Dark days are coming…
I’ll admit it, I suck at editing, after writing a full story I usually take a lot of time before going for the second draft. This is because the actual process of writing the full script is often quite exhausting and to relive all over again really sounds like a nightmare just freakin’ ending, you know? But we all know this also, editing and revising your script is probably the most important part of the whole process, is the real carving of the stone, after kinda having an idea about what you were trying to say when finishing that awful first draft, it’s now time to polish those edges, to find the real shine, the true north you were aiming at with such creative endeavour.
So, how do you do it? Is there an optimal way to do so? Everyone has their own ways of doing these kind of stuffs. Either way, whether you’re a “I do it all on my own and don’t take shit from no one” type of person or you’re actually welling to be exposed to some good ideas about this process…
Here there are 20 steps to help you edit and revise your story!
Start with easy fixes.
Don’t concentrate immediately in those super complex things like character arc or some blatant plot holes here and there. Just go about checking the typos you’ve had, maybe cut some of those hateful adverbs, run some spell checks. This will familiarize you with the story, because either way you have to read it again to do these easy fixes.
Omit needless words
Check the words you’re using, is every single one of them really necessary? Maybe some descriptions you were using went way too poetical or something? Nothing wrong with it, just that many people think this is completely unnecessary given the cold heartless nature of movie producers, right?
Cut where you’re doing the reader’s thinking.
You know about this, c’mon! It’s the old show, don’t tell rule all over again. If we’re inside the character’s mind is not good, if we’re describing something we’re not seeing we’re definitely writing way more than we should.
Cut stage directions.
This is something I’ve done from time to time. My feeling is, if you’re completely sure the direction you’re giving is crucial to convey the idea you’re trying to make, then do it. But for the most part, try to omit doing this, give the cinematographer a chance at adding to the story, okay?
Insure consistent character motivation.
Try to stay consistent about the actions your character is doing in any given scene. If he’s doing something out of character it must be because he’s changing or has changed, not because you suddenly forgot what he was supposed to be like.
Ask yourself, has an action happened in the first paragraph?
In other words, be concrete about your action lines. Don’t lose yourself in highly boring yet stylize descriptions about the setting or characters, get to the point and fast, always remember that people get bored super-fast these days.
Ask yourself, is my story coherent?
How to know about this you ask? Don’t worry, just pay attention to the physical and emotional details you’re using in building your world and actions, are they constant throughout the whole script, does any change happen because of the result of actions?
Are there complete scenes?
This ties into the stuff we were discussing last time, but I know… you didn’t read it. How surprising! Let give a quick summary of the 5 points to a good scene:
- An action
- Specific intimate details
- Inner point of view
- Definitive starting point and end point.
Just do a check list on these things, are they there, are they good, is it all clear? Maintain a show, don’t tell attitude throughout the whole process to really cut all the excess here, only the good stuff should remain. Even if you leave telling stuff here, it would be because it’s really worth it.
Ask yourself, do I start each scene with something active?
The first previous rule on the 5 points thing states that the scene must start with an action, right in the stuff, you know. Now, this is not obligatory obviously, many times we start by setting the atmosphere or even the relationship of the characters, but one thing we must never forget is that in any scene the idea is that one character does something because they want something.
Avoid writing in passive voice.
Now, this is a thing most commonly found in novel writing, but it can also help to remember in writing screenplays. Avoid making descriptions starting with “there is…” or “there are”, It kinda pulls the reader away from the original POV, which must be as close as it can from the action.
Is setting working?
This one is important, how does the setting you’ve chosen actually helps to further develop the story you’re portraying. What does it say about the characters, but more importantly, how does it impact the overall conflict you’re setting, it can’t be just the background scenery where stuff happens.
Are my characters acting in a believable way?
Are their flaws believable and compelling enough, are the actions they undertake physically and emotionally understandable. Remember that flawed characters always desire something.
Are the transitions clear?
This is so important to maintain pacing in the script, the way you move from one scene to the next. There’s a technique in storyboard making that can help give a clue at this stage. Is the idea of guiding the eye from one image to the next trying to match the composition of the frames between the cuts. You either guide the eye into the next point of interest via movement or you match the same point in the cut. Same way, when transitioning from one scene to the next you need to remember from where you came and to where you’re going.
Does my story fit together?
This means to ask yourself if all of the scenes you’ve chosen to tell the tale have a cohesive unit going on. Is every scene chosen completely necessary and important in the chain of events? Pay special attention to scenes that deviate from the actual theme and character arc of the story, if a scene is not related to any of these elements you should cut it.
Did I explain the risks for each character?
We all know that a character that takes risks is the one that tells a story, yet we need to be able to understand why the character is taking such risks and what do they tell us about himself.
Did I explain the consequences of these risks?
Having a character taking risks and then facing consequences makes for a character that generates sympathy from the audience, so keep this idea in mind when choosing the actions your character takes, the reasons and the aftermath.
Does every sentence deepen a character or advance the plot?
We’ve said this before, it’s cause is so important… if it doesn’t, then cut it!!
Is the second draft at least 10% shorter than the first?
This is a no brainer, the idea of editing a script is to take out the excess of it, if you end up with a bigger script or the same then something is not working out, right?
Am I ready to discard pages that aren’t working?
This one comes from the previous one, you really need to be willing to take those pages and toss them aside, it’s the only way to make the story better.
Is what you meant in your head clear in the page?
Just ask yourself, was my initial idea, those feelings and gut stuff that sets you up for hours and days of typing words into blank spaces, and the actual writing the same? Even similar enough not to end up understanding you wrote a completely different thing? Nothing wrong with that btw, but the idea is that you check if your mental north and the actual writing are pointing in the same direction.
So, there you have it. 20 steps to really put your script in the next level with some editing and a lot of letting go. Kinda like a working routine for your first draft, which btw, get used to the idea is gonna suck anyways. Just take the pressure off and go at it again, and again and again. That’s the writing gig, as you remember!