Revision Frenzy

by Jennifer Arzt

Script Frenzy brought out the funny, the dramatic, and the not-so-polished in many of our scripts. And now it's time to make the leap from Draft 1 to Draft 2. There are no hard-and-fast rules on how to approach a rewrite, but here are a few ideas to help get you started.

Sleep. This is #1. You deserve it. Plus, a bit of separation between you and your script is healthy. After a few weeks, you might even forget every word that you wrote. That is a good thing. It’s important to look at your script with fresh eyes, as a new reader would.

Reread all in one sitting. Don’t take notes. Really. Put the pen down. Trust us—you don’t want to waste time correcting punctuation in a scene that may end up being cut. Reread without editing, and just take in your script as a whole.

Create or revisit your outline. Simply put, revising is hard. There is no getting around it. You can make the whole process a lot less painful, though, by investing time early on in making your outline shine before you get into the actual rewriting. Postponing editing until you have your story's exact course figured out may feel like procrastination, but knowing how each scene will unfold will save you days (if not weeks) of effort. Bonus: Revising from an outline almost feels like having a legal cheat sheet.

  • If you don’t have one already, create an outline. If you need help getting started, check out the resources below. The Beat Sheet is a fantastic tool that’s made with feature-length screenplays in mind, but there's helpful stuff in it for all kinds of scripts.

Or:

  • Revisit your existing outline. After you’ve had a chance to read over your beautifully flawed masterpiece, think critically about the pace of your story. Did you cover everything you planned to in your outline? Are you seeing areas that are thin? Get into the outline and cut, add, and rearrange your scenes, characters, and plot all the way to a solid second-draft outline. If you find that you are changing more than you are keeping, start a new outline.

A word of warning: Some difficult decisions will need to be made as you rework your outline. The scene that may have launched your entire idea weeks and weeks ago might need to be cut. One scene, conversation, or image—no matter how brilliant it is—isn’t the boss of your script. It was probably a great launching point for ideas, characters, conflict, and dialogue. It will be remembered fondly. Your job now is to create the strongest story possible, and nothing should stand between you and it–even your favorite scene.

Outline Resources: Check out Blake Synder’s Beat Sheet, or fill out a worksheet from Script Frenzy’s own Young Writers Program for high school students. You won’t be the only adult there! Many participants have used the workbook during the Frenzy.

Big-picture editing. Save a copy of your script and name it something original and unexpected like “Draft 2.” This version is about to be Frankensteined. Cut and paste, delete, and add notes about new scenes based on your latest and greatest outline.

Be sure to keep your hands off the small changes. It’s still too soon to be tidying your sentences and perfecting dialogue. You want to be looking at the big picture here. You can, however, flag dialogue that needs fixing, action that is falling flat or running too long, and any flaws in logic that might pop up during all the shuffling.

Even at the big-picture stage, do keep an eye out for glaring inconsistencies. Though spell-check is regarded by many to be the greatest invention since the wheel, it won’t catch that your character Al Wright has mysteriously started going by All Right. Your readers, on the other hand, will be very quick to notice.

Reread this very rough version of your script. If the overall logic, plot, and pacing feels right, then you're ready to move on! If it needs more work, keep going through the draft–bouncing back and forth to your outline until you feel like your characters and story are firmly planted on solid ground. As you do your big-picture revision, use File-->Save As to create a new version of the draft frequently (title them Draft 2b, Draft 2c, etc. to help keep them all straight). That way, you'll keep a record of all the genius ideas you came up with along the way, even if they don't make it into the final draft.

Rewrite. Now it is time to actually start the rewriting. Take a deep breath and grab a cup of coffee. These items will be done in multiple passes. (This section could also be called Cutting, Writing, and Post-its. Be prepared for all three.)

Characters. When you started writing in April, you were going on blind dates with your characters. You only know a few things about them. Then, you spent the month of April in a whirlwind romance (or something like it), and now you are have a deeper understanding of who they are, and what you're going to do together.

With a sharp eye, comb through every inch of dialogue and action. Dialogue and action are the two ways your characters will be transformed from words on the page to real people. As your characters say and do things to move the plot forward, be sure that all their actions and conversations are in line with their personalities. Be sure they aren’t doing anything out of, well, character.

A sticky note: Make sure your character’s quirks and idiosyncrasies remain with them throughout the entire story. Have too many quirks to remember? Post-it notes! Cover your desk with them.

A dialogue tip: What sounds right on the page doesn’t always sound right when said out loud. Be the crazy person in the back corner of a coffee shop–or shut yourself away in your bedroom–and read it out loud.

Character Resources:Reach for the Evocative Word” advice from Lisa Drostova

Progress. Does each scene move the story forward? If it doesn’t, cut it. You don’t need it. If you have a great moment or a stellar piece of dialogue in a scene about to be cut, pick it up and try moving it to another scene. It will be happier in a new home.

If there is a scene that bores you when you read it, it will bore the audience. If the scene is moving the story forward or supporting character development but it still falls flat, inject conflict. Are there minor characters standing around waiting for a piece of the limelight? Could the scene work better at night? What about in a different location?

Subplot. Minor characters. B-story. Whatever you want to call the filling between your heroes, allow it to enhance your newly defined main characters. Allow these minor characters and B-stories to support the rest of your script. They can have a similar storyline as your main character. Or you might find that the best way to explain your main character is to have somebody who is the exact opposite. (Just be sure that character is well-rounded enough to be worthy of screen/stage time.)

Minor Character Resource: "Grandma's Got a Gun or, Who Are You Calling a Minor Character, Anyway?" by Daniel Heath

Plot holes. Yes, these were supposed to have taken care of this during the outline step, but you’ve been shuffling scenes and refining characters. If you’ve fallen into a plot hole and are having a hard time climbing out, try chatting with someone you trust about your story. Give them the gist of the stuck scene or plot point and let them offer ideas. You don’t have to take all their suggestions, but the process will inevitably help give you some new approaches to filling those plot holes.

Reread. After you have polished, played, and perfected your way to Draft 2, reread your script! Loop through all the steps above as many times as needed. Then, when you feel ready to share your masterpiece, head on down to the next step.

Perform it. This is a great way to hear how the entire script will actually sound off the page. You can do this with friends or actors at something called a table read. At a table read, you make copies of your script for each reader, and assign roles for everyone, including a narrator who will voice all the action. You, dear author, don’t get a reading role. Nope. You will have your own script copy, and a pen. During the reading, your job is to take frantic notes. Listen for lines that fall flat, pacing that is off, or missed opportunities for humor. Set aside time for a huge writing day following the reading. After hearing your story out loud, many things will become clear; you don’t want to let much time pass between the reading and applying the lessons you learned from it.

Script swap. Now writer, it is time to get feedback from other scriptwriters. Your masterpiece is ready to be released out into the world. In the Script Frenzy forums there is a whole group dedicated to script swapping.

Be sure you're ready to give feedback, too! Check out Julie Gray's Cameo with advice on how to give good-karma-friendly feedback.

Script Swap Resource: Script Frenzy forum.

Deadline. You made it through the Frenzy, so we know you’re are good with deadlines. Pull out your calendar right now.

We’ll wait.

Got it?

Great. Now circle a date four to six weeks in the future. Write that date on a Post-it. You just set your deadline for Draft 2. To help make that deadline stick (and not accidentally make its way to the trash while another Post-it quietly takes its place), we invite you to post your deadline in our newest forum, Revision Frenzy. It is so much easier working toward a deadline when others can hold you accountable.

Use the forum to post your progress and commiserate with others working through the same mounds of changes in order to get to Draft 2.

Deadline Resource: Revision Deadline forum

To everyone who is planning a visit to the strange, exciting, and sometimes infuriating world of rewrites, we applaud you. Your script is on its way to a better, stronger, more exciting version of itself.

The adventure continues!

Good luck!