45 pages. That's half a screenplay.
That's exactly where I am right now, chasing that illusive 50-page watermark that let's me know I'm over half-way to my goal of a solid 90-page first draft.
This is my first full-length screenplay. I've written numerous shorts and a handful of full-length plays. I know the process well, but that doesn't make it any easier to write.
What makes writing a solid story so difficult?
Lack of research is one one way. I've spent almost two years researching for another screenplay that I put in a drawer to write this current one. Now I'm knee-deep in researching this one.
Another hurdle is not hearing what your characters say; how they act, what their motivations are. You can write character bios to get to know them, or an exercise I learned and find works well is to sit at a table, put them in front of you, and type out a conversation with them. This particular exercise worked well when I was writing my second play. The protagonist was too passive ( a pitfall of a lot of modern stories being written today ), and I wasn't 'hearing' her voice like I wanted. The crazy thing was that when I sat her down face-to-face she immediately came to life and I found her to be quite belligerent. She talked and I listened and when I had finished writing I had not so much made up a conversation but transcribed the thoughts and opinions of someone that wanted something, and I knew what that something was.
Not knowing your ending. The last act informs the first. Even if it's a line, or an image, or a feeling you're going for; have some kind of idea where you want to leave these characters. You'll be writing yourself in circles if you don't.
These are common maladies of the writer. The one personal frustration I have is middles. Most of the time I know the beginnings and the ends and in the first draft of most of my scripts is this line in bold:
Shit happens here.
... And it drives me mental. I sit and think and think about hurdles to throw in the protagonist's way. I re-read Mamet, re-examine wants and goals, and flirt with deus ex machina to get me through so I can put the damn thing down.
I found a technique that worked for me whilst writing my first full-length play. The play itself had started as a one act, and I wanted to push it to three. The odd thing was that I wrote both the second and third acts in tandem; bouncing back and forth between them. If I got stuck in Act II, I'd blow through more of Act III, and it worked.
The Collaborative Process
This is my first full collaboration with another person who has the "Story By" credit.
Most writer's say that writing is a lonely business. I don't believe that. It's not true, at least, of screenwriting and playwriting. There's just too many people involved in the process. The end product of what you see on stage or screen has the fingerprints of dozens of people no matter how auteur you may be. I embrace being collaborative. I need it. I tend to write myself in to walls, or rather, I get to a point where I mentally "can't see the forest for the trees" and need perspective. I have a couple of people I trust to give me that perspective. It's not cheating, it's the first step in communicating what's in your head to your intended audience.
This current script I'm writing is not only collaborative, but completely opposite to the normal things I tend to write and explore. It's a broad, coming-of-age, sports story intended for mass audiences, emblazoned with a PG-13 rating.
... And it's bloody hard to write, even with an outline. What makes it difficult is working inside the parameters set forth by all the peripheral forces enacting on the process. It has to be marketable, it has to meet the expectations of a certain demographic and the investors, it has to appeal to a broad age range. All these things are completely restrictive to certain stories you want to write. But at the same moment they're quite liberating. Shakespeare's language is so good because of the lack of Elizabethan art design. Back to the Future had a better ending because of budget limitations. Whatever the restriction, the way to work around it usually lends itself to better storytelling, I think.
As I put this story to the page I have found a greater respect for those filmmakers who can make a broad story work and satisfy their audience. Pixar does it so consistently and seamlessly they make it look criminally easy. As does Spielberg, and Zemeckis and many others. The key to their success being collaboration.
Okay. Let me see if I can get ten more pages today.