The other day I had the follow exchange with a script client that went something like this:
Client: I’m desperate to get into draft, but I know I need to be dead sure I have a plot outline that
really holds together.
Me: Absolutely. Screenplays are so dependent on action, on story structure, on a plot that, as you say, really holds together.
Client: Yeah, I know. I need a clear vision of where I’m going.
Client: But it’s been such a struggle…
Client: I hope this time what I come up with really sticks because it’s a little discouraging to take so many passes at it.
Me: It’s all part of the process.
Client: I knew you’d say that. And tough as it is, I agree. It’s much better getting it right in the outline before plunging into draft–you need to have clear road map.
Me: And remember that what you’re going through is typical of the real pros in this business who get their work sold and produced. It’s why they’re consistently successful. More times than not, they go over their developing stories many, many times in outline form because (as you have discovered and are embracing) writing a draft of a screenplay on top of a faulty structural foundation is almost always a waste of time. The writer may think he’s building a lovely screenplay, but when that draft is finished and he stands back to admire his wonderful new creation, suddenly and with a loud crushing sound the whole thing comes crashing down like a house of cards. And all those precious pages lie in a soiled heap in front of him.
So…getting your foundation right is essential. Every successful screenwriter knows this. The other 98% of folks who think they are real screenwriters are kidding themselves because they are in too big a hurry to get that script in hand and they sidestep or rush through the most critical and most difficult phase.
Client: Okay. I’m back at it.
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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 January 3-11, 2016 and we are now considering applications for starting the program with our July 2016 residency that runs July 18-28. 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.