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First Drafts and Novice Screenwriters…

April 20, 2013

I’ve got something to say about first drafts and novice screenwriters…

Screenwriting is, undoubtedly, a rather singular endeavor. The writer toils alone at a computer, typewriter, notebook or collection of crayons scattered across the floor attempting to flog, caress, cajole, whip or nurture words onto a page – whether computerized or crayonized. The goal being something like 100 pages of story, characters, arcs, fun, madness, debauchery and/or drama. The first large goal in the process being a first draft, even if it’s written with eighteen different colors of crayon on various sizes of paper.

I’m trying to recall what I did with my first ever first draft… I think I edited the shit out of it. I sure hope I did. Now, I do. It’s a nice feeling to write “FADE OUT” for the first time on a new screenplay. It truly is. One will often celebrate. One can’t help but shout at the trees, on occasion. The completion of such a daunting phase of the process can be deserving of an award, like a special dinner or a vacation. Go for it. By all means. Have a blast. Enjoy this feeling. It won’t last too long. Because, the inevitable next stage is that you’ll have to kill your babies – minor characters you love who don’t serve your story, lines you cherish but just don’t fit, or that whole six page sequence in the middle of Act 5. (You heard me right.)

The day you type “FADE OUT” on that screenplay for the first time is a great day, but IT IS NOT THE DAY TO SEND YOUR BABY (SCREENPLAY) TO A READER.

Entirely too often, I’ve seen novice screenwriters take the approach of sending a rough first draft to a reader. It constantly baffles me. Are you telling me you can’t find anything to edit on your own? If this is the case, you’re dream of being a professional screenwriter might as well be flushed down the toilet right now, because writing is re-writing. I’ve heard someone suggest the first draft equates to about 10% of the process. Meaning the other 90% is editing, re-writing, editing, re-writing, editing, re-writing, editing, re-writing. I’ve heard someone else suggest the first draft equates to a little under 7% of the process. I’m not going to get into numbers and debate what percentage a first draft equates to. Point is – it’s not nearly ready, especially if you’re a novice.

“But, I want to get an objective perspective,” you say. That’s fine. Wait until you have a second draft, please. Why?

A READER ONLY GETS ONE FIRST IMPRESSION. 1) If I’m your reader and you send me an un-edited first draft, riddled with simple fixes, I’m not ever going to want to read anything of yours ever again. 2) I like to obtain value from a reader. Not waste their time. Let me put it this way, if you had one shot at one read from one reader, would you rather them read the first draft or the fifth? I think both the reader and writer would answer fifth. If not, get a new career. 3) One of the great advantages of having someone else read your script is OBJECTIVITY. The reader can only be truly objective once. So, first draft or fifth? Your choice. But, you’re choice will greatly impact your potential future as a screenwriter.

So, when should you send your new baby screenplay to a reader? When you’ve gotten to the point where you don’t know what else to do and truly need an objective perspective. Once you get to that point – after at least a couple passes (read throughs, edits, etc..) you can send it to a reader or readers. Then, repeat the process. That’s my two cents.

  1. Ooh, so true. 🙂 I would also recommend to let your work rest for a couple of months after you’ve done a couple of rewrites, and just start writing something else. When you go back to it, you’ll have a totally different perspective. You can look at it more like an editor and less like a proud parent.

  2. Yes, personal objectivity is also important to the process – often obtained by shelving a work in progress for awhile.

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