How’s The Script Coming Along?

A close up shot of a computer keyboardWhen I retired from my government career, there was no doubt in my mind that I wanted to write, given the number of story ideas bubbling in my subconscious.

At about the eight-month mark, after clearing “The Backlog of Backlogs”, time and space finally opened up for me to venture boldly into the world of fiction. My first mission was to learn more about the screenwriting process itself.

I had already invested in a few books about screenwriting and was finally able to sit down and devour them, cover to cover. My reading was complemented by Master Class videos presented by renowned screenwriters, describing in glorious detail their creative processes. Next, I took to YouTube to find interviews with other writers to hear their personal stories about the process and the business.

After an intensive crash-course month, I felt that I had enough building blocks to get started. After all, it wasn’t like I was writing for the first time. In my back pocket I had a rich 33-year career of writing a variety of communication products, from different points of view, for different target audiences, under the tutelage of amazing mentors.

In addition, when it came to screenwriting, I didn’t just watch TV in my down time. Over more than five decades, I studied TV which afforded me the opportunity to develop my own opinions about what I liked, what I thought was successful and what I wanted to see on screen.

I chose to start working on a script idea that seemed closest in my thoughts. Unfortunately, I found myself stumbling over this script idea time and time again.

There were two problems.

I discovered that I had cavernous gaps in technical knowledge about the real world in which my characters lived. There was no way that I could build a story that would make it past tough critics who knew the environment far better than me.

The second issue was language. To me, the story needed to be told in my mother tongue, French. The problem is that after working primarily in English for my entire professional career (as well as in my years of blogging), my writing reflexes were more finely tuned for writing in English rather than French.

This is not to say that these two challenges were insurmountable. Problem #1 could be resolved with research… lots of it. Problem #2 could be resolved through time, patience and practice, practice, practice.

But for my first script, where my goal was to prove to myself that I could actually write a television series, I needed positive results and validation sooner than that. I knew that I needed to go back to the ideas pile and pick another story idea.

The next story in queue was one that I always envisioned as being told in English. There was my answer to problem #2!

The premise of the story was the love child of small strands of experience combined with an active imagination of how things could have played out differently, which took care of problem #1.

While on the surface, the story seemed like a more appropriate challenge for a first-time screenwriter, it was no less daunting.

From what I have read about the industry, in some cases, a series can be sold based on a pilot episode, a pitch deck (to sell the story) and a story bible (describing the characters, the storylines and the overall direction of the story).

In never having done this before, I feared painting myself in a corner, producing those three documents, getting the green light to write the series and then to find myself unable to complete it within a required time frame.

I decided that at a time when I had no firm commitments nor timelines, this was the best time and environment to stretch my wings and to try to write a whole series myself… to prove to myself that I could.

Am I ever happy I did?! One year later, I have seven of eight episodes completed in draft form, along with the story bible and the elements needed for the pitch deck. At this point, I just need to conclude the storylines and then to join them together like a jigsaw puzzle into their respective episodes. Voilà!

Throughout the year, I learned so much along the way.

The first big lesson was how long it took to write one minute of screen time. Let’s just say it takes much longer than one minute.

Next was the discovery that sentences in scripts were much shorter than I was accustomed to. While watching a program with the closed captioning feature turned on (due to characters with thick accents who often whispered or mumbled), I started noticing that most sentences consisted of twelve words or less… considerably shorter than the ones I produced back in my government job.

Once that awareness set in, I found myself breaking down my script sentences to more manageable bites, which made dialogue more malleable and easier to play with for nuance and effect.

I had to adapt my writing to use wording that is more common in conversation as opposed to the more formal formulations that can be found in written form… I also became more vigilant in eliminating awkward alliterations.

While reading scenes out loud, I realized that I needed to incorporate more contractions and pauses for the dialogue to flow as it would in a face-to-face conversation.

As time went on, I noticed my writing speed picking up, as these factors found their way into my subconscious while my writing reflexes sharpened.

I was also surprised at the discovery that not only did I enjoy producing content as a screenwriter, I started finding it easier than writing blog posts.

My theory is that when writing a blog post, the story is coming from me, which may lend itself to a sense of apprehension or caution in what I say or how I say it. When writing a script, the words come from the characters who are seemingly in my ear telling me the story. When that happens, I tend not to filter or edit (initially), I just write it all down like a court reporter.

In the spirit of continuing education, I found an amazing series on the PBS app called “On Story” that has become my daily source of inspiration over my morning coffee. Each episode features a conversation with screenwriters, filmmakers or TV creators behind well-known movies and television shows. Not only has this program been a source of great information, but it has also been a confidence builder for me. As industry professionals discuss their creative processes, I often find myself ticking boxes in agreement, reflecting upon things I do when bringing a story to light, reassuring me that I am on the right path.

After this first year, I am overjoyed that project #1 is almost at the finish line and that I should soon be able to move on to other projects on my list.

My plan is to tackle a couple of movie script ideas that will likely take me less time than writing a full eight-episode series, while still refining my creative process for screenwriting along the way.

Once I have a few completed projects in my back pocket, that will be my cue to get out in the world and to start networking, with the validation and confidence to be able to refer to myself as a screenwriter!

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Sincere thanks for reading!
Have a great day,

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