There will always be some doubt. That is the nature of any creative undertaking, the overall idea or goal to be achieved might be, usually is, known, but the route to getting to that point is fraught with possibilities and decisions. This is especially true when fashioning a story, book or script. I suppose, like for many a would-be scribe, I start writing a story entirely for myself. There is no thought of what a future audience might make of it.
With a collaborative medium like film, the writing of the story or script is the starting point, the first input. So even though you start off writing for an audience of one, with the opinions, feedback and input garnered moving forward with any project, it quickly becomes a group endeavour. It still starts with the writing and your vision of what should happen.
The issue with a script especially is it is not an exact science. As much as the internet and bookstores have vast – truly vast – amounts of information devoted to the craft of screenwriting; how to write, structure, tropes, character development, loglines, theme and any other thing that you can think of related to screenwriting, there is still no definitive way to approach a script.
We have all heard about Tom Hanks’ “grab me in the first ten pages” approach to scripts, this quote spread like wildfire and every other script opened with some explosive happening, just to grab the readers/audiences attention. Not that it meant that it created a good script, but what an opening!
There is Joseph Campbell’s the hero’s journey, an extremely popular story guide that can act as a simple blueprint for most stories. The is John Truby’s complex and intricate approach to screenwriting, the late Blake Snyder’s near omnipresent guide to how to plot a script, Syd Field’s sage words and many more, reinforcing, confusing or contradicting, the desperate, fledgling screenwriter, with them purchasing books, downloading PDFs, signing up to newsletters and attending seminars in the hope of finding that thing, the answer that will point them in the direction of story or script nirvana.
You bite the bullet, grab the bull by the horns and write. It’s not great, but you keep going. Practice, more writing, rewrites, character changes, adding and losing scenes, you get better, you understand and can see the faults in your work faster, more clearly. There is no absolute with scripts. Another popular piece of advice that did the rounds for as long as I can remember is to never use voiceovers. It’s a cheap trick and lazy exposition. That is utter bollocks, of course, exposition can be lazy even without the help of a voiceover. There was a certain successful television show, set on the fictional Wisteria Lane, that employed voiceover to great effect, as did another well-received show featuring a serial killing blood specialist.
As you write more and know more, you will have a few trusted voices, people who you send your stuff to. There is, if they are the right people, always feedback, good and bad. The hardest feedback is when the work is liked but not quite right. ‘Not quite right’ is far harder to work with than ‘this does not work.’ If you are told that, for whatever reason, something does not work, unless it is just a feeling – no help at all – you can rewrite something that does not work, especially if you get the ‘why’ it does not work. With a vague ‘something is not right’, an element they cannot pinpoint, it becomes much harder.
If writing for somebody else, so not the filmmaker yourself, feedback becomes much more critical, as you are trying to work to someone else’s vision. When writing to make a project yourself, the decision for when the script is ready is solely your own. If you believe you know how a scene is going to play out or why a scene should be where it is, you just have to trust yourself. There will always be naysayers, but ultimately the vision and final say is yours.