Monday, November 30, 2009

Rewriting What Needs To Be Rewritten

If you’ve just begun your immeasurable expedition into the world of penning novels or screenplays, you may find the concept of a rewrite to be the most ominous and elusive task at hand. Some may even feel them quite unnecessary. Whether you’re dedicated to keeping your original prose because it’s “so amazing”/your “best work ever”/ “better than most crap out there, these days, anyway” OR you simply just don’t understand how to do it effectively, trust in this advice; a good writer with potential for longevity will, inevitably, come to understand and perfect the art of rewriting. If you’ve created a million and one pieces of work and still don’t feel that rewrites are ever necessary, then something may be very wrong with your perspective as a writer.

Rewrites are tremendously necessary.

Why Do I Have To Rewrite What I’ve already written?
I’ve listened to standpoints on this topic from many writers, new and seasoned, and I’ve heard it all—including my own complaints. Let’s put some reasons down, in a nice list-format, hm?

-“I feel like I shouldn’t disturb my original creative vision. By rewriting it, I would injure that fragile creature that is my first take on the subject and topic of my prose.”

-“I’ve rewritten everything I had because I wasn’t sure what needed to be rewritten, and now I have a Frankenstein’s monster and my original story is completely gone.”

-“I wrote the story I the first time around. It’s how I wanted it and I’m not changing it. It’s perfect, as is.”

All in all, these are usually the core three reasons that so many writers use to avoid the rewriting process. Each one illustrates a different mindset as to why they won’t be doing their rewrites, or why they can’t.

The first reason is based on the idea that whatever came out onto the paper in the very beginning is a magical creature whose feelings would be hurt if you asked it to change in order to make the relationship work. Listen up kiddies, it may feel like a unicorn and it may have long silky hair like a unicorn, but the truth is, you can’t bring that sucker in the house until it’s had a bath. In case that’s too cryptic for you, what I’m getting at is that, during the first draft writing, you’re going to be writing all over the place—you’ve got this huge story, in flotsam and jetsam format, floating around the murky seawaters of your brain. Selecting each piece and putting it together in the most pristine order is a near impossible feat, but if you don’t get all of it, at least, fished out and onto the paper, then it will sink to the bottom and be gone forever. So, you slop out every idea you’ve got. This is my definition of a rough draft. It’s every idea that you have, in beta version, and though it may not be the most coherent, it is what lays the foundation for a good, sturdy piece of work.

The second quote is what you’ll get from someone who ultimately just doesn’t understand and needs a bit of assistance before they can even feel comfortable disturbing that sacred rough draft temple. Because they have been encouraged by more seasoned writers to tackle the task at hand, they jump in, gung-ho, like a nineteen year old boot camp grad leaps off the ship and begins blindly storming the beaches of.. erm.. Normandy. They don’t have a clue what they’re doing, they just know that someone put a pen/gun in their hand and told them to “Shoot! Shoot! SHOOT!” So, they start takin’ some pot shots.

All militia related metaphors aside, what happens within this process is that they will continue to move pieces of the story around, chop things that may have played a highly important role in the structure, insert things that don’t even make sense and ruin everything they’ve done.

Last but not least, if the third quote is your final answer then you’re either, A.) Tarantino-- and I applaud you or B.) you need to stop claiming to be a writer altogether. You show me a first draft script (or manuscript) that is perfect, flawless and impervious to bullets and I will show you a writer who lied about how many times they rewrote it. Seriously, I don’t believe it’s possible to make a once over and be done with it. I’m sorry; I just don’t think it’s possible. (Prove me wrong? ;)

So of our three contestants, who’s got that longevity I mentioned? I’m going to say that number two—the confused one—has the best chance of making it. In fact, I think we might have all started out doing this. With my first “serious” script, I chopped, hacked, butchered, mutilated, and plot-holed until the thing was completely unreadable. It’s called practice when you butcher something that you worked so hard on, in the name of ‘bettering’ it. YOU LEARN. You learn to let go of ideas that you once felt were impossible to leave behind. You learn to pay close attention to what changes you do make and you learn that if you don’t do some more research, you’ll never get the swing of things. So while this procedure will immunize and retrain the new writer, if he or she has true determination and the desire to learn and become better, he or she will set out in search of learning tools for their next battle with the great beast rewrite.

Ok Wiseguy, Tell Me How To Rewrite, Then.
Not to sound like I’m attempting to evade this request but, in all honesty, it’s not something I can just tell you how to do. It’s one of those things you have to learn, and once you learn it, it’s strangely difficult to teach another. It’s almost as if it’s an intuitive or instinctual quality, rather than a learned skill. As I’ve just stated, however, a writer with good potential will seek out advice, information, hints and clues. They’ll apply them, they’ll use what works and throw out what doesn’t. That’s all I, or anyone else, can offer—learning tools.

My first piece of advice is one given to me by a great filmmaker and dear friend, “Don’t marry your ideas”. This piece of advice changed my (writing) life for the better. It means that, no matter what you’ve written and how incredible you think it is, it can be changed, and changed for the better. You have to learn to trust yourself and trust your writing, your creativity and your potential. You have to be able to make those executive decisions and choose what is best for the story, overall.

Quick story. I wrote a scene, once, that I felt to be one of the greatest scenes I’ve ever written. I took great care to handcraft this, bit by bit, as if I were fashioning a gift for The Cosmic CEO himself. It was intense, it was dramatic, it had so much of the vital emotion and a personality that I felt my characters needed. I could see it unfolding before my eyes on the silver screen as the audiences swooned, cried, laughed and understood. I just knew that it would never need to be changed, rewritten or touched. I had a feeling of magnified pride and accomplishment that I had never felt before.

Then my script writing program ate that scene and I never saw it again.

My heart was broken. I didn’t feel like I could go on. This piece of work that I had so loved and cherished was gone. Gone. Forever.

Thank God!

When I started over on the script from that point, that gush of emotions opened up ideals and feelings in me that allowed me to pull something much darker and more intense onto the page. Because of the pain I felt from the loss, I was able to find a, previously, hidden doorway to the route of my story, thus strengthening the mechanics and entertainment value of my story. This doorway was one of the first that led me to creating, what I now consider, one of the best screenplays I’ve written to date. Had that not happened, I’m not sure which direction I would have went with the story, but I feel like it would have been one, awry.

Precisely, that story is a bit off the subject of rewriting, but the result is the same. The result of taking away, (or in my case-- losing), a chunk of the story that may be slowing the pace, weakening the infrastructure or averting the main story arc always proves beneficial as you will quickly recover and create something far better. The moral of the story is that you must not fear the change that a rewrite will bring.

Where’s My Step-By-Step Checklist To Rewriting?
You may find one of those on the internet, somewhere, but you won’t find it here. What you will find is a collection of new entries aimed at the focal point of story writing. When you think you’re ready to delve a little deeper, we’ll get started.

Upcoming Articles:
Building A Story - Act I: The Basics, The Mechanics
Building A Story - Act II:(Title Pending)
Building A Story - Act III:(Title Pending)

Writing A Scene Vol 1: Who Said What?

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