5.26.2008

Vicious Circle


The first five pages are a vicious circle. Or for me they are, especially as of late. I don't mean that in a bad way. Let's read vicious strictly as savage and ferocious instead of its many other denotations.

And it's not that I'm having a problem with beginnings. I'm not someone who comes up with ideas in set places. I have friends who like to start with beginnings and break their way through in a linear fashion, and some that start with characters and a few important scenes. I'm all over the map. The ideas do a pretty good job of dictating how equipped they are out of the box, so to speak.

In terms of my Dexter spec, the idea came to me first as a concept for the victim/kill room moment, and that was quickly followed by a fairly solid midpoint, climax, and closing scene. But I had a strong beginning that I built up in the breaking period. Though it turned out to be pleasantly fluid.

But in terms of the first five pages, I'm more so talking about two specific issues:

1. First impressions

This is the Big Issue that everyone's aware of: you have a short amount of time (pages) to hook a reader; to stand out, to immediately broadcast your voice, and to show what you can do with a spec/pilot. I remember when I was first in LA, I kept hearing 10-15 pages. And now, that's dwindled down to 5 pages.

Recently, I've had two people tell me that you have five pages to get the ball in a kick ass roll. One was a manager, and the other was Breen Frazier (Roswell, Alias, Ghost Whisperer).

Five pages. When I first heard someone use that page count, I was intimidated. But over the last few months or so, I've gotten pretty comfortable with it as a concept. Five pages is actually a lot of time. There's plenty of room to hook in that range -- and it helps to keep one in check in terms of precision, over-writing, and staying on course.

But in practice, I find it really makes it hard for me to turn that internal editor and critic off.

2. Getting in the groove

I know a lot of people don't start at the beginning -- as a matter of principle, for some. But I do. No matter how I've broken the story, or where the idea started, or if I'm aching to write the midpoint scene. I start at the beginning and write straight through, following my outline or my board.

I may leave some scenes vague, or not kill myself over a line of dialogue that just isn't what it's supposed to be, but I need to see that throughline. That experience of the narrative thread, the character's progression. I want that in the first, rough draft.

So the first five pages are a big part of getting me and this new script into a groove. At first -- even with all that prep work -- I'm just not seeing it vividly enough. I'm still on the surface with all the details that have consumed for so long, and I need to find that groove to slip into the story and lose myself a bit. That transition always helps me to just let the writing come and forget that inner critical voice during that first run-through.

So, taking that all into consideration, I guess it's not surprising that I've been working on writing the beginning of this script now for over a week, and I've spent that whole time reworking the first 5 pages. I'd say I have four versions now that have been reworked a few times each.

Let's call a spade a flounder -- that's ridiculous. And it only took me four drafts of the first five to realize it. I went back to my outline and a checklist of the expectations of the first five pages, and picked the elements that I needed. And I'm moving forward.

But I'm sure I'll be back in this vicious circle when the second draft rewrites rear their head.

ps. I just got sucked into watching my first reality show since I watched some of the first season of Survivor with some college buddies way back when. I got sucked into the Chicago season of Top Chef on Bravo. Gotta love Chicago, and I love cooking. Cooking and drama? God, I hate reality, but I ate that shit up. Ate it up. And it left me all inspired to whip up some Memorial Day home cooking.

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