Babies and bathwater, or, 4 ways to be kind to your screenplay

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem.

Assalam alaikum wr wb!

‘Sup, homies.

So I’m on my third draft of my screenplay. Haven’t written any pages of it, since a thorough analysis of my structural scaffolding is in order.

It’s 186 pages long and there might be a lot of good things in there, but they are really buried.

At the moment, I’m going through my screenplay with a fine-tooth comb, trying to figure out what each scene says about my cast of characters.

At best, they say nothing at all.

At worst, they say the same thing over and over again. Or nothing surprising.

The bits that I thought were really clever were sometimes very jarring. Or not clever at all. Cleverness in fact occurred in odd and unexpected places. Such is the beauty of writing.

Yes, perhaps I’m being unduly hard on myself.

But I really don’t think I am.

In any case, last week, I had a severe case of this-is-never-going-to-work-itis and a timely reminder from Jeffrey Lieber, showrunner, that I should check the bath-water for babies.

And I wonder – how do I do that?

Here’s what I think I should do. Haven’t gone through all these steps yet and will update this blog post when I do.

1. Do a clean read.

Scott Myers of GITS does an excellent job of explaining that here.

Doing a clean read, I put my script reader’s glasses on. I found a few things I really loved about my screenplay buried really REALLY deep down. If I was a script reader, I would have given it a pass because, well, the script isn’t anywhere near its full potential. I knew that.

2.       Give my script to a few trusted readers. Collect not just the criticisms but the compliments too.

I’ve had the great blessing and privilege of having Mr. Wonderful read by a few lovely people on the Black Board and my classmates at a Screenwriting Master Class. I trust them not to lie. When they said they really liked my script, I am choosing to believe them. I’m going to collect those compliments and file them under a heading called “Babies”. Yes, those babies may not be fully formed yet, but that’s no reason to abort the foetus. Polishing those gems hopefully will get me closer to a great script.

3.       Figure out my story, especially my theme.

This is the part I am labouring through at the moment. I am excavating character, structure and theme as it is now, but also generating a whole bunch of questions that will God willing trigger some great change for the next draft.

I’ve hit upon some excellent truths about what I am trying to say with this story. It’s true what Scott always says. The more you think about your story, the closer it gets to its real essence.

It’s pretty daunting, but it’s pretty exciting too.

4.       Do a not-so-clean read.

I want to actively look for the good in my screenplay.

It might be a throwaway line of dialogue. A nice bit of scenery. A great minor character.

All bits of magic that cropped up unexpectedly.

Sure, those babies may not be fully formed. But they deserve to be nurtured, if they fit my story and my theme. But I can only know that if I know what my story and theme is, hence point no. 4.

Well, that’s my 4-step plan to not throw out any babies with the bathwater. Let me know what you think.

Wassalam and Fee Amanillah. Peace, love and Godspeed.


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