Saturday, June 30, 2007

Script Frenzy: What Have I Wrought?

Ah, just a bit of misty eyed memories as I survey the ruins of a month's worth of script writing.

I started out in May with Swamp Opera. A practice script about the tender and touching tale of an arogant occupation of a foreign country by people who don't understand the culture gone horribly, horribly wrong. I can't imagine where I could have gotten the idea. First script I've written in ages, I really have to get back to it one day because I like the idea and I think I've learned how to treat it much, much better now.

Then there was my abortive comic script. That was about a crazed alien lifeform attacking New York. Or something. I didn't think it was very ambitious but I got bogged down in thinking about the backstory and the medium and everything else and never got very far. This is the script that taught me that descriptive passages are a very, very different beast when you're talking about a script.

Then, as June kicked off, I started with First Kiss. The heartwarming coming of age story of a precocious suburban Detroit area teenager in the early 90s who gets tangled up in a love quadrangle he never wanted. Trust me, it sounds a lot more autobiographical than it really is. This was a rather free-form script. I had a lot of preplaning work done regarding the characters and the setting and the various points I wanted to hit. But no idea of how I was going to put it altogether. It quickly became a mess. I was sick of it by the end of the first week. And losing steam fast.

Next, I switched to what became my current script. Although, at the time, I called it The Pact. This story, I had a definite beginning, middle, and end although I wasn't quite sure exactly how to connect all the dots. But it was a fantasy story about a Mage trying to escape from an unwelcome fate with the help of some interesting folks she met along the way.

That quickly led to the second revision which dropped the idea of an adventuring party in favor of concentrating on the Mage and the character I'd come to call the Soldier. The other characters were still there but they got pushed into more supporting roles to focus on the interesting relationship the two had. At this point I had an entirely different ending in mind. I thought of my current ending back here, too, but I was working under the assumption that I'd be doing the “happy ending”. In that one, um, spoilers, but the Mage gets killed and it's the Soldier who survives and takes up the mantle of another dead character, called the Cavalier, to try and bring some sense of justice to the occupied country. It's happy because it ends on an upbeat note of, well, hope for the future. And the Soldier's recovered the sense of duty and honor he had at the start of the film.

Next, in the third draft, came the first real big change. And that was changing the Soldier back from a male to the female he'd originally been envisaged as. I was going for the adventuring party thing originally, remember, but I switched to a buddy cop/unrequited love story and felt that needed a male and female lead to pull off. But the Soldier really kept wanting to be a female. It meant, of course, rewriting a lot of the story not only to correct all the pronouns – because while I was at it, I'd be looking at the scenes I had and figuring out where they went wrong but also because I wanted the Soldier's gender to be a surprise. For it to be a twist. And that meant setting some stuff up from the very beginning to pay off towards the end.

The forth draft, although I'd realized that I wasn't taking advantage of some interesting possibilities, that I wasn't making the most of foreshadowing and other narrative tricks, really came about when I decided to switch from “happy ending” to “sad ending”. That one, um, spoilers, ends with the Soldier dead and the Mage alive (There's really a shockingly high body count in this film. But it's dramatically necessary, I think.). And it's the sad ending because it ends with the Mage still on the run and probably going to be so for the rest of her life with no hope for the Kingdom to be saved from those occupiers. This draft brought with it a title change from The Pact to Unbound. Which I still think works better. But it also meant that all the foreshadowing I had been doing was pointing in the wrong direction. I had to start over. Again.

My fifth draft came when I decided to juggle the order of some of my scenes. Needed to move some things up so they wouldn't run together and that involved pushing some things more towards the middle of Act II. If you look on my outline, we're talking about reordering the whole DOLLMAGE, CAPTAIN, REBEL sequence. Originally I had the Cavalier joining the group early on in the second Act and after he joins the team takes care of the Guard Captain who's been pursuing them for a while. And they only joined up with the rebellion that the Cavalier was a part of towards the end of the act. Instead, I decided that I needed to establish the Dollmage character – who's just wicked evil fun, by the way, the spoiled brat from hell – who was going to play an important part in setting up the resolution in Act III a lot earlier. As well, I decided to make the Princess less of a MacGuffin and more fleshed out. But, again, that meant some drastic rewrites.

The last draft, sixth by my count, I started on Thursday night. I rewrote all my notes, all my outlines. Created updated maps. Plotted out everything. Drew all sorts of connections and conclusions. Identified all my problem areas and motifs, the whole ball of wax. Just to get it clear in my head what I was doing and what I had yet to do. And then, the next morning, I started rewriting everything starting from the very first scene. And kept going as long as I could, adding what I could from the previous drafts, tweaking what worked, throwing out what didn't.

I managed to get about halfway with that. The rest of my vaunted word count comes from the tail end of the 4th draft, where I started with the end and worked my way back. Some day, I think I'll start again with lucky number seven. But for now I think I'm content just to review my memories.

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