By Charles Harris
#5 in the series - Writing your next script - read the first article here
In the previous article of this series on writing and editing your script for cinema or TV, I focused on writing the first draft.
By now, if you've been following the process, you should have a pile of pages with a start and a finish and probably no idea whether they are good or bad. That's fine, the editing will help you find the gold among the clinker - starting with with the first reading.
The naked truth
The first reading is vital. It is the closest you'll ever get to seeing your script fresh - as others see it.
It is also, almost certainly, the most painful. Here is your rough draft, naked and vulnerable, full of faults, ramblings and blind alleys.
However, if you look carefully, here among the ashes of your hopes are a few jewels, perhaps more than you expected. A good line of dialogue. The makings of a strong scene.
Approach it with the right attitude you'll put yourself in a perfect place to embark on draft number two.
Your most important ally is time. Put the script aside for a few weeks or even months, to give yourself distance. Then clear a time when you know you can read straight through, undisturbed.
This first draft reading should be done straight through without interruptions. You want to read it as if you were watching the movie.
Turn off your live Facebook updates, feed the cats, jam a chair under the door handle. Whatever it takes.
If possible read your script in a different medium. If you write on screen, then print it out. Or borrow a friend's laptop. Anything to give yourself a new perspective.
Nothing should delay your reading - not even notes. Keep them very short.
I find it best to read a print-out with a pen or pencil in my hand. Then I can make brief scribbles in the margin as I go.
I've devised a rough code for myself.Ticks and crosses are obvious. A wavy line alongside a scene means it needs firm attention. A horizontal line tends to mean that the scene should have ended there. A variety of circles, ovals, arrows and squares each have their own subtle messages, depending on context.
How you do it depends on you - but the important thing is to scribble fast and keep the reading flowing so you can maintain a sense of the overall flow of the script.
What to watch for?
At this stage, you want to be as open-minded as possible. Don't worry about details of style or even layout. They can be fixed later.
Read first and foremost for the ebb and flow of the story. It won't be anything like right, but you'll catch glimpses of what it can (and perhaps will) become.
Look also at the characters, especially your protagonist. Do we care about her? Does she seem like the kind of person we want to spend ninety or so minutes with? Can you see hints of the kind of fascinating person she might eventually become?
Zero in on the good points that you can build on for the future.
Be brave. In some ways it's harder first reading a first draft than writing it (if quicker). But you only have to do it once. Now you can start to plan how you're going to make it better.
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Charles Harris is an award-winning writer-director for cinema and TV. His first professional script was optioned to be developed by major agents CAA in Hollywood and he has since worked with top names in the industry from James Stewart to Alexei Sayle.
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