You spend a great amount of time on the first draft of your script. If you’re in a workshop, you probably begin with a treatment and a step-outline. Or maybe you’re writing a spec script on your own, you skip a few steps of structuring since you’re not submitting it to a class or workshop, and you find your way through your own story by following your characters. Then low and behold you complete a first draft.

Let’s tell the truth.

A writer’s first draft is messy, freewheeling, and sometimes just plain ugly. It’s hard to be proud of a draft that can best be described as a series of warts and festering boils.

But still you finished it. You can lay claim to the fact you completed your script. It’s a full story meant to be transformed into a movie. You probably created a worthy protagonist, but maybe lost your way in adding momentum, dimension and complication. So if you look at the script realistically, you realize no one is going to read it. It’s not ready. It’s not yet at a professional quality.

So what’s a writer to do?

Well. You rewrite it. You face the fact of that old adage, “writing is rewriting.” Professional writers know it. Professional writers anticipate the effort of rewriting, just as they plot the structure and character arcs of the first draft.

Rewriting, like creating the first draft, is very individual to the script at hand. Notes are specific and unique to the scenes, characters and structural elements laid out on each page.

It all can overwhelm a writer, but the truth is, you simply need to go to your writer’s toolbox to find the means to get through your rewrite. The very skills you learned and use to create the first draft are the skills you use to rewrite your script.

Your best tools are tools that you hone everyday as a writer:

  • • Objectivity

  • • Non-defensiveness

  • • Receptivity to critique and self-critique

  • • Analytical processing

  • • Definition of structure

  • • Definition of characters

  • • Remaining fluid in the pages and the story as it changes

  • • Targeting and exploiting conflict

  • • Defining Spine

  • • Defining Goal, Stakes, Motivation

Notice, that talent is not one of your tools. The rewriting process is not based on talent. It’s based on objective decision making.

You work draft by draft in an objective and analytical manner. You speak the truth to yourself about your own writing. You clean up anything that looks like visual clutter:

  • • Bad format

  • • Overloaded slugs

  • • Messy and incorrect punctuation

  • • Gimmicky and lazy storytelling: flashbacks, dreams, cellphone scenes

You remind yourself why you wanted to write this story. Maybe you told yourself it’s because it’s a marketable genre. Nothing wrong with that. Everyone wants to make money. But still, even if it’s a razzle-dazzle genre like action-adventure or horror there is still a reason you decided to tell this story within the genre. You chose a certain kind of protagonist. You delineated an antagonist in a specific manner—probably because there’s a personal resonance for you. That’s good. That’s part of what you want to exploit in the rewrite drafts.

So, just as you worked to complete a first draft, you must now complete your rewrite draft(s). If you’ve got a friend that can objectively give you notes, this is the time to ask for that favor. If you have to do it alone, you’ll soon learn that the analytical side of your brain is as much a strength to your process as creativity itself.  

So now that you’ve finished your first draft—rewrite on.

Linda Voorhees