The other day, I was asked to describe my writing process. My first instinct was to say I didn’t have one but, upon further consideration, I realized that I do follow certain patterns when writing a script.
Step #1: PROCRASTINATE
I’ll do anything to avoid starting a script – surfing the net, doing my taxes, writing this blog – sometimes going weeks steadfastly distracting myself until, finally, fed up with my no-can-do attitude, I’ll capitulate and begin!
Step #2: LAY THE GROUNDWORK
I’ll open up a new file page, put my name, the date, and the title on the cover page, then set up the headers and, finally, write TEASE at the top of the first page. This always gives me a great sense of accomplishment and, satisfied with work well done, I’ll take the rest of the day off.
Step #3: OPENING WITH A GLACIAL PACE
The first scene of the episode is crucial and, for that reason, I will agonize over it for days, constructing the entire scene in my head before writing it down. After several rewrites, I’ll set it aside and come back to it the next day, throw out what I’ve written, and take another stab at it. Eventually, I’ll have a scene that I don’t love but honestly don’t hate as much as previous versions and, besides, I’ve got to get moving. And so, the following day, I’ll rewrite the scene, then forge ahead and, usually, complete the tease. This offers another great sense of accomplishment as I convince myself that 1/7th of the script is complete (tease down, next five acts and the tag to go! That’s technically 1/7th – if you don’t take page count into consideration).
Step #4: CREATIVE DRIVE
The beginning of a script is always tough as I’ll re-read and rewrite those early scenes endlessly in the hopes that racing through them will give me the momentum to carry me through the rest of the act. Instead, I usually stumble and crash half a page into new territory. Fortunately, the cure for my writer’s block is only an elevator ride away. Once I’m behind the wheel of my car, far away from the distractions of the internet and the chocolate in my fridge, I can finally focus. In fact, I’ve done some of my best writing while driving. I’m not sure why it is but the 20 minute drive to work is golden time, allowing me to run and refine dialogue so that, by the time I get into the office, I’m ready to write!
Step #5: PUSH! PUUUUSH!
That’s it! Don’t let up! Lock your door, ignore the distractions, and keep at it! You’re almost there. Yes! Yes! You’ve done it! Congratulations! You’re the proud parent of a Tease and First Act! It may not be much to look at now but, like any mom and dad, you’ll grow to love it. Or get used to it.
Step #6: RINSE! REPEAT!
Completing the first act is a HUUUGE accomplishment. Believe it or not, the hardest part is over. Now it’s simply a matter of repeating the techniques and superstitious rituals that got you here. Re-read, rewrite, go for a drive, lie awake into the wee hours playing scenes in your head, drink some sake, seek out positive reviews, comments or messages to remind you of your salad days and motivate yourself to achieve the perception of unparalleled visionary heights, you sad, creatively-spent has-been.
Step #7: RIDE THE WAVE!
At some point in the writing of the script, amidst the seemingly endless hours agonizing over turns of phrase or Rubik-like plots, you’ll get into a groove and the words will start to flow, smoother and faster. And suddenly, all the pieces of the puzzle will fall into place and you can do no wrong. You’re in the zone and it’s glorious! Great characters moments, tight dialogue runs, clever developments – it’s as if some future you has traveled back in time to give you all the answers. Sadly, this inspired burst is fleeting, usually lasting 5 to 15 pages before dissipating and leaving you the shattered mess you once were. But the key is to recognize the wave and ride it as long as you can. Just last month, I rode my best wave ever on Dark Matter Episode 304, blazing through a record 32 pages in a white heat.
Step #8: FEAR THE DEADLINE!
By this point, I’m hopefully at least halfway through the script. I can often rely on a late closing burst as all the story’s narrative points converge in those final pages of the fourth act, giving me the momentum to drive through another modest chunk. If that doesn’t work, then the prospect of a looming deadline will be enough to spur me forward.
Step #9: CAP IT WITH SOMETHING SPECIAL!
Beginning a script is tough, but ending one can be just as hard UNLESS you’ve got the Holy Shit conclusion already in your head. And you should! Start strong, but end even stronger. Yes, it’s important for the viewers who will no doubt be blown away by your inspired moment, but it’s equally crucial to your creative mental well-being capping the episode with an ending YOU know will blow them away. The shocking reveal at the end of the show’s very first episode, the reveal of Jace Corso in Episode 3, TWO being blown out the airlock, the Android going down in Episode 12, the captured crew being escorted off the ship by the G.A. with SIX revealed as the mole in the season one finale, the bloodbath in the palace in Episode 212 – all deliciously devious moments I envisioned for ages and saved for script’s end, like a decadent bite of dessert you look forward to at the end of a long and exhausting dinner party.
Step #10: IGNORE IT LIKE AN EX THAT SPURNED YOU!
Once the script is complete, I’ll set it aside and move on to other things. Resist the urge to give it any attention. Don’t you remember the difficult times? The frustration? The thankless hours and days spent trying to make it work?!! Play hard to get. Ideally, I give it a few days before I pick it up and give it another read and another pass. After that, it’s someone else’s problem…
Until they give you notes. Then it’s your problem again.