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07/24/2001 - CHARACTERS AND CARICATURES
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CHARACTERS AND CARICATURES

My Fellow Writers,

I went to lunch this past week with a well-placed executive who asked for a copy of my latest spec script. Though I hadn't looked at the script in six months (I've been away writing on a series), I gladly agreed, believing that the first draft of the script was acceptable to give him - I promised to get it in the mail so he'd receive it right away.

However, when I returned home and read the script, my stomach dropped. It needed a good, solid rewrite. I was shocked. Other professionals (writers and executives) had read the script and liked it - some loved it. Yet I now saw things in it that I knew were just not up to par.

Had my standards changed that much? Had I become a much better writer (or reader) in just six months? Or was I simply being too critical now?

After the initial shock, I got to work. I soon realized that there was often a common theme in the things that bugged me about the script. The concept was still terrific, the structure and characters were sound, and the writing itself was solid. What bothered me is that there were a number of moments in which the characters seemed too much like characters in a movie and not real people. That led to too many moments in the script that felt like they'd never actually happen in real life.

Though this script is a sci-fi script, that's just plain unacceptable. After the hundreds of rewrites I had done, one after another, I had created a story that was logically consistent, but lacked emotional resonance because the characters broke out of the emotional moments too often in order to create "movie moments." In a couple of key moments, the characters were doing things simply because they needed to do those things to move the story forward. Sure, lots of action movies do just that and work just fine, but I found it unacceptable in this one, because I have higher aspirations for it.

In any case, I've spent several days doing the proper rewrites. Most of my major concerns have been addressed. I'm breathing much easier now. But I've been solidly reminded that one must balance character and plot. Make sure your characters' actions come out of that character's inherent traits, and not just out of convenience to the plot, or because it would make a cool visual.

Now I just have to rewrite the ending for the script to be complete. And the executive will have the script in the next couple of days - never knowing that our meeting sparked an emergency rewrite and reminded me of a key lesson about screenwriting.

Putting out plot fires,

Grady


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