If three words can sum up the creative journey of screenwriting, it’s ‘writing is rewriting’. No doubt you’ve heard it more times than drafts you’ve written.
Those three words encapsulate what it means to write with abandon before going back through each scene line by line to painstakingly identify and improve problems areas with a cold, calculating heart.
In fact, a more suitable and more apt truism might be, ‘writing is deleting’.
Many carefully composed thoughts will become casualties of the ensuing chaos and as difficult as it is, the best thing we can do while editing is stay out of our own way and get on with the job.
But where to begin?
Start With the Story
Address whatever central idea you’re most emotionally invested in first and foremost and then edit the other elements in your script in support of this crux.
Generally, a macro to micro approach should insure you against any bias you may have towards characters, scenes or lines of dialogue, and this will help you to look at them objectively when the time comes.
Don’t Slow Down at the Dialogue
Let’s be honest. On the page, it’s the dialogue that defines a character and it’s because of this that it can be one of the most time-intensive aspects of a script to edit.
To speed things up, focus on getting in and out of your scenes as quickly as possible by cutting the following from dialogue wherever it appears:
While exposition can be delivered in many forms, it’s always going to come across incredibly awkward through discourse. Have your characters be direct and crack down on scenes that open with a question.
The name of the game is to entice and entertain your audience. Salutations do neither. They are generally unnecessary and uninteresting so push any pleasantries aside and drop your viewers into the action of a scene.
If your script includes any asides to end scenes, get rid of them. When a character speaks to the audience and comments on the subtext of recent events, it weakens the impact of the end note and slows the pacing down.
After you’ve addressed these issues, the real work of restructuring, rearranging and deleting entire blocks of content begins. Anything not in service of the story or that does not move it along should be cut, plain and simple.
Dealing with Drama and Handling Subplots
Naturally, some subplots may be tweaked, replaced or written out entirely as the script evolves with each subsequent round of revisions.
It should therefore go without saying that any reference to an affected subplot must be treated in a manner that ensures the script will maintain a forwards momentum and not raise any questions for the reader it does not answer.
This same logic must also be applied to any and all situations in which subsections of an old draft are merged with or superseded by a new one.
The lesson? Keep an objective eye out for any disconnects between blocks of action that may seem tacked on at the beginnings or ends of scenes and delete or rework them.
Maintaining the Integrity of Your Script
The established format and structure of screenplays actually benefits the editing process as the amount of white space on the page can make it easy to read and re-read.
However, if you’ve done the above and still feel like your page count is high, try cutting:
• Lone Lines of Action:
As each floating line adds three lines to the overall length of a script, deleting them can make a big difference overall. As such, they should be first on your hit list.
Including camera or stage directions in the final draft is an industry no-no and your script will be better off if all traces of it are removed and such decisions are left up to the director.
Creative types, writers especially, are guilty of protracting sentences. That said, the format is particularly unforgiving of things like parentheticals, ellipses and the overuse of adjectives. You can comfortably cut these.
• Overuse of Character Names:
Think about how many times both you and your characters refer to other characters by name. It’s probably a lot and in many cases may be too much altogether. Either way, you’ll be justified in cracking down on this.
At the end of the objective editing process, you may have around thirty-five drafts or more. And while there really isn’t a magic number the truth of it is the more you do the better.
Suffering From Writer’s Block?
Writing is never easy no matter the format and editing what you’ve written can be just as difficult and just as time consuming. But it’s vital to the success of both your screenplay and career.
If you’re currently working on a new or future film or TV project and need help with the screenwriting or editing aspect of it, get in touch.
Hopefully though, you’ll now find it much easier to just let go and hit delete.