Peggy Bechko’s World: Tighten It Up!


by Peggy Bechko

No, not your belly or you glutes or whatever – your script or novel.

Really, let’s trim it down and see how much better it can be.

I know, I know, it’s the holiday season, you’re tired and ready to take a break. Okey dokey go ahead and do that – THEN think about the ideas I’m going to present for getting that writing sharpened up. A break will do you good – then dive in and get to work.

First up. Let’s face it, rewriting is where it really is at. Most of the time the first draft isn’t where it stops. I mean as a writer you no doubt vomited out the first draft – got that story on the page, but that means you’re only part way there.

It’s a marathon to go to polished script or manuscript from rough draft. Sorry, but there’s no way to tell the newer writer how the rewrite process should go. That’s up to every writer, and what it boils down to is, well, just fix it.

So let’s look at how.

I’m going to use the ‘script’ as example and not manuscript only because we’re on TV Writer after all! But it all applies.

First question to ask yourself after completion of a script is whose story is it? You’ve purged yourself of story – got it down on the blank page – so who’s the hero? Truly, now is the time to reread that draft with an open mind.

What if, for example, in the newly released movie, the script for Dr. Strange gave much of the action and dialog to one of the more minor characters? What if the storyline had fixed more on someone other than Dr. Strange? I mean his cloak almost stole the show (but in that case it was a good thing and in small doses).

My point is if you chose the wrong hero you need to fix it. You need to make sure the principal character gets the majority of the storyline and dialog. You’d be surprised how easy it is to mess that up. And Ensemble movies can make it that much more tricky.

Secondly, and you’ve heard this many times before but it can’t be overstated, the consequences, AKA the stakes, need to be high. Life and death high. Death could mean disaster, literal death, or any other failure that has genuine, and powerful, negative consequences. Make sure those stakes are high and don’t let the storyline go soft. And…

In line with the second point, remember the third – make the obstacles worse and worse, harder to overcome, more threatening. Once more, as example, Dr. Strange.

In this one we’re literally looking at the end of the world if he doesn’t succeed. But, a different genre doesn’t require violence or action to keep the stakes high. I happen to be a big action/SciFi/Thriller/Paranormal/horror fan so I write more in those areas.

But if the story you’re writing revolves around romance then plainly you need obstacles that work with your story. An old boyfriend or girlfriend turns up with problems for the main character. A parent dies at the wedding. Any number of life’s obstacles. Just make sure they’re intense and engage the reader/watcher to the point they can’t turn away.

If there are no obstacles there’s no story. Reread that draft and see if the obstacles you’ve thrown up offer your main character some real challenges and doesn’t go off to whimpy-diddles world.

Do another reread with your dialog in mind. As writers it’s easy for us to cause our characters to spit out exactly what they mean in their dialog. But Subtext adds so many nuances.

How many times in life do you say ‘yeah, sure’ when you’re being sarcastic and mean ‘no way in hell’. So it’s okay to do that in your first draft (the on the nose dialog), but think about what you’ve written and how, in places, you can add subtext to that dialog.

Watch a couple of movies you really liked or reread a book and watch for that dialog that isn’t ‘on the nose’ but conveys much more meaning where the people don’t always say exactly what they mean, but offer nuances of what was meant.

The dialog needs to be a bit off kilter yet clear enough so the audience, whether movie or novel, can follow what’s really intended. It can take a bit of practice, and you don’t want to do it through every scene, but it adds so much, makes the characters so much more human, that it will really put teeth into the script.

Finally – let it rest again. Come on, you know you want to walk away from it for a time anyway. Work on something new. Give it a few weeks. I’ll bet when you come back to it you’ll find it’s yours – and yet not quite.

One more run through and now when you rewrite it will be a bit less like, as one writer said, ‘killing your darlings’. It’s a bit more like doing in someone else’s and it can turn into great fun!

Got it now? Rewrite – go for the throat emotionally and turn out a great script.

And while you’re at it, don’t forget to have Happy Holidays along the way!

Peggy Bechko is a TVWriter™ Contributing Editor. blog. Learn more about her HERE. Peggy’s new comic series, Planet of the Eggs, written and illustrated with Charlene Brash-Sorensen is available on Kindle. And, while you’re at it, visit the Planet of the Eggs Facebook page and her terrific blog.