PCN Workblog 2: Shitty First Draft

As I type, at long last, "THE END" on the 85th page of my first draft, I realize I am in deep, deep trouble.

This is gluttony. This is excessive ambition. This is building skyscrapers in the basement.

I got my script software to compile the statistics of my first draft just to make myself feel crazy. Almost 17,000 words, including descriptions, stage direction and titles. 30 scenes, which is 4 more scenes than last year when including dances. 797 lines of dialogue for the poor souls of actors. 27 characters of varying sizes. 6 curse words, 4 of which are "damn." 5 stories.

Obviously, it's not going to stay this way. In order to at least be comparable in size to last year's script, I am going to have to cut about 30 pages, which can't be done just by making the dialogue snappier. I really am going to have to dismantle it with a crowbar until it fits in my trunk.

To be fair, comparing it to last years script might not be fair. There is a lot more description and a lot more stage direction. There are a lot of quick exchanges, you know, banter. I expect people to read this as they would normally talk, not drag it out as if they were acting it. Going by the movie screen play rule, a normal script is about 100 pages, and the average page should last 1 minute. But even with all of these concessions, it would still be at least 1/3rd longer than last years story.

Not to mention it's a shitty first draft. That doesn't bother me. It's a rule. It's a phrase used to describe the absolute necessity of just getting the first draft out of the way, no matter how bad, how dumb, and yes, no matter how long it is. It is the basic ground work from which we will build, or in my case, destroy. I think on my first run through, i can probably cut it to 81 pages. Then I will time myself to see if I can act out the script, in the isolation of my dark, dark room, in under two hours. If that works out, there is hope yet that I don't have to neuter the thing too badly.

I say this because editing is difficult and cutting is emotionally painful. My choices, if it comes to them, are to cut one of the five stories I tell, or to trim everything down until nothing is as full as it used to be. But in my head space, I need all of them. They all have a function and hold a few lines that I think are worth saving. It's like deciding which cat in Voltron you should remove. They all come together to form Voltron! Removing one would be absurd!

One thing I've been enjoying is naming the characters. I never took any particular delight in this before, but because of the subject matter, I get to do research to choose appropriate names. I get to reference people I know, people in my family and historical figures through character names. It's like writing inside jokes that only I will understand! Which is actually kind of sad.

Statistics are interesting. The main character makes up 21% of the lines. That means 1/5th of what is being said in the play is being said by one dude. When you break it down into how many words he says out of the whole thing, he's got 1/4th of the words on his plate. That is a ridiculous slice of pie. My number one priority is to cut down on mouth time for the guy, because I already feel sorry for him and he's not even cast.

As for the content, I really pulled from everywhere. Usually my writing reflects what I was reading at the moment, but this play reads nothing like "Ask the Dust." It's an amalgamation of influences from comic books, literary fiction, soulful indie rock and modern television drama. It's a pot of soup with equal parts of Transmetropolitan, House MD, Okkervil River and The Ten. I just hope no one accuses me of outright stealing. It's all homages and influences, I swear!

I'm just glad I forced this August 1st deadline on myself. Because even though the script seems insurmountable, I now have two months to make it a little more surmountable.