5-day Script Marathon: Conclusions

05/01/2013

The 5-day script marathon has turned out to be a 5+1-day script marathon. By the end of day 5, I had about an hour of material. It’s now Saturday and I’m on the last stretch, hoping to finish the script tonight.

It wasn’t a good idea to do this during the holiday season. When I’ve done a marathon before it’s always been 5 days in a row without interruptions – and that works best. I started this one on Friday, had to finish early to pack for a weekend trip. Continued on Monday and finished early because it was New Year’s Eve. Took the New Year’s Day off and carried on on Wednesday. So I’ve had two significant breaks, and I’ve actually only had three days of proper marathon when I could work till late in the evening and several days in a row. Hence the additional day. The upside of this is that being focussed on this one project created a smooth continuum from the end of the year and the start of the new year, so I’m not experiencing any severe post-holiday blues. :)

The thing to keep in mind for next time, then, is that a marathon should be done in one go without breaks. The other problem with breaks is that they mess with the flow and slow you down. A writing marathon is like running: you can’t get up and start sprinting, you have to warm up and gradually increase speed until you get yourself into a nice rhythm. You’ll have speed and momentum. With these two breaks I had to do a warm-up three times. I got into the flow of writing the actual scenes on Wednesday and had a good flow on Thursday and Friday. But that’s already day 4 and 5 while I should’ve had a good flow already on day 2.

During writing, it’s the thinking that takes the most time, which sounds quite obvious. The treatment that I had waiting for two years has quite a clear concept and it has had time to incubate in my head. A clear idea almost writes itself because you already know what’s going to happen, the only thing left to do is to come up with the details and type it up. The bits where I slowed down and needed more thinking were, for example, scenes where a character appeared for the first time. I felt I didn’t know them well enough – what they’re really like (in detail) and how they behave; you’re still in the dark as you’re writing it and you are discovering that character as the scene unravels on the page. It’s a strange feeling (in a good way).

I also realised that one reason why my page numbers weren’t going up faster was because it was all very visual, I had a lot of activity and very little dialogue. Which is good because I usually tend to overdo dialogue and have to cut a lot. It’s good when it’s more visual (as it is a film and not a radio play).

The best moments of writing is when something unexpected pops into your head out of the blue – your main character walks into a room and suddenly there’s someone already in there, someone or something that even you didn’t know would be there; and that someone or something turns out to be not just a part of this one scene but a significant part of the whole story. That”s a great feeling.

Also, I should come up with all the names before writing the script because stopping to come up with a good name is dangerous – it leads to procrastination and web-wabbing. :) At the same time, little breaks are good. They let you catch your breath before taking on a new load of scenes. Sometimes you need a little break to digest something in a scene and the idea pops into your head while you’re doing something else. If not, then to get back on track, you just need to go through the previous scene or two you’ve just written and the film will start rolling in your head again.

In addition there are numerous other things you have to keep in mind while writing a scene: the gist of it or the ‘beat’ so the story stays focussed, the consistency of the main character’s behaviour and experience, the development of the main character’s experiences so that the story keeps moving forward in each scene; wants and conflicts and recurring motifs, themes, and so on.

Also, it’s not possible to write 50 pages a day (it’s probably best to aim at 25) – just as you can’t have three meaningful conversations at once or be in two places at the same time, ‘living through’ the events in the story takes a certain amount of time and focus and you can’t speed it up, otherwise you’re just skimming the surface and the writing is not going to have much quality.

A writing marathon is quite exhausting because you need to be emotionally engaged in the scenes and events (‘living’ them) for long stretches of time. By the end of a day you feel like a squeezed sponge and you’ll have to start again, with new emotions and experiences to go through, the next morning. It’s no wonder that a lot of writers (such as T.S. Eliot or Ernest Hemingway) wrote only a few hours a day or just the first part of the day – it’s emotionally draining.

One thing that keeps you going is telling other people that you’re doing this – you will feel more committed to finishing the marathon when other people are ‘watching’. A big thanks to everyone who were wishing me luck and rooting for me on Facebook and Twitter!

I’m glad I did this marathon. I’m glad I finally managed to get this story down on the page and I’m looking forward to the first rewrite (perhaps as a marathon between other projects as well).

By the way, it’s a screenplay for a feature animation (Family/Adventure) which is an unusual genre for me but I’ve really enjoyed writing it.

Now, I’ve just got a few more scenes to finish and I’m done.

Thanks for reading!

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