So What’s It About?

Or: keeping redrafts on track.

As I may have mentioned previously, I’m in the middle of redrafting a pilot script.

Last week, I wrote about how focus — that is, having a specific list of problems to fix between drafts — stopped me getting caught in an infinite loop of possible changes.

This week, I stumbled across a new, subtly different problem: how do I know if the changes I am making are a step in the right direction? That I’m not just playing a game of playground whispers, where the final thing is completely distorted from the original vision?

This is particularly an issue when incorporating other people’s suggestions.

In general, I’m very open to receiving feedback — a delightfully positive side-effect of having low confidence in my writing ability and caring too much what other people think.1 Even if the note doesn’t resonate, it usually means something is wrong (e.g. my intention isn’t clear).

But this time, I might’ve taken it too far. I got all tangled up trying to accommodate everyone’s ideas — including my own — and found myself dealing with existential questions like: is this the right inciting incident? Do I need this character? Does the main storyline even make sense anymore??

• • •

So I went for a walk, and thought about what exactly I was trying to say with this script. And for the first time, I was able to articulate it in a single sentence: this is a story about someone who has to choose between doing what they want and what other people want — and keeps choosing incorrectly.2

And oh boy, that simple statement helped a lot.

It made it way easier to triage the possible changes: I could embrace the ones that were serving that aim, and happily ignore everything else. It gave me the confidence to abandon the scenes that I was clinging to from earlier drafts, which I was bending over backwards to accommodate – even though I knew deep down that they didn’t really fit anymore.

And it even helped clarify the overall structure: the A-story is about what other people want, while the B-story is about what the main character wants — and so the whole story should be about him repeatedly trying to leave the A-story to get to the B-story (and failing).

• • •

A couple of years ago, I did the excellent From Mind to Page course with Maddy Anholt. One of the things she suggested was keeping your logline stuck on the wall while you’re writing, to remind you to eliminate anything that doesn’t contribute to it.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t do that with this project, because – as I wrote about previously – I didn’t have a logline in place before I started writing. (Which may or may not have been a mistake…) But maybe having a statement of intent is a good enough alternative in the meantime.

Are there any other tools you’ve found useful for keeping your redrafts on track?

  1. Okay, this may be a slight exaggeration for comic effect. This mindset also comes from: a. the day job, where customer feedback loops are seen as essential to a product’s success, and b. my slight obsession with the creative process at Pixar, which is also big on this.
  2. I’ll give you three guesses where this came from.

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