Peggy Bechko: Rewriting is Hell

Full wastepaper basket

by Peggy Bechko

Rewriting is hell, right?

Nope. Not when you can goose the effectiveness of your writing and create a really outstanding script or manuscript.

Have you heard from a producer, “there’s nothing wrong with your script, it just needs a rewrite.”?

Have you heard from an editor, “it’s a great story, it just needs some rewriting.”

Did your heart lurch, your stomach drop and your mind rail, “I want it the way it is!”?

I mean here it is, you thought the script or the manuscript was great just as written, you thought it was ready to submit and someone was going to be just as excited about it as you were when you finished that last touch-up edit.

When you think about it there are about three categories of writing and it applies to most areas of writing – especially movie scripts and manuscripts.

Worst = not on its best day will it ever have a chance of acceptance anywhere. Trash it. The producer/editor already did. Moving on…

Middle of the Road = pretty good and could be fantastic with the right rewrite.

Best = wow, outstanding! Ready to go and everybody is going to want it. A bidding war is in your future.

Admittedly a whole lot more scripts and manuscripts fall into the middle category than the best – the worst is probably where a large majority falls because (and I’m not trying to be unkind) it seems like a huge number of folks who’ve never taken the time to study any craft of writing think they can simply chuck out a story and everyone will be scrambling to grab it. Nope, not true.

Now, if you’re a serious writer and you hear from the atmosphere, “you’ve got a great story here, it just needs a rewrite,” don’t despair. You’re actually miles ahead of most of your competition. Success is within grasp.

Here’s the thing, most of us writers have the instinct to protect our work like a mother tiger protects her cub, claws out and fangs bared. But wait a minute, what if we would think more like explorers than fanged terrors? What if we stopped, stepped back and realized suggestions can make the work better? Has it happened to you that someone said something had to change and you reared back in horror, knee-jerked your way to disaster since you refused to change anything and the editor/producer just walked away?

Hmmm, probably not the result you wanted or anticipated. So let’s get our heads around the creative process, the need for engaging and considering changes to our work.

First of all, before you take off on any rewrite remember you have a computer hard drive. You can and should save your original version and back it up. That draft will be there. You can always go back to it.

Now that you’ve copied it again you’re totally free! You can rip it up, pull out chunks, insert new ones, take a whole new direction. You can follow suggestions and see where they lead. You can initiate new ideas based on those suggestions. The world is your oyster you can unleash your wildest creativity and that original draft is tucked away… just in case.

Okay, the next question. Do you really want to rabidly defend all those little tiny details? Cut to the core of your story, the heart of the manuscript or screen script you’ve written. Remember how cooperation can move your career forward. Of course you want to keep the heart of your story pumping, but writing is at its ‘heart’ a non-linear process. It’s also a cooperative process – unless you self-publish and do everything yourself. Otherwise you’re going to have editors involved, producers, even possibly actors. Learn to be flexible and you’ll get much further and be much happier. Only stand firm on the heart of the matter.

Look for the value in the comments and notes you’re given on your writing. Think about it (okay, privately fly off the handle for a while if you like, then get to it) and use it. What if, instead of being threatened by editorial comment or script notes you turned it around and told yourself that instead of interfering, the person making the suggestions was making an effort to help you make that book or script great, fantastic even?

Ponder this. If you change something in the story near the end, whether book or script, chances are you’re going to think of several additions/changes/deletions that need to happen earlier on for that final change to work. In scripts it’s called set-up and pay-off. In books it’s foreshadowing and climax.

Granted, you need to be selective in the suggestions you accept and how you launch into changes of your writing. That’s your prerogative and it’s important. Long long ago in that far and distant time I had an editor suggest changes and wanted me to remove a character from a manuscript. The character was small but pivotal. I did the rewrite, did the cut in length and left the character in. The book ended up much better, the editor didn’t even notice the character wasn’t removed, everybody was happy and the book was published – by Doubleday. Sometimes suggestions are way the hell out in center field – far beyond the outfield and you have to reel things in a bit to find the seed of brilliance, or uncover a problem that will make your writing great.

Focus on what will make your script or manuscript great. Brainstorm. Let your characters speak to you. Always ask yourself, am I making it better?

Peggy Bechko is a Contributing Editor to TVWriter™. You can learn more about her HERE.