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Tips On Script Rewriting: How to Approach Revisions

No one loves correcting or revisiting their script since the finish line is what many stress over. Script rewriting is a crucial part of the process and takes longer than writing the script itself. Whether it’s correcting typos, developing a new plot point, or removing unnecessary scenes, all of it falls under the revision umbrella. So, if you want to learn a few tips, you’re in the right place.

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What is Script Rewriting? The Foundation Of Finishing a Draft

In the realm of professional screenwriting, a rewrite refers to the process of revisiting a completed screenplay or pilot script to alter or enhance the dialogue, scenes, or even the entire narrative. Often, scripts are sold for the idea but require extensive rewriting to get it made.

Are Revisions Important?

When we revise our writing, we seize the opportunity to step back and reimagine it. We reflect on the objectives of our work and assess whether we have achieved them effectively. We aim to ensure our ideas are conveyed clearly and substantiated with strong supporting evidence.

Tip 1 - Show, Don’t Tell

You've probably encountered the rule of "show, don't tell" numerous times on your screenwriting journey. While showing is generally more effective than telling, it does have a significant drawback: it consumes more space.

To "show, not tell" means to evoke emotions and convey information through actions and visuals rather than exposition. This powerful technique is guaranteed to enhance any script, adding emotional depth and visceral impact to every scene.

The key to mastering "show, not tell" is to think visually. Visualize each action line as a camera shot. While you shouldn't specify camera angles in early script drafts, envision what the camera would capture. Consider removing or reworking the description if the camera can't perceive it. This approach ensures your script remains visually compelling and focuses on conveying meaning through cinematic storytelling.

Tip 2 -  Be Careful With Quirky Writing

All your main characters must possess distinct personalities and traits. Yet, in the quest to make them unique, there's a risk of making them overly quirky. This can result in characters that feel forced or exaggerated.

An excessively quirky character can detract from the story's core and alienate the audience. The focus shifts from the narrative to the character's eccentricities, which may not align with your script's overall tone or theme.

Finding the right balance for a quirky character is critical. You might start by writing them with a subtle quirkiness, only to see them exaggerated in subsequent drafts. Conversely, if initially portrayed too flamboyantly, collaborators might dial them back. The goal is to maintain consistency and ensure their actions align with the realistic or fantastical tone of your screenplay.

I find drawing inspiration from real people when crafting quirky characters helpful. Make a list of individuals you know and their unique traits. This approach can provide a foundation of authenticity and help balance distinctiveness and believability in your characters.

Tip 3 - Exit Scenes at a High

Once a scene reaches its climax, avoid lingering. Instead, swiftly transition into the next scene to maintain momentum and keep the story dynamic. Always prioritize respecting your listener's time. Trim any content that doesn't add value or engage their attention. Seek feedback from others to pinpoint where interest might wane.

Shift your perspective from creator to listener. Continuously assess whether your show remains compelling enough to justify your listener's time. Beyond editorial considerations, strategic decisions on episode length and frequency are critical from the outset.

Determining the ideal script length is nuanced. It hinges on audience preferences, format, topic, and the script's objectives. Tailor these aspects to optimize engagement and impact.

Tip 4 - Have a Purpose

Every scene in a screenplay plays a crucial role in advancing the story or enriching our understanding of the characters and their world. Take, for example, a detective thriller: while not every scene needs to uncover new evidence leading directly to the murderer, each scene should contribute meaningfully to the overall narrative.

Ideally, scenes serve a dual purpose: driving the plot forward while fleshing out the characters and their environment. This balance keeps anyone who watches engaged and invested in the unfolding events and the individuals experiencing them.

It's natural for some scenes to primarily focus on plot progression, moving the story from one key point to another. These scenes propel the narrative momentum and maintain tension. Meanwhile, scenes that delve into character development provide insights into the protagonist's motivations, fears, and personal growth throughout the story. They allow the audience to connect more deeply with the characters, understanding their choices and emotional journeys.

However, not every scene needs to accomplish everything at once. It's acceptable—and sometimes necessary—to include scenes that serve a single purpose, such as providing a moment of introspection, revealing a crucial detail about the setting, or offering a brief respite from intense action sequences. These quieter moments still contribute to the overall coherence and depth of the screenplay by enriching the audience's experience and broadening their understanding of the story's themes.

Moreover, each scene should have a distinct purpose that contributes to the overarching narrative structure. Whether advancing the plot, revealing character depth, exploring thematic elements, or establishing atmosphere, every scene should justify its inclusion in the script. This ensures that the screenplay remains tightly woven and that every moment contributes meaningfully to the viewer's engagement and emotional investment in the story.

In essence, while not every scene may drive the story forward in a traditional sense, each should contribute to a large portion of the narrative. It enhances our understanding of the characters and their journey and ultimately enriches the audience's cinematic experience.

Tip 5 - Analyze Flashbacks

You don’t need flashbacks unless they’re integral to the story. Admittedly, as a novice writer, many of my scripts and shorts were flooded with unnecessary flashbacks that didn’t add anything to the story. Do your best to remove these chunks and focus on what matters: the story that’s going on now.


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