Thursday, 7 February 2008

Welcome to Multi-Tasking Script Hell

I am in search of a working method – purely because I don’t have one. I’m the sort of misguided idiot who outlines as he’s limping along, which is guaranteed to send you doolally, especially by the point the eighth draft drops and you haven’t nailed that annoyingly illogical moment in the third act. I always used to think that outlining/writing a treatment helped, but the problem with that is that it kind of sucks the soul out of what I’m writing and turns it into the script equivalent of an Ikea catalogue. I can’t do mechanistic – it hurts.

So I’m taking advice from the great man John August, who I don’t think really trusts outlines much either:

Ask: What needs to happen in this scene? Just come up with one or two sentences that explain what absolutely must happen...

And that’s it – my new working method. I tore apart an eighty-five page first draft the other day and this is the only way I can see to get the damned thing moving again without descending into the brain numbing hellhole of an outline.

(Just as well I don’t have one of those groovy little bar things at the side of my blog to show the progression on my most current draft - on day seven it would be 10% completed, day seventeen would be 85%, and day seventy would be 3%. That’s assuming I would have the technical ability to put one up there in the first place).

There’s also quite a helpful post over at Pillock’s Pad, which neatly summarises what little method I actually possess (It seems that by jumping straight into the writing, the brain mobilises more creative faculties than it does by carefully planning first). By sitting in the scene itself and staring hard at a blank screen, ideas actually start to bubble up that have absolutely nothing to do with an outline. The problem with this of course is that I’m not exactly forging ahead at a rate of knots – every page I write has an effect on the pages preceding it, which means that yes, I’m outlining as I’m writing – which is multi-tasking hell.

On a lighter note, Robin Kelly and I are rejoicing this week as Broken Social Scene has just announced a short UK tour in May. Get your tickets now, kids.

10 comments:

Jon Peacey said...

As I've mentioned before, I'm an inveterate outlining-munki. I think I've also mentioned (somewhere) this is influenced by my dislike of re-writing. However, I also suspect that outlining becomes more important the more complicated the story is.

I've scribbled down a couple of pieces with multiple time-lines where what's in one influences the other or vice versa and the seeding of information in each has to be done in order. If I did it straight out without outline I'd probably blow a head-gasket!

What really got to me at University was that with lack of preparation I'd do a rough outline (half page) then race into a full-script (of 120 pages) and be told this sucks, this sucks and, lo, so does this... in the end I'd be continually writing 120 new pages and so on and so on until I completely hated the characters, the story, the theme, the genre, writing and films. I prefer to get a pretty reasonable sketch done and spend time getting 8-10 pages right rather than having to write endless drafts of full scripts. That's probably the science and maths side of my brain talking. It's that going back to 3% six months into the process... just makes me so despondent!

But each to their own, I reckon, and what works for you, works for you. All the best with the new draft!

Chip Smith said...

I used to outline a helluva lot more than I do now, but still found myself running into huge unforeseen problems, where the only fix was a huge coincidence (never a good idea at the best of times).

I think the quote I nicked from Jackson P neatly sums things up for me: when I'm *in* the scene, things becomes a lot clearer. As I try to give each scene its own particular 'dynamic' (similar to what John August talks about when he scribbles down a two liner as to exactly what MUST happen in a scene), I find that that can seriously affect future scenes to the extent that the whole thing rapidly spirals out of control and I have to beat it to death with a hammer. Ahem.

Fun this writing thing, innit?

Lucy said...

What about scene breakdowns?

They use these in TV and even if you don't like a programme, you can see they work by virtue of the fact that scenes have a logical order - something so many spec scripts really do not. Also, my TV writing clients rarely get into trouble freaking themselves out with stuff like narrative logic. Could be the scene breakdowns helping there.

Chip Smith said...

I think I can nail a logical *sequence* of scenes pretty well, it's the overarching logic that I struggle with. I think the problem partially is to do with making things too over-complicated (something you've identified in my scripts before), as I then spend far too much time trying to fix the logical coherence and even the logistics of a scene (ie, who stands where, how long it's going to take the protag to get from A to B, etc, etc). But even so: scene breakdowns - I'll give it a try.

Re: your pre-METLAB meeting - did you get the gig?!

Lucy said...

Yes I did thanks babe, just waiting on the brief now.

A question right back atcha: how in the name of all that is holy can you "nail a logical sequence of scenes" if you haven't got an "overarching logic"?? Curious.

Chip Smith said...

It's like this you see: I write what I think is a logical sequence of scenes, only to realise (often far too late) that the 'overarching' logic (that supposedly holds the whoe thing together) is flawed which means I have to pick the whole thing apart and start again. I think that most narratives have an element of the illogical about them, but I'm a bit autistic about it.

I know, I know, I shouldn't worry so much about it so much, but at least it gives me something to think about whilst I'm toiling on that inevitable tenth draft.

Lucy said...

You know it's possibly to achieve more through less work, right?

Or you could just hit your head against the wall. OR--

When I get stuck on a script, I drink lots of alcohol and have sex. Releases hormones and (I believe) writers' block and/or issues with scripts. You have a wife locked away somewhere don't you? You could try that method. I find it most agreeable.

Chip Smith said...

Wow - that's quite a cure for that dodgy bit of non-logic in the second act!

My poor wife has been through a lot recently so I'm not sure how she'd take to me announcing that the issues I have with my current draft can only be cured by a healthy bout of, "Nurse! The screens!"

Which either leaves me banging my head against the wall or the alcohol option.

I'll try both, I think!

Lucy said...

Been thtough a lot??

Yes, well I probably shouldn't have been having it off with YOUR wife Chip, sorry about that. I told her it was for art though.

Chip Smith said...

Hot lesbian action? On my blog? Why wasn't I told? It's an outrage ;-)