I’ve just enjoyed a telephone conversation with writer/director, Paul Fraser, on the latest draft of my feature script. We talked about the usual points when in development on a screenplay: cutting characters, stripping back dialogue, building the necessary beats needed to create relationships, conflict and pay-off.
Development is all about exploring your options; looking at the ‘what if’ scenarios: what if this character were to be killed off, or this other character played a bigger role in the story? What if this scene was cut altogether? What if you revealed this information later on, or in a different way? If the answer to your ‘what if’, when you strip it to a minimum, is ‘it will make the story stronger, more intriguing, more emotional’ or if it has a positive effect on the script in any sense, then it is worth exploring in your next draft.
A great way to get perspective on the ‘what if’ scenarios, is to seek feedback. Ask someone to read your current draft. But make sure you ask someone who will give you constructive feedback and criticism, for example: another writer, director or producer, a tutor or a writers group.
If you want to be a writer, you must learn how to take criticism. In fact, learn to enjoy seeking constructive feedback, because it is a huge part of developing your script. Learn to take advice by using your best judgement. By this, I mean try to take into account, everything that is suggested and asked about your script. Then ask, ‘what if?’ Only where you believe that the answer will have a positive impact on the story/characters as a whole, should you explore these options. And it’s worth spending a good amount of time thinking about the feedback before you make your decisions. Don’t dismiss anything straight away: question it, let it simmer for a while, and see where it takes you.
The more you enter into the screenwriting development process, the more you will pick up hints and tips that will help you when you come to write your next project. You will start to get a better sense of when to take a step back and ask for someone to critique your work.
But how do you know when you have written the final draft? Will there be a time when you know for sure that a script is ready, final, complete? Well, from personal experience, and from chatting to other writers about their experiences, the short answer is, no – probably not.
Most likely, there will always be something in your script that you can change, or something you can cut. After practice, you might be able to start sensing when a script is ‘almost there’ and trust your own judgement as to how far it has left to go. But, in my opinion, a writer can never really say that a script is ‘final’. And that’s fine. As a writer for performance, the thing to remember is that you are part of a collaboration. The script will continue to change, even once you have submitted it to a director, or a producer, as a ‘final draft’. That’s because the nature of scriptwriting is one of building the foundations for the process of production. And production will add changes to the final outcome – the film.
The script is not intended to be the end result.
But this doesn’t mean you should settle for a piece of work that seems ‘OK’. You should still always strive to get that draft as ‘final’ as it can possibly feel. Why? Because this is your craft; your creation. It should be allowed to grow and develop and strengthen, with every option explored. Your script may be the starting point, the ‘foundation’. But foundations have to be strong and reliable if they are going to be built upon.
So, my advice is to look at it like this: be flexible. When you think you’re at the final draft, seek feedback. When you have explored the ‘what if’ scenarios and exhausted them, trust that you’re almost there, and take a chance on your own judgement.