Second Draft Advice?Complications Ensue
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Monday, August 15, 2011

Q. A friend and I are on page 93 of our first draft of a screen play about [snip]. We need advice on draft 2. The books we have read thus far have led us nearly to the end of draft 1. Does your book tell where to go after the first draft?
No book can give you specific advice about draft 2, because draft 2 depends entirely on draft 1. If the story is solid, you might work on fleshing out the characters. If it's too long, you're looking to cut. If it has unnecessary scenes, you're looking to cut. If the third act doesn't hold up, you're thinking about a new third act.

Generally there are two questions to ask yourself before going onto the second draft:

a. How well did the first draft deliver the goods on the pitch? Did you create the character you pitched? is the antagonist as scary as your hook suggested? Did you hold true to your story, or did your script go off the rails and become about something else?

b. How well did the pitch work? You might find that your stakes, which sounded good at the pitch stage, aren't convincing. You might need to raise the stakes. The main character might be less compelling than you'd hoped. What would make him or her more compelling?

You may also find on reading your script that your initial story wasn't as strong as you'd hoped. Somewhere in the first draft, you might have found a way to twist the story so it's better. The job of your second draft might be to fulfill the promise of your revised story. This is often hard to do, since one tends to cling to good scenes that don't belong in the new version. But if you endure a little carnage, you'll have a better script.

Ultimately, the question you ask about a first draft is: is this the best movie I can write in this territory? Or can I make it better, either by refining the characters, scenes and dialog, cutting junk, streamlining and punching up; or by revising the story foundation and rebuilding the whole structure?

You ask these same questions, in fact, in every subsequent draft. Creatively (as opposed to financially) there is no such thing as a second draft. Every draft is a first draft, until you shoot it. Because if there's a way to make the script better, you should make it better, no matter whether you're improving your first draft or the project is something you've been working on for years.



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