Script Writing – The Second Draft, Rewrite Blues

Jun 9, 2020 | Screenplays and Screenwriting

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How Screenplays Work

My Dad used to say, “perfect is the enemy of good.” That saying has stuck with me for many years, especially when it comes to script writing.

Of course, my Dad didn’t say that quote first. He cribbed it from Voltaire, French philosopher, and early advocate for such stalwart American principles as Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Religion and other enlightening ideals.

Most writers I’m sure can take that quote to heart. Many of us become so obsessed with writing the “perfect” something (novel, screenplay, short story, essay, blog post) that we lose sight of an invaluable ideal: perfect is an illusion. 

Script Writing & Ideals Of Perfection

A while ago, I finished the first draft of a novel-to-screenplay adaptation project. While I really enjoy the work involved with transforming a novel, meticulously sifting source material down, these projects are among the most challenging of any in script writing.

Why is that? Because novelists tend to be perfectionists.

The novelist I was working with loved his book. I mean, he loved it. The ink was hardly dry on the first volume in his series before he was back writing the second. The same when he was done with the second — onto the third.

Every beat, every character, this person had down pat.

Before starting, we talked a lot about adaptation and what that really meant. I explained that a novel-to-screenplay translation is not realistic. Novels are written differently, with different rules and principles. They are different mediums.

While the novelist claimed to understand, my first submitted draft caught him by surprise. There were scenes missing. Characters had been shifted. Very large patches of exposition had been excised in the interest of clearer, cleaner action.

Only after talking about the project at length did we agree on a few changes. A firm believer that the biggest leap forward a screenplay takes is between draft one and draft two, I jumped back in and altered the script according to his specifications.

He wanted that script to be a perfect version of his novel.

Accepting Your Finished Story As The Best Version

After finishing rewriting that screenplay, I turned in the new draft. The client, seeing more of his novel on the screenplay page, was happy with the finished product. What I gave him was a more perfect version of his novel and for that, he was content.

Then a couple of months went by.

Then another.

Before long, it had been a year and the novelist called me up. The screenplay version of his book had not gotten anywhere. Yes, he was still writing his novel series, publishing at a blistering rate, but he had not had success with the script.

This drove him crazy.

We decided to bring back that old first draft. After a few edits, updates, and changes here and there, we brought it back to life and he submitted the screenplay around town. As luck would have it, that screenplay was optioned within a month.

Script Writing – The Art Of Imperfection

There is an illusion out there among creatives that your work needs to be perfect. I’m not one to turn in substandard work, but it is interesting what happens when we embrace the imperfections in something and accept them.

We leave room for other points of view.

Successful script writing is an embrace of one reality — you’re going to re-write your work a few times. While the impulse may be to perfect what was “wrong” before, I believe that kind of thinking is antithetical to selling your script.

A writer should strive to improve their work. A writer should work hard to make it better. 

But to put perfection as the end goal is the enemy of creating a good, solid product you can be proud of.