The Beginner's 5-Stage Rewrite | Script Revolution


The Beginner's 5-Stage Rewrite

So, you may have written a few scripts and are now looking at developing your craft. You are perhaps very attached to those scripts, committed to marketing them, but feel they may need work. Spoiler alert; if you aren't sure then they certainly DO need work. This is a very common position to be in where you want to be writing, marketing, and learning at the same time. Be proud of yourself for having the humility to learn, many simply keep on writing and waiting for their Oscar to come to them. As ever, you absolutely should be reading as many books on writing, screenwriting, art, movie history, and the business of networking, as you can but here's an easy to follow guide which will help you improve your scripts while picking up new skills.

Stage 1 - Concise Writing

Cut the page count by at least 20%. Make it a hard rule with no exceptions. If you've written a 120 page script, you must now make it 96 pages or less. Do it by cutting back your action lines to create more white space. Shorten your scenes so you come in late and exit early. Reduce the amount of dialogue by getting to the point and using subtext. Cut out complexity by merging characters. Trim action scenes so they run at around one minute per page. Make your goal to get that page count down as much as possible while still having a story.

Stage 2 - Structure & Pacing

Take every scene and list them along with how many pages they are.  Now look at the basics of a story structure; it can be Save the Cat, Turn & Burn, or The Hero's Journey, it doesn't matter. Take the main acts (the number of which will vary) from that structure and determine where they intersect with your story. Add the story sections to your list as headings with the scenes under each. You now have a page count for each act and you might find you have a lot of scenes which overfill some sections and little to none in others. That's okay. You now know where your script is running too long and where it's lacking. Decide on what scenes you need to cut/shorten/merge, and consider how you're going to fill in the gaps.

Stage 3 - Themes & Scenes

Think hard about what your story is really about. Not the plot. What the story is trying to say about life and if it's proving that to be true. This is your theme. It may be elusive. The easiest place to find it is your protagonist's darkest moments.  Now take the scenes that you know you are going to keep and create a sub-section of notes for each one (via your screenwriting software or a spreadsheet). In these notes for each scene, identify the scene turnaround (if it has one), how it communicates the theme (if it does at all), where the conflict exists (character vs character, character vs environment, character vs inner demons), and score each scene in terms of action, humour, emotion, and tension. You now know where your scenes are performing poorly.

Stage 4 - Better Bad Guys

It's very easy to write a one-dimensional antagonist who is simply plain evil and derives pleasure from exercising that evil. Ideally, your antagonist should be a hero within their own world and moral code. Ultimately, your antagonist should help communicate your theme by providing the strongest argument possible for the opposition which is proven wrong by your protagonist. A convincing story shows both sides and demonstrates how the moral side wins. This may help you significantly in the areas your story is lacking and assist you on where you need to fill in those empty sections.

Stage 5 - Re-tool & Redraft

Now you know what you need to cut-up and paste back together, hold back on attempting a page-1 rewrite. Adopt the scriptment approach. Take your script, add in slugs for your new scenes (they can be vague locations for now), and bullet point the beats for these scenes. You can start with just the scene turnaround and build out either way from there if you want. Add lines of dialogue that come to you. Make notes on the page. Break down old scenes you need to re-work and jiggle around those bullet points until you're happy. Now go in and write/re-write those scenes based around those beats you've identified, with everything you've learned, and properly formatted. Aim for 80-100 pages max.

Hopefully, at the end of this, you will have a much stronger script without committing to numerous complete re-writes while having seen a dramatic improvement in your skills. Congratulations, you have the basics in place and you can go on to learning about more detailed areas of the craft.