Monday, 15 August 2016

Readers’ Qs - When you write the 2nd draft, do you start with a blank screen again?

@AdamWareham asks:
When you start writing your 2nd draft, are you just editing the 1st draft, or do you start with a blank screen again?

Great question. Everyone has their own styles and ways of doing things, so I can only say what’s normal for me. And, it depends on how good the first draft is.

If you’re lucky, you’re getting notes back on draft one that are essentially asking for tweaks and polishes. Normally, the big notes are asking for improved motivations or great clarity for why a character is doing something ludicrous or insane. And this can be sometimes be fixed by opening up your first draft, resaving is a second draft and then tinkering.

I say ‘lucky’ because getting a script right is as much a matter of luck as anything else. You can be very experienced, or have planned your script in minute detail, and in the cold light of day realise
the script isn’t really working. You’re going to need to do more than change the oil and wash the windscreen. This script is going to go up on a jack. You’ll need to get underneath it. In no time, you’ll be taking it apart and it’ll be in bits before you know it.

If so, that’s fine. It’s all part of the process. I’ve got that with a script I’m working on right now. It’s a new sitcom for the radio, and it’s largely untested, and my first draft of episode 2 has some lovely moments and some funny bits. Overall is looking like it’s going to be fine. But the notes highlighted some serious problems that needed thought.

Here’s what I did:

I printed it out, went to Starbucks and left my laptop in the bag. I wrote down – in pen - a summary of the script on a page of A4, running through the main beats, event and moments. I already had the outline I'd written the draft from, but the script had moved on. So I looked at my new outline and had a good old think about it. Then I thought of some new themes and motivations that would mean some set-pieces would stay and others might have to go. Fine. I then wrote up the new and improved A and B stories that looked broadly like the old ones, but with crucial differences. I send that to the producer and talked it through. And we were both happy.

And now I’m on Draft 2.

I opened a blank document, which is my main script, so I’m not tinkering with Draft 1. But I do have that old draft open on my desktop and I’m using chunks at a time, and writing a new script using the best of the old. I’ve done this sort of things many times before, and there’s just no way of knowing in advance whether you’ll be heavily rewriting the script or tinkering with it.

Sometimes Drafts 1, 2 and 3 all seem fine – and then you have a read-through and it all falls apart. But we can talk about that another time. I wrote a bit about that here.

Thanks for your question, @AdamWareham. Keep 'em coming.

There’s lots of technical writing advice like this in my book, Writing That Sitcom, which is available for the Kindle/Kindle App via Amazon.

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