Tag Archives: Writing

Insanity reformed

There is a large amount of time (not too large) between this post and the last. I apologize for that, but I’ve been trying to figure out how to order this beast without being so chaotic. A little bit of chaos is always great, but I think I would do well to have a selected mission briefing for myself on what I’m going to write about with this blog, and since I enjoy so many topics I don’t think just writing about what I’m thinking about at the time will work very well, so without further ado, I present to you the schedule of Scribatious Insanity.

Monday: Nothing. If I do write anything, it will be about something pressing.

Tuesday: What pisses me off. Every Tuesday will be a rant about something I hate, dislike or something that just generally pisses me off. Fun times.

Wednesday: Same as monday.

Thursday: What I love. The opposite of Tuesday, Thursday will be something I truly love, like or something that just makes me happy. More fun times.

Friday: Video game Friday. I love video games, and Fridays will be the day that I review a game that is either near and dear to my heart, or a game that I think should never have been made. Or maybe something in between.

Saturday or Sunday: Writing critiques, education, etiquette. On either Saturday or Sunday (Or both if I’m feeling particularly creative) I will be talking writing in one form or another that has to do with my own form of writing. I will be talking about either story writing, video game writing, or screenwriting. How to do it, or what I’m doing it with, etc.

I hope you will enjoy this schedule, and you can expect the first post in this new schedule tomorrow when I talk about the differences between screenwriting for films, and screenwriting for television.

Good Ideas, Bad Ideas and How To Use Them

I spent the better part of this morning and early afternoon working on my personal writing (screenplay rewrite, short stories, et al), and trying to decide upon a topic for today’s post. During that time, I was thinking about new directions to take superheroes and heroes in movies in general, because I think they’re very overdone. And as I was doing that, I thought about an idea I had a while ago. It wasn’t a good idea, it still isn’t a good idea, but I’m amused by it nonetheless.

My idea was that there was this person who had the power of imagination, and he could will anything into existence. That was his superpower. Pretty silly, right? Well it gets better. He was part of an elite team of superheroes, all who had this awesome superhero. Of course my idea had a fatal flaw: It was all about how cool these superheroes would be. There was nothing about a plot, or an antagonist, or semblance of a good idea whatsoever.

So what’s my point? Why tell you about a bad idea? Because that’s the topic of this post: Bad Ideas.

Everyone has bad ideas when it comes to writing. I’m sure even incredibly amazing writers that have been doing this for decades have bad ideas. Harlan Ellison probably has bad ideas. And what differentiates a good writer or at least a decent writer from a bad writer? Knowing which ideas are bad, and being smart enough not to go through with them. A bad idea in literature, screenwriting, comic book writing, etc, is the equivalent of eating month-old meatloaf that’s been sitting out on the counter for two weeks and has so much mold on it that it looks like a shih tzu. You’re going to regret it later, and it might kill you. Now bad ideas in writing kill you, at least not literally. But they can kill your career. And that’s just as bad. You don’t live through being killed. But you have to live through having your career killed.

Now am I talking about bad ideas in terms of my taste? No. I personally hate the Twilight series with an undying passion. I think they’re some of the worst books and movies ever made, but they aren’t bad ideas. The proof that they have made millions upon millions of dollars is proof of that. They connect with people somehow. Granted, the people they connect with are mostly just girls between the ages of 12 and 18, but that’s a good demographic. Now would Twilight be making more money if it wasn’t so badly written? Yes. Look at the Harry Potter series. JK Rowling is richer than God, and her books are both better written and appeal to a far larger audience.

Another “bad” film that was badly made (and perhaps badly written) but was a good idea, was James Cameron’s Avatar. It was one of the few films to take such a gigantic monetary risk and actually made money. The film cost nearly five hundred million dollars to produce and promote, yet it made more than two billion. It was the very first, and to date the only film to make so much money. So was it written well? Did it have a great plot and compelling characters? No, on all counts. But was it a good idea on Cameron’s part? You bet your ass it was.

Now we’ve established what I mean when I say a bad idea, so let’s get cracking. A bad idea is something that happens all the time, and sometimes they masquerade as epically awesome ideas. Ideas that make you stand up and shout, “THIS IDEA IS FUCKING AWESOME!” But if you let them sit and stew long enough, your shout of epic proportions eventually changed to “Maybe this isn’t such a good idea after all.” If you let it stew longer, it will eventually become, “This idea is stupid.”

Bad ideas are always ideas that have a kernel and nothing else. They are the idea about making a stalwart hero of the land who kills bad guys with a glare, and kills everyone with his massive sword that’s three times larger than a moose. It’s the idea about making the lovable yet flawed heroine who is so beautiful that the earth stops spinning, and she wins everyone with her heartfelt laughter and rainbow-like smile. These ideas are stupid. Very stupid. And why is that? It’s because there’s nothing else. A hero who has already reached his peak has nowhere to go but down. So making a movie about how awesome he is is going to be like riding along the Bonneville Salt Flats. It might go fast. It might be fun for a short while, but eventually it gets boring because it’s very flat and never changes.

Now creating a story about a hero who has hit his peak and then making your story about his downfall would be great. That’s what Sophocles’ Oedipus The King is. Oedipus has reached his peak. He’s beaten the Sphinx and all the other battles of his life, and the only way left to go is down. He ends up finding out his wife is his mother, she ends up killing herself and he ends up digging out his eyes and then the story ends. It’s certainly not the most uplifting story in the world, but it works. And that’s the main difference between a good idea and bad idea. Good ideas work. Bad ideas don’t.

So how do you tell that you’ve come up with a bad idea? Take a week to think on the idea after you’ve thought it up. If it still sounds just as good, then think through the plot. Who’s the protagonist? Who’s the antagonist? What’s the underlying plot? If your idea has NONE of these, then create some. If you can’t create them, or when you create them they just don’t work well, then you have a bad idea.

Now good ideas? Well good ideas work. So after you’ve thought on it for a week, and been able to come up with your protagonist, antagonist and underlying plot, it still sounds just as good. A good idea works, and it works well enough that it just feels good. And those are the ideas you want to write down and pitch to your friendly neighborhood Creative Executive.

The Chaos and Order of Rewriting Your Work

Currently, I’m working on the rewrite of a screenplay about an order of supernatural new-age knights that strive to keep the world in balance by policing the energies of chaos and order. I like it a lot and I’m very proud of it, but of course the rewriting process (as any writer will tell you) is a total bitch. It’s much easier to write a first draft of something, whether it be a short story, novel, screenplay, and so on than it is to do a rewrite of it. With a first draft, you have the freedom of the blank page. You can write anything. Because in a first draft you’re focusing on just getting the words on the paper, to tell the story. The second draft is refining. And the third draft, and the fourth, and the fifth, and the… well you get the point.

So with that in mind, I thought I would share some insight in rewriting, why it’s important, how you should do it and other information. To be fair, I didn’t know a lot of the following information before this year, when I learned a lot more about the rewriting process from established writers. One in particular was kind enough to sit down with me and a few other fellow writers to share his techniques and writing process as well as how he was able to break into the business of screen writing. I don’t like name dropping, but suffice it to say that being able to talk to him was a privilege.

After you write your first draft, you feel accomplished. You think, “Wow! I just wrote a full-length screenplay!” It’s a feeling akin to finishing a marathon, or finishing a novel, or finally getting your college or high school after four years of grueling work. And you feel done. You’re not done, but you feel done. So you start thinking about how awesome your script is and start asking yourself questions like, “Well this is it! I can jump on IMDbPro and look up people to send my script to, right?” Wrong. Now the real work begins.

While it’s perfectly fine for you to hop onto IMDbPro anytime you like within your writing process (and I highly recommend getting a subscription if you can afford it), you should never even think about picking up the phone and dialing any of the phone numbers you’ve gotten until you’ve finished at least three drafts of your screenplay. Yes, you read that right. THREE. Not two, and certainly not one. Why? Because your first draft is shit.

Yes you read that right. Your first draft is shit. I don’t care if you’re the greatest writer who ever lived, your first draft is shit. Now don’t mistake me. I’m not trying to give out some blanket insult to writers everywhere, after all I would be insulting myself along with everybody else. What I am saying, however, is that your first draft is full of mistakes, too much action, too much description, bad dialogue, so on and so forth. And why is this? It’s because for your first draft, you focused on getting the story out there. You didn’t focus on making the dialogue pitch-perfect, you didn’t focus on getting your format perfect while also making it fun to read, and you certainly didn’t focus upon making it work perfectly in a three-act structure that doesn’t feel like a formula everyone has seen before. That is why your first draft is shit. And that is why you need to rewrite.

Now when some writers think of doing a new draft, they simply open the old file, make a lot of corrections, and then print it out and shout “Draft two! Hooray!” They’re wrong. I guarantee you any writer who has done such a thing has never gotten that screenplays sold. The people who are going to read your screenplay have read hundreds, perhaps even over a thousand screenplays. They’ve probably read ten to twenty screenplays just today. They’re going to notice if your precious third draft is really just your first draft with a lot of copy editing and corrections. And they’re going to throw it in the trash.

“But what if my story is awesome? They won’t throw it away!” Yes, they will. Screenplay readers have no time for bullshit. They don’t care if your story is awesome, because they’ve probably already read five other ‘awesome’ stories since breakfast. They don’t have time to call you up and say “Hey, I love your story, but your screenplay is written very badly with bad dialogue and bad action and so on. Want to come in and talk about it?” No. That’s your job. Don’t expect a reader, producer, etc, to do your job.

So how do we begin this second draft? Well firstly, this is a rewrite. Think for a moment on that word. That means you start over from page one. This doesn’t mean that you act like you’re writing a brand new screenplay. Then you’ll just get another shitty first draft. You will need to use your first draft as reference, so print it out and do whatever it is that works for you to keep it organized in a way that will allow you to glance back and forth while writing your second draft.

Now the first thing you need to do after all that, is decide on one major issue from your first draft that you will fix. Maybe choose one or two minor issues as well. You won’t be able to fix every issue in one draft. That’s impossible, so don’t even try. On this first rewrite, you want to focus on the issue you have just chosen and do your best to fix them. On my current rewrite I’m focusing on taking away as much exposition from the dialogue as I can (I have a lot of it), and to use the action to acquaint the reader and viewer to the world rather than having characters come out and say “This happens because blah blah.” I’m also focusing on tidying up the screenplay, but only on minor issues. As I said, you can really only focus on one major issue per draft. So if you have a lot of major issues in your first draft, you’re going to have a lot of rewrites.

So how do you know when you’re done with your draft? Simple. You reach ‘the end.’ Now it’s time to read your draft over, note any simple copy errors and fix them. Next, read over your draft comprehensively and make sure that you’ve succeeded in your goal of fixing whatever issue you decided to focus on. If there are just simple mistakes associated with the issue, go in and correct those. If you didn’t succeed in your ultimate goal of fixing the issues, you have to do another draft on those issues alone.

Once you’ve made sure that you’ve succeeded in fixing the issues you were focusing upon, it’s time to choose another main issue from your first draft and do ANOTHER draft to fix that issue. Wash, rinse and repeat until all the major issues in your first draft are fixed. Now you will have a final draft that has fixed all the issues. It should read well, not be predictable, and be a beautiful piece of screenwriting. Now it’s time to start calling those numbers you got from IMDbPro, but that’s the subject of an entirely different post altogether.