Screenwriting : Rewriting or cannibalizing? by Susan Holtzer

Rewriting or cannibalizing?

I have a script that just didn't feel like it worked, and I suddenly figured out why. But it needs not just a rewrite, but a complete overhaul. I love the theme, and the basic idea, but sheesh, I practically have to go back to square one to make it work. No, I don't have a question. I'm just looking for a place to whine among people who'll get it. :-)

William Martell

I have done that many times... when the only thing that survives is the title and some of the character names. That's what a rewrite usually is. Not just a little polish where you make a change or two and improve some things... but when you practically start from scratch to make the story work.

Cherie Grant

LOL Susan, you have sympathy fro my corner. I have scripts that I've gotten to 80 pages and decided nope this isn't working for me. I'll put it away and years later i still can't be bothered dealing with it, but i can't dismiss because i think the idea is solid. Got two more projects on the go simultaneously and so far so good, but god knows if I'll hit a hump or two. Fingers crossed for these as I REALLY like them so far.

Monique Mata

Whine away. We're all sympathetic listeners :)

Mike Romoth

I'd say it's a good thing that you have the courage and the high-standard needed to scrap a significant piece of work. Despite the fact that you might decide to toss many hours of work, the learning you did during the process is what you get to keep. This learning accumulates over time invisibly and imperceptibly, until we wake up to find out we have become seasoned and professional and savvy. Plus, you get to keep all the good tidbits to dish up another time, later.

Bill Hartin

I had the same revelation about one of my scripts but halfway through my revamping I've had to ask myself whether the resulting story is worth the necessary effort - will others find it interesting? More important, do I still find it interesting? Taking a break from it to make that determination.

David Levy

I wrote a TV pilot I struggled to finish. Have yet to even go back to look at the script. Same thing, it can work but needs a massive overhaul. Not every concept is a winner.

Jean-Pierre Chapoteau

We definitely sympathize...

Zach Rosenau

There is nothing more deserving of respect than the total redraft. Don't tweak it to death over nine months and walk away with some kind of frankenstein. Put the first one in the drawer, start off from a new outline, finish the new script, and then refer to the old one on file for notes and revisions. Personally, I've never done it because it's just too much work...

Phillip "Le Raconteur" Hardy

And a fine whine it is! Sometimes, it's good to put the work aside for a while and revisit it at a later date. Perhaps begin working on another idea. You do have another idea on the back burner... right?

Rosalind Winton

Hi I'm an editor/proof reader and literary agent to some of my clients... and when they come to me exasperated because they have to rewrite, I always tell them that creating anything from novels, lyrics, poetry, screenplays, anything at all, it really is 10% inspiration, 90% rewrites - manuscripts go through many, many editing processes before a publisher will publish, often showing the manuscript to a dozen editors before they're happy to publish, it's because different eyes spot different things. When I edit, it usually takes a week, to do a two or three page article, that's because every time I do an edit, I leave it for a bit and go back to it, and I always find something I didn't spot the last time, so it is a process and one that writers find very hard to accept, so don't worry about it, keep going and if you can get an editor to look over for you (that's not a hint), then do so.

Rosalind Winton

Dan.. can I quote you, that's a great line :)

C. D-Broughton

I definitely disagree with that, Dan. So anybody can create an Oscar-winning script if the work's rewritten enough? You seriously want us to believe that years of practise, a tremendous concept, excellent characters and rock solid plotting can be mastered in every single screenplay, provided that it has enough page 1 rewrites? Yeah, a boy can learn to kick a ball, but even after 20 years of dribbling, shooting, passing, controlling and movement, I'm sceptical that EVERY boy can become a professional footballer - and that's simply because, even if he attains that level, there are alwas going to be better footballers and only 11 players per side on the field. I think that if the idea's good enough, it deserves another take, but if it's just a so-so concept that didn't feel the love, it deserves its place in the Unfinished file. Writers shouldn't get hung up on the one concept. If it's great but something's not working, then fine, rewrite it, otherwise, let it go, think up something stronger.

C. D-Broughton

Apologies for reading that wrong.

Phillip "Le Raconteur" Hardy

C.D. Here's my rewrite of your paragraph: "Don't try to teach a pig to sing. You're wasting your time and you'll just aggravate the poor creature." And remember, good writers borrow from other writers. Great ones steal from the outright." ~Aaron Sorkin

Richard Toscan

It's often said of playwrights that the first draft tells you what the story is. The second (and later) draft is when you really put it together. I think -- at least in my experience -- the same is true with screenplays especially at early career stages.

Susan Holtzer

Philip, that's one of my favorite lines. The original quote is" "Never try to teach a pig to sing. It wastes your time and annoys the pig." From The Notebooks of Lazarus Long, by the great Robert Heinlein. Another of my favorites: "A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects."

Susan Holtzer

I keep the main characters, the theme, and the basic idea. I lose the B story, the original twist, and one of the best scenes I've ever written. When they say "you have to kill your babies," they're not kidding.

Boomer Murrhee

I feel your pain. I had a similar experience. Through it all, my project took on a significant improvement. Nothing is wasted. I have those earlier scenes in a file. It takes courage to kill a baby you have created. Write on...

Phillip "Le Raconteur" Hardy

Susan: I never knew the origin of that quote; so thanks for sharing. That's also why I quoted Mister Sorkin. I love the truth of it.

Zane Kubheka

Screenwriting is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout with some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some angel whom one can neither resist nor understand.....

Fiona Faith Ross

Right there with you, sis. And I love the idea of the long painful illness. I don't know why I couldn't have chosen an easier and more rewarding career, like rocket science or brain surgery.

Virginia Brucker

I spent ten years, off and on, on my first script. I stopped counting after 23 revisions. But it DID come together beautifully at the end, and if you keep going, yours will too! Finding perceptive and informed readers helped me a lot. When you want to share, I'm happy to read your script. (I just have to figure out how to do that thing on here :) )

Gordon Olivea

Susan, it's great that you were able to admit the need for a complete overhaul. I had the same thing with the script I just finished. After I overhauled it, I went through five more drafts.

Leslie Aguillard

I'm working on a rewrite now although its in the sitting in the drawer stage. Thinking about staying true to the vision and the point. Just saw Predestination and really liked it. So very interesting stories are still being made.

Marilyn Du Toit

I know what you mean. They said mine lacked voice and I needed to loose some characters. So I have plotted to start it a whole new way..(the whole beginning needs to go)-just the rewrite will take so much out of me I got involved in another story in the meantime. I think after putting it away for a couple of years I will fix it with a new mind. And a new perception of what can take it forward.

Dr. Becky Sue Conright Usry

Been there, done that, but it's worth the work! Good luck to you.

Kevin Ryan

Have the same feeling for a finished draft of mine Susan. And besides the "oh damn it complete overhaul" feeling I'm OK with it besides the fact that I'm slightly worried I'll be doing that to all scripts because I'll be looking at a first draft of an idea and dismissing nearly all of it because it's crap.

Harold Vandyke

Can you give us a clue as to why you feel it doesn't work? Maybe we can help.

Sylvia Marie Llewellyn

That's the way it goes sometimes. But the passion should still be there. If not, put it away for a while and come back to it later. New ideas will pop into your head when you least expect it. Don't give up.

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