So. I’ve finished another draft of Dragons. This is physically starting to hurt.
I thought I might jot down a few points regarding my writing process, at least as far as redrafting work goes. I’ve found that, sadly, the redrafting process appears to be the most important thing you can do as a writer, and yet also the most difficult. I say this as if I’m some great authority, but really, it should be the first thing a writer learns, along with subtly lifting lines from books you hope people haven’t read, and naming characters after people you fancy.
My first draft is essentially a statement of intent, rather than a working script. I’m one of those writers who needs to organise a script well in advance, making documents with lists of character names, occupations, interests, etc, as well as bullet points of ideas, plot synopses, and a run-down of how the entire story will play out. Despite this, the first draft ends up a sort of stream of consciousness; I’ll know the way the story will go, but not every twist and turn, or how the characters speak. I’m finding my feet, and allowing the story to write itself. This draft is very important in building the world and birthing the protagonists; by the end of it, elements both subtle and large will have changed, and characters will be different, and the climax will reflect more of what I intend to write than the opening. This draft will also be, at least by my own hyper-critical internal standards, rubbish. It’ll be on the nose, confused, muddled, all over the place, with no clear through-line, dodgy dialogue, and above all else, it’ll be long. Over-long. All my first drafts - including the several scripts I wrote at uni that never progressed beyond first draft stage - are very long. Dragons is actually something of an exception, in that I wrote the first draft in a rush, and subsequent drafts have increased the length.
Then I do what I call a pencil draft, going through the printed script, crossing out large swathes of text, re-writing as I go, making copious notes in the margins, and generally making a mess of a bundle of stapled sheets of A4. The gist of this stage will be that I now know, at last, what it is I’m actually writing.
Then I usually do a total page-one, blank sheet of paper re-write. By “usually”, incidentally, I mean “once”. romdotcom, the script I wrote before Dragons, followed this template and it is my preferred method. Well, “preferred” is a bit of an exaggeration; it’s hard and harsh. But it does produce good results. Prior to romdotcom, I never had the willpower. But it works! It’s good practice! Dragons was written on a very tight time frame, and I knew I wouldn’t have the luxury of multiple drafts. So I skipped this step, and concentrated on doing a very thorough edit of the first draft; I’d say 50% of the original script has been jettisoned or altered in some way.
I suppose you could repeat these last two stages as often as you wanted.
Now, here is where Dragons (again) differs from the ideal. Because it’s a Shakespearean adaptation, and I’m trying to hide my ignorance of all kinds of culture beyond Grant Morrison’s Batman work and the Halo franchise, I am currently going through the script with the play by my side, attempting to
shoehorn in make subtle and intelligent references to the original text wherever possible. I’m calling this the Shakespearean Edit. And once this is completed, the script will be essentially done.
I say “essentially” as one more edit always remains: the final edit. This is just checking over the finished script and seeing if there are any things I can add or, more importantly, take away. This is the point, also, when I rely on a small band of close friends, relatives, and people who won’t be cruel, to tell me how far I’ve overshot the Zeitgeist and hit the area where only Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory knows what I’m on about (full disclosure time: I’m not quite that hilariously clueless). And this is the final draft, and produces the finished script. Well, “finished” is relative; for, to paraphrase both Paul Valery and George Lucas, scripts are never really finished, only abandoned.
In following this pattern, I can strive for the goal all writers should set themselves: to one day produce something of which Toby Ziegler would approve. And for those in Bristol sat waiting, the final draft of Dragons should be with you quite soon.