Every writer will tell you that ‘writing is rewriting’. It’s a quote that pops up in many publications on the craft. Could you imagine you were only allowed one piece of paper in which to write your final draft? Makes you reconsider what is necessary in your story or not. Perhaps this struggle of rewriting was best said by Blaise Pascal in 1657:
“Je n’ai fait celle-ci plus longue que parce que je n’ai pas eu le loisir de la faire plus courte.
I have made this letter longer than usual because I lack the time to make it shorter.” – Blaise Pascal Lettres provinciales, letter 16, 1657
Why I recommend every writer should attempt to write a screenplay, is that fitting a compelling story into 120 pages commands a concise use of editing.
When writing a screenplay, it is all the more important that you know your characters, have a well formed back story, and never write anything that would waste the audience’s time. After all, people have a very short attention span, and you’re limited to 120 minutes in a theatre. Roughly one page of script, is one minute of screen time. If you wrote a magnum opus on 500 pages of script, you’re looking at one bored audience.
It is wonderful practice writing a script, because it takes rigorous editing. There cannot be a single scene that wastes time. If a scene in your script does not reveal something about the character, or move the plot foreword, then there is no reason for it to be there. Sorry novelists, no superfluous dream sequences allowed. (Unless you can find a way to put it in of course)
The bottom line is: It’s very hard to fit a well-formed story into a shortened length of time and space. Just ask the creative team at Pixar, with their animated shorts and features – no scene can be wasted! There is too much at stake, too many artists involved, and too much time consumed in production.
Kill your darlings. Keep it concise, and EDIT, EDIT, EDIT!
Here is a fantastic video recording of Robert McKee’s famed Story seminar. This crash course in screenwriting has been attended by some of Hollywood’s best including the creative story team at Pixar.
I highly recommend you take a few minutes to watch. It’s informative, and may spark some creative juices!