Writing Backward to Move Forward

I just ripped 17 pages, a whole sub-plot, out of Warriors.  The script is bleeding, but it will heal.

For the first time, I’m below the magic 120 pages that a film script should be, but this wasn’t literary liposuction.  The problem was that, upon rereading what I wrote about two years ago, my teeth started to grind, my eyes darted from left to right and that little spot just under above the nape of my neck started to clench.  I could feel a massive rewrite coming on, provided anything was salvageable.  And I hate rewriting.

What precipitated all this was my signing up for John Plummer’s “The Heart of Writing for Stage and Screen.”  I’ve been banging m head against various plays for the last year and, if no one has noticed, Warriors hasn’t set the world on fire.

Great.  I’ll just force myself away from the material by (paradoxically) jumping into it in a workshop setting.  John even said he would look at material beforehand, so I started pulling together my play, Breaking Momma’s Rules, and why not the script as well?

Maybe because it just isn’t good.  Not that the idea isn’t good.  Not that there aren’t good parts.  I still love Warrior’s climax.  But, overall, what I read was embarrassing, and I didn’t know why.

My bookshelf overflows with texts on writing film scripts.  I started pulling them off.  (Of course, the one I really wanted, I couldn’t find.  Sure.)  I reintroduced myself to some analysis/diagnostic tools.  Then I went to grab some actual scripts to practice on before I did the real work.  Scripts I knew worked, like Chinatown, Raiders of the Lost Ark and Romancing the Stone.  Where I left those was the next mystery.  No luck, but I did find The Body, an early version of Stand by Me.

I got to work teasing out character needs, plot points, dramatic situations, etc. from The Body and Warriors.  Tough, time-consuming and unpleasant work, but it yielded a few glimmers.  Most importantly, the theme of my script turned out to be something different from what I’ve thought it was.  Useful.  But my problem wasn’t solved.

I went back to the books and found Syd Field (a definite plotter, not a seat-of-the-pants writer) saying you don’t know anything unless you know your ending.  While I would never compose a work from the ending back, I just happened to have the ending to Warriors at hand.  What did I have to lose?  All I had to do was write backward, right?

But how, tell me, do you do that?  Mr. Field did not seem to offer any advice, any process.  But logic told me that people know how to do this.  Haven’t I heard from high school on that mystery writers work backward from their endings?

At this point, I did what I always do, I went to Google.  Enter “Writing backward.”  You get thousands of links about dyslexia.  Not helpful.  Luckily, I’m married to the search engine queen.  When I rushed upstairs, tears in my eyes, she had a website for me before I could complete my tale of woe.

And here it is: Writing Backwards: Plot Construction Using Reverse Cause and Effect .  Jeffrey Kitchen, author of Writing a Great Movie, provides a clear, step-by-step process that begins by looking at your last scene and then uses cause and effect to allow you to work backward to the beginning.  Wisely, he recommends that you already have a story in hand, saying “it’s hard to use this process until you’ve roughed out a plot.”  (Perhaps created by the seat of your pants?)  He also points out that writing backward is just one arrow in your quiver.  Not the Holy Grail.

The amazing thing I found was how extraneous material practically glows radioactive.  This is why a whole subplot about creating a new computer game is now gone from my script.  However, there is a problem that I discovered when I tested Kitchen’s method out on The Body.  Subplots tend to look extraneous when they really aren’t.  For The Body, I put all the “unnecessary scenes” into one list.  These, it turns out, can almost be tracked back independently as their own story, with great cause-and-effect logic.  I say “almost” because the subplot only is complete with a few scenes from the plot.  Subplot and plot intersect.  Nice.

In Kitchen’s article, there really isn’t direction on working with subplots or integrating them into the main plot, so I’m having to figure that out on my own.  No script is any good without subplots, but there appear to be special limits (like not having two subplot scenes in a row).

Oh, and I did keep one subplot in Warriors.  Why did it survive while the other is now gone?  Because it supports the theme while the other does not.  But it is not just a matter of alternating plot and subplot.  The two must be woven together in a delicate pattern.  And there must be overlapping scenes.  I’ve got some real work to do.  Rewriting.

What else is up

The Amazon page for Innovation Passport has been updated, and it looks good.  At last there is a description of the book.  Now the onus is on me to get out there and promote (including writing a related blog).

Meanwhile, the Graphic Novel of Zeitgeist Rangers is moving forward.  The timeline is now actually in Steve’s hands and he is doing sketches.  My next step is to get the story going by writing “Engines of Imagination” (which I’ve already begun).

With Lucky Numbers so far along and the calendar pages turning since the proposal was sent out, a brief letter was sent to the editor.  Just a reminder.  I’m hoping that a (positive?) answer will come soon.  If we get a yes, that will mean another blog.  And rewriting.

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One response to “Writing Backward to Move Forward

  1. Pingback: Special Events — The heart of story telling « Writing, reading and hoping

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