Struggling writer. Photo Credit: Derrick Gallegos
Very rarely will a script be the same in its initial form as it will be once it’s eventually produced. Depending on whatever work-shopping is done, the setting or characters may change, plot points might be dropped; really, anything is possible. Get used to seeking out criticism because some people will be afraid to tell you that there are elements they don’t like or don’t think will work. Be wary of people telling you how great your writing is if they don’t offer something that they thought could use some improvement. Be ready to cut chunks that you thought were really great; if you spent a lot of time on them they may no longer fit the overall tone of the piece or may introduce more questions then can be answered.
You need to be aware of what kind of space you’re writing for; if you’re writing a play then what kind of theater are you operating in? What are the dimensions and how many seats will there be? If it’s a TV pilot then what’s the budget? Will the production team be able to actually pull off what you’re writing in?
Get as much input as you can on the script; ultimately it’s your decision what stays in and what doesn’t but at least you’ll be aware of what might be dangerous to use. Be prepared to change certain things because of casting, and be prepared to change dialogue accordingly too.
"Set reasonable but challenging goals for how much you want to write at a time."
Of course, before you start writing you need to have something to write about. Whether someone has commissioned you to write something or you’re trying to find someone to produce your work, you still need an idea to work on. Once you have that, you can get to work. Some people prefer to start with a few lines of dialogue, others with an overarching message. Pretty much any approach is valid as long as you get the work done. Set reasonable but challenging goals for how much you want to write at a time, and take time every so often to go back and make sure everything is internally consistent. Keep an eye out for adding elements that either don’t follow the rules of the world you’re creating or which contradict something you’ve already said earlier on. That being said, there’s some value to establishing that someone may be an unreliable witness (just look at “1984”). Make sure you save your work pretty often, because nothing will take away your desire to write more than losing twenty pages of work in one fell swoop.
Once you’ve got a draft written, get started work shopping it; have people do table reads, do a staged reading or two, take some criticism and rewrite what needs rewriting. Then, get to work on getting it produced. If you were commissioned to write it, these parts are easy enough, they’ve been waiting for you to finish the draft so you can all get down to bringing a finished version in. If you’re shopping it around, then you’re in for some more work. Try to find places that have open submission policies. If they read it and like it then you’re good to go; if not then you may have to self-produce.
If you’re self-producing then it’s time to find some people to work with. If it’s theater then hopefully you’ve either got a friend with a theater company who’ll put it up or you’re in one yourself. If it’s a screenplay or the script for a TV pilot, then you’re going to have to try and find some people to work with who are in your budget. Basically, it’s time to start calling in favors.
Thirty Three Theatre Co. Photo Credit: Shelby Phillips
Once you’ve started the production process then it’s time to get ready for more re-writes. Casting, as I said before, will affect how characters interact, their speech patterns… basically everything about them could theoretically change. Essentially, only the plot is completely set (and there are exceptions to that). Remember, as long as the script is your intellectual property (that is, you haven’t sold it to anyone), then you get the final say on what’s in and what’s not, writing-wise. There’s some merit to considering compromises, though; you could lose vital time and personnel if you insist on things that are either offensive or not going to work.