Is the book of fate a draft?

I'm not a very good writer, but I'm an excellent rewriter. ~James Michener

I’ve always found rewriting an odd process. Not just in the sense that writing, (sitting alone or pacing round a room talking to oneself and making up stories to explore oneself and humanity as a whole) isn’t odd. But that I’m not entirely sure how I rewrite. Or that my method and amount of rewriting changes depending on the project.

There are however a couple of things that remain consistent in the rewriting process. The first is based on the unconscious, natural gestation of a script. Sometimes after having an idea it will be months before I start writing it. In that time I think about the plot, the structure, sometimes interesting lines pop up and I’ll jot a few things down for reminders but won’t start scripting. By the time I sit down and write that project it will have gone around in my head so much that I will have weeded out a few bad ideas, plot problems and the like and be left with a good place to start. I’m not sure whether this counts as rewriting or prewriting. I’m rewriting the idea and the basis as it exists in a more flexible, ethereal form but prewriting the script.

The second consist rewrite is due to my writing method. I tend to write in a notepad (well, a few notepads, slips of paper, email drafts and my ipod. Basically whatever is at hand, but that’s usually a notepad) before typing it up. At this point I’ll rewrite dialogue that doesn’t sound right, fill in some gaps, cut things, and move lines around. It’s not so much an active rewrite but a more comprehensive…write.

This is where things get a little more complicated

When I read over The Quest for Beauty I can’t tell what’s from the initial write and what’s from any rewrite. I’m not entirely sure what my rewriting process was on Q4B. I was really young and inexperienced and may not have sat down to rewrite, but maybe tighten and clean up what was there. It could have been as simple as “Add a joke to this bit”

The Soul Pilgrimage on the other hand has had massive rewrites between notepad and typed script. Then I changed a lot. And when it came to a new draft I obliterated total scenes and rewrote entirely new ones, as well as rewriting large chunks of dialogue in others. For Stand-Up Comics I’ve written a full script which had massive problems and so have started again and my second draft will have nothing in common with the first. I’m now even thinking about creating an entirely different third draft. What comes out at the end might be some experimental chimera of all three scripts.

This brings me to Stripped, which is the product of both rewriting styles. Looking Through my notepad I can see my initial plan, the initial dialogue which is almost word for word the finished product and then later, the rough drafts of the bits I needed to add in for extra depth, to tie things together or to replace what wasn’t working. However once the script was typed up I never sat down and actively wrote another draft. I’m sure I’ve changed lines and was drafting in my notepad/ipod for such a long time that it has changed a fair amount. I just can’t see where. Please don’t get me wrong, I’m not boasting about this. I would have like to have done a rewrite; I probably would have ended up with a better product. But I got caught up in the momentum; of contacting the theatre, running auditions and other things in my life. And so in just under a month the script performed will be almost exactly the script I finished many months ago and people read to audition.

Apart from one scene.

There’s a scene at the end of the play I was rewriting last night. It was the second time I’ve felt that I’ve had to actively sit down and rewrite the scene. I think because of its proximity to the end I initially rushed it, to get my point out and finish the script, resulting in a weaker scene. After the read-through it became apparent that the scene needed rewriting, the protagonist needed to be a bit more proactive and to come to a conclusion himself, it was a bit too Deux Ex Machina. So I rewrote it with that in mind and also because I’m playing the character opposite Kris for this scene I rewrote my character slightly to fit my portrayal. The result of this rewrite made the scene snappier and I thought it was working until yesterday when I decided that though HE reaches a conclusion himself, he gets there too quickly. I’d made the change I wanted but it hadn’t occurred naturally; hence a further rewrite with a few more emotional beats. Last night’s rewrite was also prompted by what Kris has been doing in rehearsals; he’s been crafting such a good, subtle performance that he deserved a better ending than I had given him. It also allowed me to tailor the script to me and Kris, to play off how we perform and interact which if I’ve done it right should strengthen the performance and idea behind the scene.

I question my willingness to change this scene above the others. I do think it’s a pivotal, important scene that needed to be handled right. I also believe that every scene should face as much scrutiny; so was this scene particularly weak or have I just been more comfortable in making the changes because I’m the one who’s put out with the line changes rather than my actors?

I think the performing script is good and hopefully the changes we solidify tonight will just accentuate that quality. But I guess you can only tell if it works if you come and see for yourself. Until that initial moment of audience reaction Stripped remains in my mind as a testament to my odd style of rewriting which according to this blog post is “when it is most convenient”.

(Originally posted at Michael's Blog)