We writers have all been there.
You get an idea and the words begin to flow like magic from your fingertips. There’s no thought, only instinct, as you compose dialogue and exposition at breakneck speeds. At this rate, you’ll finish your work in progress (WIP) in no time. Nothing can stop you as you hit that writer’s trance and everything comes out smoothly.
Then it happens.
It’s not really writer’s block so much as you feel trapped, like you’ve written yourself in a corner and there’s no way out without completely changing everything you have written so far. It quickly kills all of your confidence in your WIP and you resign to being stuck in this terrible writer’s limbo.
Anyone who has ever tried to write anything; whether it’s a short story, a novel, or a screenplay; has encountered the same problem, that is the dreaded wall. And it has currently plagued me on my current screenplay.
My WIP is actually a “page one rewrite” of a previous screenplay. For those not in the know, a Page One is a complete rewrite from scratch. It can happen for numerous reasons, but for me it all comes down to fortune.
See, I originally wrote my screenplay and finished it in 2012. I was very proud of it and actually came close to actually filming it twice. Both opportunities fell through thanks to means beyond my control, but it left my screenplay stagnate. Meanwhile, the art of cinema moved forward.
Since then, I have recently become very active on Twitter (@Danny_S_Warren) and that’s when I made a connection that gave me the greatest gift an independent screenwriter can hope for. I received coverage of my screen play for free.
COVERAGE is an industry term that essentially amounts to a professional critique of your screenplay, and it ended with one of the greatest compliments I have every received as a writer, something along the lines of “Your story really moved me… but your script sucks, bro.”
Sure it may seem like disheartening news, but I received it with great pride.
Of course my script sucked, it was my very first attempt at a feature length screenplay. The important thing was my overall story ACTUALLY MOVED the person reading it. It connected with them on an emotional level and, as a writer; it’s much easier to write a perfect screenplay than it is to create a story that actually impacts someone.
So I read my coverage sheet very carefully and took every criticism to heart. The results were as plain as the nose on my face. I had to rewrite the entire screenplay from scratch while keeping the overall arcs in place. I thought it was going to be easy, but it’s becoming more difficult than expected.
Cutting down my characters is easy enough, but the one portion of my screenplay I was most proud of was the biggest cause of concern for the reader, and that was that it killed the pacing and tension of the overall story. And for a horror script, that is a huge death blow.
Without giving too much away, essentially what it all boiled down to was I took an experimental framing device to provide necessary exposition to the overall story. The information relayed using this framing was essential to the protagonist’s character arc, but the way I did it was viewed more of a distraction than an interesting device to bring forth important background information.
In this case, a therapy session that happens at the beginning of the story between the main protagonist and their therapist delivers important exposition (background story that affects the main story) at key moments of the story through flashbacks.
In my mind, it gave the story an emotional punch, but to the reader all it did was distract and kill the tension which, admittedly, is definitely a point of concern for a horror film.
The problem now is everything in those flashbacks was very important to the story and now I have to relay it in other ways through dialogue; and this is where I have a problem.
I hate forced exposition; where characters exist for no other reason than to relay this background information, and now I have to incorporate that exact thing I hate into the story.
I managed to get through a lot of it with dialogue that fit within the story, but I still have a lot to go through, and I have already used the trope of a side character relaying said information--Which means if I do it again, it’s just lazy writing.
Another, albeit easier, problem I have to deal with is I had way too many characters. I surprised myself in how easy it was to cut them down, but in doing so I had to increase the role of another character. And although this is giving me a fun and fresh opportunity to expand major scenes, its creating a new and very terrifying problem:
My screenplay is almost off the rails from my original story.
Characters and their dynamic are changing and those very characters are what touched the reader emotionally in the first place. So now, while doing this rewrite, I am evolving the overall story to meet more modern standards, but at the same time I’m risking the potential emotional impact that made my story great to begin with.
The turmoil of this is taking its toll on my writing and ultimately forced me to hit that dreaded wall. I’m overthinking everything and losing my overall point of my story.
This problem happens to every writer, especially on the rewrite. It can kill every last bit of faith you have in yourself, if you’re not careful.
Luckily, there is an easy answer to this issue, an answer so simple that you question its legitimacy.
Work on something else.
Now, on the surface, this may seem like a bad idea. A distraction that keeps you behind on your WIP risking it to forever end up in that dreaded writer’s limbo, but as an artist, you can’t think of it this way.
Hitting that wall means you are completely overthinking your WIP and that usually doesn’t lead to anything but cheap cop-out’s. Avoid taking the lazy easy route and just dive into something completely new.
Not only will it work those creative muscles, but it will give you practice and experience. Like it or not, every time you write something (no matter if it’s terrible, mundane, or great) you are bettering yourself as a writer and learning the different corners of your creativity where fresh ideas can reside.
Think of it as exploring the dark places where you rarely roam, or gaining experience points you can spend to better hone your craft.
The truth is, if you are creating, you are an artist. It doesn’t matter if you feel you are good or bad, you are making art. And like a fine blade, you need to attack those rough edges to make your point sharp.
Your side-effort doesn’t even have to be the same scale as your WIP, just something to cleanse the palette and have you come back refreshed.
For me, I will try to adapt a terrible and unintentionally hilarious Chuck Norris movie from 1982 into a serious horror/thriller, because if I don’t, I may never get to make the best out of my passion project.
Keep up the good work readers, I have faith in you.
D. S. Warren