As you might have seen on The Fray Project Writing page, my writing goals for April 2012 are:
- finish breaking down scripts of show I’m spec-ing.
- using Sandler book, start already-written spec from scratch using what you now know to keep the story bits that work and create a script that actually works.
- send completed script to people you trust for feedback
- finish The Ten-Cent Plague
- have phone meeting w/Adam about pilot script
- have rescheduled brain-picking meeting w/TV writer
The show I’m spec-ing right now is Castle. Now, some of you might have read elsewhere on the blog that I’ve already written a Castle spec. One that I’ve already gotten feedback on, and submit to writing fellowships even. So, am I writing a new one? No. I’m rewriting the same one. Why?
Because that script was crap, that’s why.
Here’s the thing. When I wrote that script, I knew fuck-all about teleplay structure. Seriously. Fuck-all. So, if I got anything right, it was purely by accident. And I mostly got things wrong. The story itself, however, was a good one, and that’s what I’m trying to salvage. However, after I got little bitty notes from a couple of people, I got some serious, heavy-duty notes from someone who’s actually written for TV, and I was all, “Damn. I know absolutely nothing.” Which, of course, shouldn’t have been a surprise, since I didn’t, and had only gotten interested in writing for television about a year before I wrote that script.
After the script was rejected from three fellowships (two this past year, one the year before), I set it aside and realized I needed to get my learn on. I’ve started reading TV scripts and writing about TV more critically. Sure, my reviews of Once Upon a Time and Grimm are for a paycheck, but they’re also me trying to articulate for myself what it is that works about individual episodes and what doesn’t. During a random trip to a bookstore when I first moved to L.A, I happened upon The TV Writer’s Workbook: A Creative Approach to Television Scripts by Ellen Sandler, which has been super helpful. It gives really practical information about what scripts need to be, as well as practical insight into the business side of things, while not being ridiculously stuffy or technical like other books I’ve read on the subject.
Sandler suggests starting by finding copies of scripts of the show you’re spec-ing and breaking them down hardcore: into acts, into scenes, into how many scenes each character has, how many lines they get, how many times each location is used…the purpose being to figure out the rhythm of the show you’re trying to write. Doing this to three scripts will give you enough of a pattern to go on. It’s not enough to have watched lots of episodes, or to be a fan. Seeing how it breaks down on the page is the important bit. It’s also the bit I didn’t do at first, and because of that, the show I ended up spec-ing wasn’t Castle, it was The Alexis and Beckett Show. In an attempt to give them “more to do” I ended up making Castle a supporting character on his own show. None of the drama came from him, and the entire thing fell flat.
Derf. I love you, Nathan Fillion.
But now, having broken down a couple of Castle scripts, I realize that I could have given the female characters “more to do” by simply giving them one or two more pages. It wouldn’t have taken a lot to make it seem like they were more involved. Also, the show is called Castle. If Castle isn’t doing the ultimate figuring-out, or having the ultimate revelations, the script is wrong. Plain and simple.
And I kinda feel like an asshole even needing to say that, because of course when you say all this it makes perfect sense. Like, duh, right? But I’m not gonna beat myself up over it too much, because everyone has to start from zero when they’re trying something new. And then you learn how to do things properly. And then you don’t make those same mistakes anymore. You learn to make all-new mistakes. And you learn from those, too.
I don’t even know if I’m going to do anything with this particular script at this point. But I do love the story I’m trying to tell in this episode. I think it’s important. So, I’d like to salvage it and put it in a script that works. That will be an accomplishment all on its own. And writing it will prepare me for the next one!