Page One

I'm going to blather about my process, and talk too much about my story - because I'm working things out in my head.

Not long ago, I posted about the Script Frenzy writing project. I intended to participate, writing a new screenplay from scratch during the month of June.

Instead, I've gotten stuck on my rewrite of "From the Ashes," a script I wrote the first draft of three years ago and then lost, and found again. I love the imagery. I love the characters, and the protagonists arc. I love the theme... but I've realized that it's, well... boring.

I write my first draft by hand in a notebook, and as I type it up, I tweak it - solidifying the character's voices, improving action lines, smoothing out progression in scenes, adding transitions in or between scenes. As I was working through my hand-written draft, I realized that I had written the same two scenes over and over again, with tiny variations. There's no progress for the first 2/3 of the story - just tiny revelations about the characters. Not surprising, because when I wrote this - I was stuck myself, and the theme deals with my own issue. My own attempt to rise from the ashes. So I have a 70 page character study about two messed up people and one somewhat stable one who doesn't do much.

Great. Solid characters, but not a film. At least not one I would go see.

So I added a new opening with more on the backstory, because it's the protag's past which makes her present dillema so intense. But, well, it's backstory. So I took it out. Then added it back, and considered bringing more of that story into the present - making the two timelines overlap.


She was a model for a controversial fetish photographer, who was her husband. He was abusive, and that abuse became part of his art. She took it, because he was a "genius." Until she couldn't. Then he died - under circumstances she could have prevented but made the conscious choice not to.

Secondary character's backstory (not the antagonist, as the antagonist is herself): a kid, who, tries to show off for his mom who is a bit permissive and a little drunk at the time, has an accident which nearly kills him - and leaves him badly scarred, and (as we find out) epileptic.

The story opens with these two, a few years later, encountering one another. He's a teen and trying not to need his dad so much, mom is an absent parent - gone off to chase an adolescent dream. She is closed off and trying not to need anyone... but he latches on to her, and she finds herself befriending him. She needs to help him, but doesn't trust herself - worries that her baggage means that she'll do him more harm than good... but she also needs to redeem herself, and so, when she realizes the extent of his problems - rather than tell his father, she tries to "fix" things herself...

which is all I've really got for the first two acts.

So, next thing I do when I'm rewriting is to take all the scenes I have so far, write them on cards and shuffle them. I add new scenes, and take out scenes and set them aside. In reality, I do much of this in my head.

I've been writing poetry for nearly 30 years. My process with that is thus: I write it once on paper (sometimes, now, I do write it electronically.) Then, I write the whole thing again, simply transcribing it, making small tweaks. This may be on paper once more, or may be typing it into an e-doc. Same as I do with the screenplays. Next, I take every line and I put spaces between them, making them into separate entities. I may leave a few stanzas together, as I do sequences of scenes in a script - because I'm confident that the progression there is exactly as I want it. Then I shuffle. Sometimes a random re-arrangement gives new energy to tired lines, points to a new direction. Sometimes I end up putting things back much as they were. Sometimes I cut out most of it, keeping only a fraction of the original. And sometimes I add in a great deal more.

And often, I do all of that in my head - juggling images and lines. I've been doing it long enough that I can manage much of it that way, see the effect without actually executing it. (I do the same with recipes when I cook. I can taste how certain ingredients will effect one another before I put them in the pan together.)

So, while I haven't typed or written much in the last couple of weeks - I've stripped down and re-built this thing in my head several times. I scan the draft - and re-consider. Make a note or two. I've figured out which scenes contribute nothing new, and which are essential to the theme and the characters. Only a couple are essential to the plot, as thin as the plot is. I've merged two characters (in an already small cast.)

I decided I needed a strong subplot to liven things up.

I had the seed of one, but hadn't really brought it out - related to her modeling, rather than focusing on her as the widow of an abuser.

I looked at the logline again, and realized that the fact that she's a widow is nowhere near as interesting as the fact that she's a former fetish model. (Mentioning both makes it a bit clunky.) But if I call her that in the logline, I need to bring that element into play earlier.

And that's when the whole thing turned inside out.

I'm now switching my A story and my B story. Which means cutting way back on the boy, who I've written so many pages about. Simplifying his dilemma - so that I can focus on an entirely new dramatic conflict for my protagonist. One which is actually external. One which involves a real antagonist. And which externalizes the theme, so that the B story can be the internal struggle.

But that means I'm scrapping all but about ten scenes, and starting from scratch.

So it is: a page one re-write. Back to the outline. I hope to have the outline (an actual written one) complete by Friday, and "From the Ashes" will be my project for Script Frenzy.

Yes, I've talked a lot about my ideas. Am I worried someone might steal them? What, are you kidding? Because the story of a widowed fetish model and abuse victim and a troubled epileptic boy is so commercial? Even if I had the nearly 12,000 people reading this blog that I have as friends on my poetry profile - I doubt any of them would have the personal experience to elucidate those characters even if they wanted to. And I've not said anything about my new A plot, except that it ties back to the modeling.

Nah, this one's mine. It's personal. And now that I've found the key to making it a movie, I'm excited about it again, and making progress on paper and not just reconstructing in my head.