I’ve been talking about a Castle spec script that I’ve been working on/struggling with for a while now. My first-ever spec that I wrote completely wrong at first (structure? What’s that? You mean, the main character has to be, like, in it? Like, a lot? And has to, like, do stuff?), but the plot and theme of which I wanted to salvage, because they were important to me. Also, there’s the fact that I wanted to learn from this script. My hope was that if I could fix my mistakes here, I’d be better off.
However, I’ve hit a wall on it, mostly because I started it completely wrong, so the entire foundation of the story is unstable. I tried patching it up, but haven’t been able to successfully, and now I’ve just stared at the thing so long I can’t even see it anymore. I want to make a good spec out of it. I want this particular story written for these characters. But I need distance from it. Right now, I’m still too attached to certain scenes as written, even though they’re wrong, and I need to get to a place where I can start from scratch. I’m not there on this script right now.
So, Castle is in the metaphorical drawer. (Remember when people actually put scripts in drawers, because they actually typed them on paper? I know. Me either. 😉 )
BUT, I’ve been working on a new spec from scratch (outline, treatment, the works) where I’m putting everything I learned from all the mistakes I made on the Castle script to good use. It’s a spec for Grimm. What are these things I’ve learned? Well, they might seem like common sense, but I’m recording them here in all their ridiculousness in the hopes that my mentioning them might spare some of you some trouble. This way, you can make your own, entirely different mistakes!
- When I first wrote the Castle script, I thought that having watched the show and “knowing it really well” was enough to write a script. Um, no. You need to know your show on the page if you want to write it. What you see on the screen and what you see in a script are two totally different things. I started looking at old Castle scripts long after I’d already made my first set of “revisions” (I put that word in quotes, because even my revisions at the time were wrong) to the first version of my spec, but by then it was too late. I was trying to shrink and stretch my spec to fit into the Castle mold, but it was never really designed to do that, so the whole thing just fell apart. With Grimm, after I got a glimmer of an idea for a story I wanted to tell, I immediately got a hold of the scripts for three episodes to see how many acts each had, how many pages each act had, how characters were included, when certain procedural plot points tended to happen… When I started to outline and write a treatment for my episode, the story came much more easily than the Castle one did, because I knew where certain parts of the story were supposed to go before I started! Knowing your show really well on the script level helps you write it. I know! Crazy, huh?
- In the first incarnation of my Castle script, Richard Castle hardly did anything. You see, I so desperately wanted to give Beckett and Alexis more to do, that I forgot that the show is called Castle, and if I’m going to tell an effective Castle story, that story should, you know, include Castle. This is funny, since in my reviews of Grimm for Tor.com, the episodes I liked least were the ones where Monroe does all the heavy lifting, and Nick doesn’t get to save the day or have the major insights. Not only do my Castle mistakes help me write other specs better, but they also help me see and articulate what I do and don’t like on current television shows. Anyway, for my Grimm spec, I’m never letting myself forget that the show is called GRIMM. Nick is the hero. It’s his story, despite the wonderful ensemble, and in the end, he has to drive the action, make the big decisions, and have the most at stake. The simple act of remembering this has allowed my treatment to come much more easily. Whenever I was at a loss for what should happen to move the story forward, I would just ask “What does Nick want?” And then words would happen. It’s like magic! In fact…
- Trusting the characters is something else I didn’t do much in my Castle script. There were Things That I Wanted To Say, and I was basically using the characters as mouthpieces for those things. Big mistake. I wasn’t treating them like people. For my Grimm script, as I’ve been writing the treatment, I’ve been talking to the characters in my head. Just as I’ve been asking myself what Nick wants, I’ve been asking what Hank and Juliette and Monroe want. What does Renard want? And yes, what does Wu want. And they’ve been telling me what they want. And what they want very often conflicts with what Nick wants. OMG, CONFLICT YOUSE GUYS. It seems so stupid to even have to type this as a thing. But no matter who you are, there’s always the point at which you didn’t know this. And then one day, you know it. And then your writing gets better. My story feels inevitable now, because as I progress act by act through my treatment, things are unfolding naturally in the plot, because they’re all driven by characters and not by me manipulating things. I mean, I knew the basic story I wanted to tell (the crime, where I wanted the characters to end up, etc), but I didn’t know how it was going to happen. By focusing on the characters, certain things popped up that not only surprised me, but forced me to change/add other things along the way that make the whole story better.
- Last lesson? I’m not rushing my outline/treatment. The treatment for a TV spec is only about 4-5 pages where you write out, in prose, everything that happens in your script. It seems like an easy thing, but this is really where the bulk of the work happens. Doing this right means less work later. So, I’m taking my time at this stage, and not rushing to Final Draft until I’m sure I have a quality road map to follow. This doesn’t mean I won’t have to rewrite later. But it does mean that I’ll have a better script to work with when I’m revising, unlike my poor Castle script.
The other day, on Facebook, after gleefully getting through the teaser and 3 1/2 acts in my Grimm treatment, my status was: That awesome moment when a story clicks and suddenly a script actually seems possible. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. If it IS broke, try. But if you CAN’T fix it, get a new gift horse all together. But don’t look in its mouth. Or something.
This is what I was referring to. My Grimm spec is my new gift horse. A friend of mine joked, “Just hope it isn’t a Trojan horse!” I’ll let you know how that turns out.