Madness | Script Revolution

Madness

Introduction: 

"Finished", a term that finds a clear definition in a dictionary but feels pretty damn ambiguous in the world of screenwriting. Where is the finish line? Does such a thing exist or does the old adage "the final draft is the one that's shot" always hold true? On top of all this, just when should we leave well alone, trust our gut, and stop adding salt and sugar to different reader's tastes? In this blog, Fiona Faith Ross tackles these questions and tries desperately to help us maintain some sanity - CJ

Give It A Rest

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over, hoping for a different result1. This aphorism, or meme, as we call them now, applies to writers, and in particular to screenwriters. In my blog post exploring the theme of "Never give up", I made the case for battling on, since practice makes perfect and everybody knows that overnight success takes decades, especially for writers. However, my obsessive persistence tells me that - to steal a cliché so worn it's positively polished – you don't have to be mad to be a screenwriter, but it helps. To give it up is to become sober and reclaim sanity. Maybe we should start a Screenwriters' Anonymous group. In the meantime, there must be other ways to relieve the pressure. Once in a while the frustration that builds from attempting to achieve goals comparable to climbing a glacier without crampons, boils over. Hence my theory is that writers are more given to ranting than any other kind of artist. Besides, it's fun, and indulging a taste for sarcasm is a favourite writers’ pastime. Remember the late A.A. Gill, Food and Arts critic? He was one of the best.

Same Shit, Different Words

Writers are prone to ranting, since all they have to do is open a new page in the WP, and vent onto it. For painters, it's different. You don't find it so easy to rant with brush and paint, and if you do, people will tell you their 3-year-old could have done better. I know, because I was a painter once. "Art is never finished, only abandoned"2.

I developed a good sense, over the years, of when a painting was "finished" because there comes a point when you can overwork them and they lose their freshness. However screenplays can always take another tweak here and there, more than ever, after you've hit Publish, or pressed the Submit button on a competition.  No going back. You should have spotted that typo earlier. Ha ha, serves you right. The problem facing the screenwriter is he's trying to apply a fresh take to the same old unresolvable shit we call Life. "Give us the same, but different," is the cookie-cutter response you'll get if you ask, "What do Producers want?" Fortunately, there are billions of ways you can say the same thing; the trick is to find the one that works.

Is It Over Yet?

There are days when working on your script feels like throwing mud at the wall and hoping some of it sticks. The trouble is, all you end up with is dirty hands. For your screenplays, feedback telling you what doesn't work (because that's what it's for), is what you'll get for the price of your weekend drinking money. What fool would exchange the pleasant experience of propping up the bar with friends, in favour of being told ‘your screenplay sucks’? There's a book entitled exactly that: Your Screenplay Sucks. It's a good book, by an industry pro, and I recommend it. It's comprehensive, so expect a few gut-wrenching weeks while you work through all the points. However, the light at the end of the tunnel is, ultimately, there'll come a day when you think you've finished it.

Start Again

So when is your screenplay done? I've posted this on fora. It's a puzzle that continues to bug me. Sympathetic fellow nutters (aka screenwriters) and industry professionals have given kind and constructive advice, each pearl of wisdom unique, in the way that pearls are. So, you give your script over to people who know better, and you receive a rainbow of reaction from good to bad to indifferent that leaves you more confused than ever. I've heard it said that if at least one person doesn't hate your script, then you haven't done the job properly. Although, to be fair, the notes that ring true (confirm the beastly niggles that have been gnawing at the edge of your writer's consciousness) are the ones to pay attention to.

Fade Out

The Holy Grail is to finish the damned thing. Finish It. This is much easier said than done. When you're hog-tied by the threads of the messy middle, with a tangle of unresolved plot holes and an MC (main character) who's lost his way, it's easier to fling the piece in the virtual drawer, (a touch of drama-queenery helps here) and start the fresh new idea that's been undermining your WIP (work-in-progress) since page one. I read a wonderful anecdote about a respected literary writer who will not surrender his scripts until he judges them perfect, and his publisher has to call round and physically wrest them off him long after the deadline has winged its way into the blue spectrum of the Doppler shift. Of course, this may have changed in the era of eCorrespondance, and we lose a delightful image of two grown-ups scrapping like toddlers in a tantrum over a stack of typewritten pages.

Your Script Is A Mote In The Eye Of The Reader

On the other hand, a sister of mine who turns out the most beautiful art, says, "It is what it is," and she rarely takes notes. This is a fair point. However, if an artist can please one beholder with the beauty of their piece, and make a sale, this is success. All artists worth their turpentine have patrons. The lowly screenwriter is not so lucky. To make a successful film, a screenplay must please millions, by definition. Budgets are scary. In fact, the very idea of the responsibility a screenwriter carries should be enough to put us all off for life, but it won't because we are dogged to the point of madness. Forget sanity. Write and be damned. You're not rational enough to tell the difference between good and bad anyway, and besides, you're too jackass stubborn to give it up.

Attributed to Einstein, but please correct me, since the attribution is debated.
2 Attribution, Leonardo da Vinci, yes?

Disclaimer: I have no affiliation with, nor receive any kind of compensation from products mentioned in my blog posts.

About The Author

Fiona Faith Ross's picture
Real name: 

UPDATED: October 2022

Fiona Faith's work explores themes of family relationships, friendships and misunderstandings in Supernatural Fantasy, Comedy and Romance genres. She draws extensively on myth and ancient cultures.

My Scripts

Mr Singh's Christmas Spirit placed as an Austin Film Festival 2nd Rounder 2022, and won Finalist in Mikel Fair's Austin Comedy Film Festival, Spring 2022.

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Comments

John Hunter's picture

Dear Ms Mote in the eye, "Perfect is the enemy of good (enough)." No work is ever completed and there are plenty of fingers eager to put their stink on your work. Ever been adapted?

Fiona Faith Ross's picture

Ha ha, well observed. Who said that? I thought you'd be first in. Actually, I suspect "NOT good enough" is the first defence of the majority of readers. No, adaptation is a pleasure that yet awaits me.

CJ Walley's picture

It's always amazing how many people conflate something they don't like with something thats objectively bad.

John Hunter's picture

Those expressing the idea of perfection being the enemy of the good (enough) would be a long line down the street, around the corner and throughout the ages. Just recently read, "Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without,” Confucius.

"Let'r rip tater chip," here attributed to Richard Rawlings of the TV show Fast'n'Loud. Your critics will either praise your work or hike their leg on it. Loosen up. If you enjoy writing and like what you write, isn't that enough? Commercial success, accolades, red carpets and big money will surely elude the vast majority of us here in CyberSpace -- Myself included (thank gawd I'm not trying to support a family on what I don't make as a writer).

CJ Walley's picture

That's a good mantra and any reference to Gas Monkey Garage gets a thumbs up from me. Those guys were hated for years and, I'm willing to bet, would have continued to happily flip cars from their old garage if they'd never been discovered.