I am going to keep hammering this point because… well… it deserves hammering.
From a recent post, a comment from Cyd:
I go back and forth with prep and diving head first into the shallow end. I think that could be called prep work for the prep work Whatever it is, I’ve got to get something happening in Final Draft to hear them talk and discover how they move. At some point, I do end up with what looks like prep work. It just takes some time getting there.
Cyd, per your first paragraph, I think that’s a dynamic tension for all writers. We have an itch to get into the page-writing, which is great because that can help overcome the single greatest challenge of writing: depositing one’s ass onto one’s chair to actually write.
However we have to balance that out with with finding the story.
Now some writers absolutely loathe and can’t handle any sort of prep. They simply HAVE to type FADE IN (or if a novel, crack open that file) and have a go at it. Nothing wrong with that… if it works.
Standing on the front line of aspiring screenwriter-to-pro-screenwriter as I do, having worked with literally hundreds of writers and interfaced through my blog with THOUSANDS, I can assert with some confidence that the single biggest hurdle there is not doing the prep.
First, a writer is MUCH more likely to NEVER finish a script if they haven’t figured it out before they type FADE IN. That enthusiasm to start wanes over time if they are NOT finding the story. At some point, frustration enters, then bitterness, then rejection.
Second, even if they DO manage to get to FADE OUT – and acknowledging that a first draft is always going to be rough – unless they do 10-15 drafts, I doubt they will ever find the story they could have found if they had fully immersed themselves in it in prep. Brainstorming and character development especially, giving yourself the freedom to explore, test out a wide variety of narrative options as opposed to narrowing the field of choices BEFORE finding out other possibilities.
Third, if a writer wants to have a realistic chance at SUCCEEDING as a professional writer, they have to be able to turn around stories in an efficient manner. You sign a contract on a writing assignment giving you 10 weeks to deliver, you’d better be prepared to do precisely that. Having figured out whatever sort of approach to prep you use is a big plus in that regard rather than watching the ink dry on your contract, then going, “Uh, what do I do now?”
So different strokes for different folks and all that. And yes, we all want and need to leave room for the mysteries and surprises of stories to reveal themselves. If a full outline stifles your creativity, don’t do a full outline.
However you’re going to figure out the story somehow. Why NOT do it in prep? Then you can concern yourself in page-writing with all the fun stuff of writing — scene description, character interaction, scene construction, transitions, atmospherics — rather than desperately attempting to figure out what goes where, does this work, oh my god I’m lost.
Here endeth yet another rant on the importance of prep-writing!
Okay, I swear I won’t harp on this point for another month or so. But I’ll be back on it. Oh yes, I will. Because if there is one definitive difference between aspiring screenwriters and professional screenwriters — apart from talent — it’s prep-writing. Pros embrace it. Non-pros, very spotty. Some do, many don’t. It’s apparent in the quality [or lack thereof] of their scripts.
To wit, a famous novelist [I forget who] was asked once how did he know he had done enough work preparing a story before he knew he was ready to plunge into actual page-writing. His reply: “When I know the favorite color of my characters’ socks.”
There’s a lesson there somewhere…
UPDATE: I had an exchange on Twitter with screenwriter Geoff LaTulippe (Going the Distance) and he makes a necessary point to correct my bit of hyperbole in which I said:
Because if there is one definitive difference between aspiring screenwriters and professional screenwriters — apart from talent — it’s prep-writing. Pros embrace it. Non-pros, very spotty. Some do, many don’t. It’s apparent in the quality [or lack thereof] of their scripts.
Going to take issue here. But first, let me say this: I believe that MOST writers do, indeed, benefit from prepping.
HOWEVER, I believe that there are MANY writers out there who – like me – are creatively hampered by the process.
What I would argue is this: try it both ways (or one of the many in between) and see what works for YOU. I always think…
..it dangerous to push (or even nudge) writers one way or the other. it leaves some feeling there’s a way it HAS to be.
Geoff is right and I should have said “many pros embrace it,” so I’ve given my hyperbole machine a time-out.
Let me offer my own corrective, one uttered on this blog countless time: There is no right way to write. And that includes prep.
My experience is many aspiring screenwriters’ script suffer from not digging deeply enough into the story. However they do that, lots of prep, little prep, no prep, doesn’t matter as long as they do the work they need to do to find the story.
You may – and should – follow Geoff on Twitter: @DrGMLaTulippe
UDPATE: Geoff has followed up with this excellent post on this subject. If you are a prepper or a non-prepper, you should read Geoff’s post as he provides a needed perspective on the matter.