Finished the first draft, now what?

I’ve done it. I’ve finished writing a first draft. But now I’m supposed to put it away for weeks and I just don’t want to, despite this advice:

…[W]rite the first draft as quickly as you can. Don’t worry about quality. Just get to ‘The End’.

Put the script in a drawer and forget about it for a few weeks. Work on something else in the meantime.

Once you return to the script, you’ll be reading it fresh. Like a stranger. You’ll immediately know what works and what doesn’t.

Writing a proud achievement

If forced to think of one at gunpoint, I’d tell you that my life’s ambition is to write for a TV programme or film.

Given that I’ve spent my entire life watching sitcoms – some of my earliest childhood memories are of watching The Simpsons and Red Dwarf with my dad – I like to think I’ve spent my entire life building up the courage and analytical eye I need to write one myself.

Along with that, the internet is an absolutely amazing tool to have at your disposal, for finding advice and guidance from the masters of the craft.

I’d definitely count Graham Linehan among these sage men and women – he’s contributed to some of the funniest things I’ve ever watched.

But there are parts of the advice he’s seen fit to dispense (above) which I myself have found impossible to follow. Partly through my own sense of OCD but also through my struggle to get something down on the page, it’s been a long path towards my very own finished first draft.

The Waiting Game

We’ll skip over the fact that it’s taken me nigh-on a year of false starts, false finishes and fevered re-imaginings of the basic setups, world-building and character counts to arrive at something approaching a first draft of this particular story.

But every time I’ve ever finished something else that I can call a first draft, I find it extremely difficult to put it away and forget about it.

Even without reading the script right now, I know there’s a line that needs fixing, or a joke that needs to land a bit cleaner. It’s annoying because I’ve been building these scenes in my head. I don’t know them off by heart but I do know the gist. What if I come back to the script, and it’s been built so differently in my head during the time away from it? What if it’s already different on paper after just one nail-biting night away? Maybe I should go take a look, just to make sure.

That’s the whole point, though – I need to wait; to try and forget what I wrote, so that in two weeks or so I can give it a thorough read through and immediately set about fixing it up.

waiting game

But…I just can’t do it. I can’t let go. I’m still just getting to know these people. I feel like they still have the ability to surprise me. I’ll think about my favourite scene and immediately try to imagine if it should be longer, or shorter, or have more or less people in it, or work out if I need another joke or two.

Not reading the script isn’t going to be enough, because I still have it in my head.

So…how to get it out?

Distraction pieces

Well, there’s the two games I bought on Steam today, for a start. And there’s the Mario speedruns on Twitch which me and the wife have recently got into watching. I would watch more CS:GO tournaments just for fun – but that’s another danger because I’ve been watching them for research. I might suddenly get an idea and need to go running back to my draft.

I appreciate Linehan’s advice for what it is – but in this relatively early stage of my mission I can’t help but wonder if there’s some quick fix I can apply to my script that would make me feel much better about leaving my characters and plots to their own devices for a couple of weeks. I’ll still be sure to write down any brand new ideas for later development, but I’m getting itchy just sitting here writing this. I’ve done it in the vain hope of diversion, but writing about how desperate I am to revisit a script barely a day after writing it, is just making me want to read it more.

If I still smoked proper cigarettes, I would’ve definitely been out on my stoop at 1.30am last night, celebrating the completion of my first story. But less than a day later and I’m already itching to get back in there.

Maybe I will just take a peek. A quick one. And then I’ll mark the day on my calendar.

Screenwriting to pass the Bechdel Test

As long as I can remember, I’ve been writing scripts. Some of them have been made into short films and 60-second plays. Most of them haven’t.

Having read and enjoyed some of my dad’s own screenwriting efforts as a kid, I think I was about 10 when I had my first ever crack at a sitcom; it featured two men, best friends, going on holiday to sunny Bridlington to meet girls. Sadly, being 10 years old, knowledge of the location was just about the only strength I had at the time, not so much the nuances of characterisation, plot and dialogue, much less the whole ‘meeting girls’ thing, and what went on between fully grown-ass men and women.

scripts

Two decades on, and the only thing that’s put me off writing more than fear of rejection is the actual rejection.

My last effort, ‘Come Home’ was a sitcom about two men and a woman, best friends from school, whose lives hadn’t panned out the way they wanted. Now each being fully grown-ass men and woman themselves, they were regressing to the comfort of the town they grew up in to lick their wounds. The pilot had everything; slapstick, origin stories and most of all, charming interplay between genders.

The BBC Writersroom scheme did not agree.

I’m working on something a bit different now, and for all the online articles I’m reading and books filling my shelves, there’s only so much I can learn about plot and structure before I’m actually supposed to get on with it.

More than being funny, more than being entertaining, more than anything I just want my work to feel natural, and to that end I’ve been reading about the Bechdel Test.

The Bechdel Test (or the Bechdel-Wallace test)

First laid out by cartoonist Alison Bechdel in 1985, the rules for what she herself prefers to call the Bechdel-Wallace test, as explained by one of her characters are as follows:

  • The piece must portray at least two (named) women,
  • Talking to each other,
  • About anything other than a man.

It wasn’t supposed to be taken seriously in its original form, but having found its way into academia in subsequent years, the Bechdel-Wallace test now serves as a pretty brilliant and simple measure of equal representation in the arts. You’d be stunned how many films (and games) fail this test – there’s a database tracking the results here.

(According to the website, films which don’t pass the test released in 2015 include Fantastic Four, Ex Machina and Ant-Man. Films I love which, also according to the website don’t happen to pass the test include High Fidelity, Swingers and Fight Club. The first film I love that did pass my completely random searches is Empire Records.)

Think about that for a minute. All those films you love. All those films which get produced without managing to include something so simple as two women having a chat about the weather, or their favourite food, or their hopes and dreams.

I don’t even want to get into what this says about Hollywood’s attitude to equal representation, about women’s supposed inability to further a story, or about the fact that it isn’t physically possible for a female film character to exist without wondering out loud about anything but her male love interest.

I don’t even.

Passing the Bechdel Test (by not knowing there is one)

Fortunately for me, before I’d even started giving myself anxiety over the fact that maybe film and TV have subconsciously given me funny ideas about women;  before I’d even resolved to fix this potential pitfall of inequality and awkward attitudes to women by familiarising myself with the Bechdel Test and making sure I passed it as soon as possible in my story…

…I started reading back the latest draft of my latest script and realised I’d already done it.

On page fucking one.

With an extremely early morning phone call between an insomniac video editor and her half-asleep friend, about the video that the former has been up all night creating.

Oh shit, the video’s about a bloke.

Only kidding. It’s about aliens in a video game. Nearly had you there.

And before I could separate my shoulder by patting myself on the back too much, I realised that the best way of passing this test is to pretend it doesn’t exist.

In writing what I hope is natural conversation between two people, it should logically follow that some of that natural conversation is going to be between two women, and it’s not going to be about a man.

I’m not trying to strike a blow for feminism, I’m just trying to be a better writer. Knowing things like this will hopefully help me to achieve that.

Right, it’s after 3am. Now that I’ve cracked out 800 words about equality, maybe I should try to overcome that other famous obstacle to screenwriting – procrastination from writing the damn thing.