rewrite of your current project, it’s time to move on. There HAS to be a new idea bouncing around in your head that yearns to be committed to paper. If not, go out and brainstorm one. The point is not to burn yourself out, you can always come back to this story.
Along with the above point, know how to separate criticism about your story from someone’s personal preference. By that I mean, if someone thinks the cop from my previous example should be a man and not a woman, that’s a personal preference. However, if they suggest that you tie that cop in by having it not only be a man BUT the brother of the burglar mentioned on page 3, well, things just got interesting. The latter gives a valid reason for enhancing your story which is worth considering.
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