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Are You An Overwriter or Underwriter?

     Screenplays, as well as all forms of writing, are either overwritten or underwritten. And I don't mean strictly by length.  An overwriter will write a screenplay that's just too long. I encourage people to shoot for 110 pages, but many new (and experienced) screenwriters go way over, as well as way under. 
     This kind of overwriting and underwriting can be fixed by either editing and cutting or adding and embellishing scenes, sub-plots and the main storyline.
     The other problem area is what I'm dealing with today.
     Scenes can also be overwritten and underwritten. Overwritten means you've put in too much information or information the reader already knows or you've written a monologue that stops the forward movement of the plot dead in it's tracks. Simple, the scene is bloated and needs to be trimmed or maybe even eliminated.
     Underwritten scenes are an even bigger problem. When you have to edit a scene that's too long, it's a bit easier than having to embellish a scene that's too short. Now, in screenwriting, scenes should be short. If you can give all relevant information in a one page (or less) scene good for you. Move on to the next scene. But often, it's not that simple. Some scenes require crucial info to move the story or reveal character, so it's difficult to make it lean and mean.
     Ultimately, you will look at your first draft and realize that some scenes work very well, others are underwritten and some are overwritten.
     An underwritten scene means that you've given some information that presumably will lead to the next scene, but you just do a cursory job of it. You've written an exchange between two characters consisting of 10 lines. It probably needs 20 or 30 to clearly get the information you need to get across.
     Overwritten scenes are frustrating to read because they just have too damn much information, but at least the key info is there. Underwritten scenes are more frustrating because you merely drop some information and move to the next scene, but you leave the reader hanging and frustrated because we're not sure what you're trying to get across.
     So if you've written a scene that looks too short on the page, it probably is. Take another look at it and make sure it contains what you want it to contain. And if it doesn't, take another crack at it.

1 comment:

  1. Rare is one of my first-draft scenes that is short. I'm often overwriting. But since I know this, I'm ready to cut mercilessly on my revisions.

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