Over the weekend, my friend Rawson came to visit the bambina, and we talked about the script he’s writing. He said he was about to start his next draft, which was mostly character tweaks. He was unsure how to go about it.
I said, “Decide out what you want to accomplish, then figure out which scenes would need to change.”
He seemed to think that was pretty good advice. And the more I thought about it, the more I agreed.
The biggest problem with most rewrites is that you start at page one, which is already probably the best-written page in the script. You tweak as you go, page after page, moving commas and enjoying your cleverness — all the while forgetting why you’re rewriting the script.
Instead, you need to stop thinking of words and pages, and focus on goals. Are you trying to increase the rivalry between Helen and Chip? Then look through the script — actual printed script, not the one on screen — and find the scenes with Helen and Chip. Figure out what could be changed in those scenes to meet your objectives. Then look for other scenes that help support the idea. Scribble on the paper. Scratch out lines. Write new ones.
Then move on to your next goal. And your next one.
At first, this “checklist” approach to rewriting probably won’t feel organic. It doesn’t have the same flow as writing the first draft. But fixing your script isn’t that different than fixing your car. If the stereo was busted, you wouldn’t start at the tailpipe and work your way forward until you got to the dashboard. You’d rip out the stereo, figure out what was wrong, and replace it if you couldn’t get it working. Then you’d do the same for the headlights, the shocks, and the windshield wipers. A car is a car, and a script is a script. But they’re both made of lots of little pieces, and you can only fix one piece at a time.
And scripts are much better than cars. If you don’t know what you’re doing when you try to fix your car, you might be stuck taking the bus. With a screenplay, you always have the old version saved on disk. So roll up your sleeves and get to it. Don’t let the fear of screwing up keep you from starting.