Friday, April 16, 2010

On Second Drafts...

I’ve just had feedback in the last fortnight on two different feature projects, both at second draft stage. Both meetings, while pleasant, were the sort that you came away from feeling flat but knowing deep down that the drafts were not your best work. Which is disheartening and shouldn’t happen. Working for no money has some effect on this, I suspect, and other commitments, although they shouldn’t.

But second drafts are almost always problematic. Any writer will tell you they are probably the hardest to write and turn out least well. I put it down to trying too hard to get it right this time. You have all the feedback from the first draft, time has passed and the project has been hovering on your shoulders like an ancient wisp. You know it has to be done.

You want to get back into it but also you dread it because you know exactly how much work is involved. And even then you know you’ve underestimated it.

Sometimes the babies go out with the bathwater and they turn out to be the parts that worked. Or different parts of the story need to be drawn out, at the expense perhaps of the parts you liked originally and you’re left with a story that doesn’t quite do or say what you wanted it to do. Or the characters get a bit lost because they should be fully formed but you know, deep down, that in this draft they aren’t because you’ve tried too hard.

For me, it’s often that I am wrestling with structure in the second draft. Trying to simplify the story and yet live up to the promise the first draft held.

Of my two meetings, with one script, I instinctively knew I could do better the minute the producer rang me to arrange to meet and said nothing about the script she had been anticipating with delight.

By the time we met, I reckoned, pessimistically, that I might need to take a whole different direction, toss out half the characters and be more experimental. Now, it seems, I have to go back to the first draft and see what I lost before I decide what I need.

In the other, I’m trying out a plot change that I don’t entirely believe in yet. If I’m not convinced, how on earth can I make it work?

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