Background work first: save yourself hours of time

Screenplay
Image by Matt-Richards via Flickr

The more you prepare the more you can stay true to your story and make it true for your reader/audience.

For the past month I have been setting up the background for several scripts. Each has its own particular challenges.

Script A- a fantasy comedy

Script B-novel adaptation, police drama

Script C-spec script, crime thriller

The process is the same for each of them even though the stories present varying challenges. Script A was a producer’s idea which required dramatization. The fantastic elements still have to fit into the story and move it forward.

Script B is a very long novel with a lot of interior monologue and thought process all of which needs to be edited down to a visually compelling story.

Script C is modeled after a story line of a popular film from the 70s but characters are switched and everything is updated.

Different as they are each script requires background for characters, research, and, of course, a story outline.

This process seems long and arduous but it is worth the time. The fun stuff for writers—writing the scenes—comes afterward. This is the point where you can interweave the subplots without having them take over. This is the point where you interweave the time sequences so even if you are not writing a time sequence as complicated as Memento or Amor es perros your scenes have the correct sequence.

For example, in Script A I knew the protagonist and a minor character needed to have a fight. When I looked at the structure in the outline, I realized I had arranged the scene about six scenes too early.

Essentially, you can save yourself headaches, lost hours of writing scenes that either don’t fit or are too long, adding nonessential characters and scenes, etc.

Because each scene counts and must move the story forward or be cut, background work and planning is essential to writing a tight story.

When you finish the development of your background work then you are ready to write the screenplay.

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