Monday, July 27, 2009

Why You Need To Know Who You’re Writing For

Well, I got to my first milestone on schedule … The outline is finished, and at about 2,000 words it’s a very decent length. Apart from feeling very pleased with myself, I’ve also learned something interesting while getting the work done: It pays to distinguish between a selling document and a working document.

A selling document is intended as a pitch, to interest someone in your script. As such, whether it’s a one-page synopsis, a blow-by-blow outline or a twenty-page treatment, it must be a good read. Not just in terms of story structure, character and imagery, but also in terms of language. Rhythmic sentences, well-executed humour, intriguing and teasing choice of words, and so on.

A working document, on the other hand, is solely intended to help you, the writer, move ahead with your process. It too can be an outline, a treatment or whatever, but it only needs to be comprehensible to you. The only thing that matters is that when you look at it you know what to do next.

So the thing I caught myself doing this weekend (no, not that thing …), was struggling to write a selling document, when what I need is a working document. Once I dropped that self-imposed stylistic demand, things suddenly became a lot easier. And it’s clear why.

If all I need is a reminder that, say, at a certain point in the narrative one character tries and fails to teach another character to use a sword, then “X tries in vain to teach Y how to fence,” is sufficient. When I read that back, it automatically evokes a scene I already have in my head, which I can then flesh out.

Not so if the document is intended as a pitch. Then I have to articulate the atmosphere and dynamics of the scene more succinctly. I need to spend a lot more time ensuring that the description is comprehensive enough for someone who doesn’t have the scene in their head to be able to picture it.

So, job well done. Now it’s time for my reward! Which for this modest achievement is an appropriately small item, a CD: Cloud of Unknowing by guitarist James Blackshaw. Wonderfully evocative music. Brilliant for spacing out to and getting your creative juices flowing!

Next step: Finish a treatment based on the outline. Deadline: 1 September.


Kim H Peres said...

I think a lot of screenwriters get mixed up where they neglect the working document, the nuts and bolts, and concentrate on the presentation document and it hurts the work.

The apple might be shiny but nobody will want to eat it if it's hollow.

Raving Dave Herman said...

Love the metaphor! Thanks for that Kim.