My creative screenwriting process begins with an idea. Like other writers, I may be called a procrastinator, but I am also very patient, too. I consider patience a virtue, but, I do not sit around waiting for ideas or inspiration for them, nor do I go out looking for them. Ideas come from my life, when I’m out living it. And when ideas do come, they came on their terms, not mine, and they can come from anywhere at any time. Ideas are gifts, and writers are like doctors, on call for ideas.
But the important thing to note about ideas is knowing the difference between good ideas—and bad ones, and the difference is a good idea will excite you! And if it excites you, and you execute it correctly chance are it will excite your intended audience.
Once I get a good idea the single-most important thing to do—and my instincts will tell me this— is to write the idea down. Immediately! You have to treat the idea like an emergency! You have to write it down on anything you can find—even if it means writing it down on toilet paper, even if it means asking the person in the bathroom stall next to you if they can “spare a square.” The idea can come as an image, as a title, or a thought; whatever the particular case may be, I take nothing for granted. I write it down! If you do not, chances are—and this has happened to me—you will never get it back.
Once I have gotten a good idea and have written it down, I play around with it in my head. I experiment with it. I ask questions about it until I believe I have an outline I can work with.
I am not your typical outliner. I do not write outlines that might look like a March Madness bracket. I write the outline out in what I call a paragraphical outline, dividing it into Acts I, II, and III, defining—or underling the inciting incident—and, of course, knowing how the story will end. My outlines look like one-page essays, and they do not exceed one page.
Once I have an outline, I go into what I call writer’s hibernation, writing the first draft out with a pen onto a legal pad in single space. My only fear is that because this can be such a fast process, racing to get it all down on paper, the chicken scratch I am writing it in I will not be able to read later on, and it does happen, but nothing is worse than having never written anything down at all.
Eleven to fifteen written pages per day is a good day. Five to seven is a bad day, but if I am having a good day, really rolling, I will not stop. There are occasions when I had sat down around 7 p.m. to write and did not stop writing until 4:30 a.m. the next day. I could barely turn my neck without feeling a pinch in the back of my neck and shoulders, and once I had gotten up, my butt was numb, but it was all worth it. Scheherazade was right in A Thousand and One Nights in saying that there’s something about telling stories at night. It seems to set the mood. It seems to be a great time to tell a story.
Once I have those eleven to fifteen pages written pages, it’s where the actual typing begins, transferring them from the legal pad into the computer using Final Draft, editing as I go.
In just about 2 ½ weeks I have a finished, very rough first draft.
Writing is all about rewriting. The first draft will never be your last draft. It is time to let the nicely typed, neatly stacked pages of your first draft sit for a minimum of one day or overnight, and the longer you let it sit the better. Well, don’t let it sit too long; otherwise, you never get it done. Writing is like making fine wine—writing must age. Even if you think you have gotten your story right the first time, just imagine how much more right it will be after several drafts.
The first draft of your script is just the beginning. It’s only your story in theory. It is just a starting point.
It’s time, as cliché goes, to kill your darlings.
Once you begins the re-writing, you’ll be amazed about just how bad your first draft really is. What you did not see in bad writing in the first draft jumps right out at you! But, if you are patient, if you listen, if you are open-minded, your story will tell you where it needs to go, not where you want or think it should go, which is a very critical distinction. This means that you might have to sacrifice what you think is some of your best writing, some of your best sentences for the betterment of the story. I guess like your children, you do not own your story or forward the story. In the prose use to write, I used a lot of alliteration. Sometimes it was broken, and if it didn’t work, I left it out, since writing prose was what I aimed for, not poetry.
After three to four drafts, after letting your story age three to four times, the story begins to come together like a puzzle with laser-cut pieces. It goes from a major rewrite to just touching up the story, putting the last, puzzle piece one thousand in as it snaps and fits right into place rather nicely. It might not be the story you started out with, or had intended to write, but, you will admit it is a much better story, and you will be proud of it.