Playwriting

How to Rock It On Re-Writes

Not only am I in the honeymoon phase with a script, I am also in the middle of re-writes on another. This script is the product of my typewriter experiment earlier in the year. I wrote the first draft of the script on a manual typewriter, moved over to computer, did a workshop in May and now I’ve returned to it.

I’ve had a solid week of some of the best re-write sessions I’ve ever had and thought I’d share what I’ve been doing. Re-writes can be slow and painful. In order to take your play to the next level it’s important to ask question after question after question about what’s happening in the play and what your characters are doing. Sometimes the answers to those questions take hours, and hours, and hours to figure out while you’re staring at the wall or trolling Facebook trying to convince yourself that you’re writing. So when you’re that little circle of hell try some of these tricks.

Change your environment: I work from home and I love it. I’ve got my little corner of the world. But sometimes it can get too comfortable, with too much access to things that have nothing to do with writing. But all it takes to shake up your comfort and shake up the brain is a change of scenery. I’m pretty lucky to have a coffee shop around the corner where I can go and no one seems to mind how long I spend there. This past week I’ve gone three days in a row and each day has been a fantastic session.

Sometimes it’s just enough to change rooms in the house to jolt myself. Sometimes I change from writing with the computer on my lap, to working at the dining room table. When you’re in a rut, and the brain just isn’t working go somewhere else and see if that helps.

Change the medium: It’s easiest to do re-writes on computer. That’s the main reason I had to stop working on the typewriter after the first draft stage, I couldn’t get a grasp on using it for re-writes. But sometimes staring at a computer screen does nothing for me. I can feel my brain deflating. So I change things up. I go from computer to notebook, to lined paper, to printing out my draft and using that to work on. Moving from one to the other keeps my brain flowing and the work moving forward.

Make lists: It helps when I sit down to work to have something specific to work on. Something small. Instead of just staring at the mountain (this play is a meaty full length) you start with one thing. A scene. Some character development. There’s nothing more motivating that sitting down to work right away, rather than sitting down only to stall. That can be demoralizing. So one of the last things I do each day is make a list for the next writing session. Sometimes I can keep the list as I go, if I’m in the middle of one issue and a second issue comes up. That’s another thing to keep in mind – solve one problem, answer one question at a time. Otherwise the project just becomes an overwhelming mess of changes to be made.

Also, as you get into re-writes you start to learn more about your characters, how they act and what they do. It’s the nature of the beast, the more you write the more you learn, the more your characters change and grow. If you learn something new half way through the second act, it’s important to write that down so that you can go back to Act One and makes sure you’re being consistent. Make lists of what your characters do and it’ll be easy to catch mistakes. I’ve had to go back a couple times now into Act One because of Act Two re-writes and my lists have made consistency changes relatively easy.

Kill those babies: It happens in every play. There’s a scene or a character or a moment that you’re so attached to in draft one that just doesn’t work by draft three. It doesn’t fit in the play as a whole. There’s nothing more painful than cutting out a chunk of something you’ve worked so hard on. But it’s important to be ruthless. Those moments aren’t disappearing into the atmosphere, you can always put them back in. But if you don’t rip them clean out, you’re not moving your script forward. I completely junked the first scene of my play, re-writing it from scratch. I also had about thirty pages of work that given that new beginning, didn’t seem to have a place. Out they came. But, after doing some character work it was by pure luck that those scenes now fit perfectly into a characters journey, in a better way than I had envisioned.

Re-writes are an interesting sewing job. You rip apart, sew together, rip apart again and in the end you’ll have something satisfactory and beautiful.

About the author

Lindsay Price