The biggest issue regarding the script writing process that keeps coming up with writers I work with is their lack of thorough and exhaustive pre-draft exploratory work. So much so, in fact, that I’m writing a new book on the subject.
The book will dig into how to initially test and develop new story ideas from a structural standpoint and also lay out a process of inventing vibrant backstories that bring characters fully to life. The overall goal will be to help writers discover, explore, and illuminate the nine-tenths of their stories that will lie submerged under the surface of the script itself.
I can’t count the times that a play or screenplay is sent to me for analysis that clearly was written without this pre-draft work being done thoroughly. The characters remain largely two-dimensional, there are few surprises that turn out to be organically central to the story, and the audience is not consistently invited to “lean into” the unfolding tale and be asked to connect the dots themselves. In other words, the subtext of the script–the underpinnings of everything your story is attempting to accomplish–is not brought fully to life because it hasn’t been adequately explored by the writer before getting into draft. I would say that this is the biggest single mistake most script writers make.
My book The Playwright’s Process begins to address this issue, but my hope is that the new book will lay out in detail how best to approach this critical phase of creating a successful script. My approach is similar to a builder designing and constructing the plans for a new house, with a concentration on the hidden foundational elements that must be explored and in place before the actual house that’s to be built on top of it can hope to stand and endure the load of the structure and the elements of time and weather. And anyone who works successfully in our business knows full well that any script that stands half a chance of weathering the professional gauntlet it will face once released to the world will have to have its own sub-surface foundational elements solidly in place.
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I’m the Program Director of the low-residency MFA in Writing for Stage and Screen being offered by the New Hampshire Institute of Art. Our next residency runs June 19-28, 2015 and we are still considering applications for starting the program this June as well as for a January 2016 start. I’m also a playwright and screenwriter, producing partner in my production company Either/Or Films (The Sensation of Sight and Only Daughter), and a professional script consultant.