Everybody told me it was the best one. I was excited to see it and came away disappointed. Disappointed and confused. I’m not a dim guy but I had no idea what was going on in the plot. None.
Well, there was some plutonium. And two women.
Who looked EXACTLY alike! Same color hair. Same unusual mouth. I didn’t realize there were two of them until late in the movie. Imagine my bewilderment!
Am I the only one? I mean, I was able to follow TINKER TAILER SOLDIER SPY and that was a plot and a half.
They kept throwing twists at me until I had zero idea which people were on his side and which ones were on the bad guy’s side. Every henchman had the same build, wardrobe and facial structure. The plot, or my ability to keep the plates spinning, went flying out the window fairly early on. After that it was just a ride. A fun one with cool chases, but story?
I imagined the studio executive reading the script, thinking, “What the hell is going on here? If I tell ’em I’m confused, they’re gonna say I’m stupid. I’ll stay mum and pray they know what they’re doing. But, whoa, this’s like following a single strand of spaghetti through an Olive Garden-sized bowl of pasta.”
Who was the bad guy? He or she or they seemed to morph and change and waver, like a wisp of cigarette smoke in a barely lit room. Hard to see or remember.
And, hey, read my book! One bad guy’s name was LANE. Another one was named, I swear, LARK. I never knew which was which. I’m old and decrepit and have two feet in the grave, but please: LA** as two characters’ names? Why not LANE and LAIN, to make it more entertaining?
Got this email from a former student, working for a lit agency in Los Angeles.
“I cannot tell you how many times I wish writers would have read your book. We had one submission where the character names were Simon, Sarah, Mitch, Mikey, and Emily. Needless to say, we don’t rep that writer…”
Why do writers submit work that’s not as perfectly perfect as they can possibly make it?
I often see the wrong word being used. Literally, the wrong word. Just because you ran your spellcheck doesn’t mean you’re done. If your sentence is about a hairy beast, don’t describe his hair as “course.”
Don’t use words you don’t actually know. You would not describe a fortress as “adamantine,” even though the word sort of means “unyielding.” Don’t use words you don’t know. Especially if not one other word in your piece is half as brainy as “adamantine.” A person can have an adamantine personality, but a fort can’t. You’re not trying to impress someone with fancy words. You’re not writing an English paper. You are trying to communicate a simple idea as effectively as possible. Or, horrors, a complicated idea. Do not attempt to impress the reader with knowledge you do not have. It will only make you look like you’re reaching.
Not just use of language, but events that have no set up or moments that seem important that have no pay off. Or dialogue at the end of scenes that just peters out into nothing, that should have been trimmed so the page is as tight as it possibly can be. Or characters names that change several times in the course of a script. Details that may bump with a reader.
Every teeny detail must be right, or they’ll think you don’t care and will move on to the next thing in their stack.
I hope you’re not sitting in your nifty little writing space thinking, “Well, that book I just read or that movie I just saw was garbage. I can do better than that!” Well, that garbage got published or got produced, so it probably wasn’t garbage when they wrote it. The odds of something, anything… a thing you wrote, getting published or produced are infinitesimal, which means “very, very, very tiny.”
Every detail must be polished to perfection or your work will die a grim death.
Imagine you’re running across a windswept battlefield clutching your draft, racing toward a producer willing to read it… and charging at your heels, an army of Lord of the Rings Orcs, each with a finished script or manuscript in hand. They think their writing is good. You think yours is good. If you’re going to win the race with that river of Orcs, you had better take the time to get your writing as perfectly perfect as possible. Otherwise, one of those ten thousand Orcs will get a check, not you.
Some of my clients understand the degree of difficulty of what they’re trying to do. Others live in La La Land (not the movie!) and nothing good will ever happen to their writing. I’m sorry to say that, but that’s the way it is.
I suggest my clients use Your Screenplay Sucks! to do three drafts, which is how many it takes to exhaust the book. That may take as long as a year, depending on what your work schedule and writing schedule will allow. The book only costs $20. Cheap, for what you can squeeze out of it. Free, if you steal it! That’s a lot less expensive than my consulting fee. Do three drafts. Use the book up. Then send your work to me for notes. I can talk about high end stuff like plot, character, tone, structure… important things… not your misuse of “adamantine.”
I recently told a client, “Take you time. Read the book. Do the stuff you agree with. Get it right. Then send it to me.” He said, “No need. I’m ready now.” False bravado will sink your lifeboat. Ignoring my my advice, he sent his “ready to go” script. After I finished my notes, his pages looked like I’d severed my carotid artery all over them. When I sent him the notes, he was terribly embarrassed. Rarely are people able to judge their own work. He was certain it was ready. T’wasn’t close.
It’s okay to be embarrassed when it’s a script consultant. It’s not okay to be embarrassed if it’s an agent ’cause that’s the last you’ll ever hear from her. Never forget, you only get one crack at someone “real.” They’re hard to find. Excruciatingly difficult to get them to read your work. You only have one chance at them.
Once you have a draft, you have to go through every scene and ask yourself, with brutal honesty, “I know what happens in this scene, but that’s because I wrote it. Does someone who has no idea what is going on have the exact same idea I do about what’s going on?”
Just because you know what happens doesn’t mean a reader is going to know what happens. Ha ha, I see this happen all the time!
If you write a scene where a man wants to have sex with a woman, and he’s standing at the end of the bed, and she’s on the bed fully dressed… and that’s the scene out… the fact that you showed him unbutton his shirt doesn’t mean we know, for certain, that they have sex. You know they have sex. But no one else will know, for sure.
If you add a moment where he grabs her ankle and draws it towards him and she smiles, and you end on that image, we will know what happens in the scene.
You have to be ruthless. You have to figure out a way to remove your writer’s hat and put on your director’s hat, or, more importantly, your editor’s hat. You must get yourself in the mindset of your editor, sneering, saying, “What you thought was there, isn’t there. How do you want to do this? What story are you gonna tell now?”
Just because you think it means what you hope it means doesn’t mean an audience is going to understand it.
You are going from your mind to the page and on to the reader’s mind. A very crooked journey, fraught with peril. Easy for me to say. Hard for you to do.
But, you have to do it. You have to exercise rigor in the rewriting process to make certain that when the reader reads it, the reader is going to be in your head.
If you show a character running in one scene and, in the next, he enters his apartment… That is going to tell us that he ran all the way to the apartment. The next, perhaps unintended meaning, is that the apartment is very close to the warehouse. When, in fact, they’re five miles apart… That means you need to write an in-between scene of him walking, exhausted, down the sidewalk.
The reader is going to make it mean what you give them. From reading what’s on the page, they cannot figure out what is in your head unless you tell them: the correct story, the correct images, in the correct order.
This is brutally difficult to do, but, if you keep yourself aware of the problem, you can solve it.