12 Common First Draft Problems

Another fine article from the Writers Bootcamp.

The completion of a first draft is an important start, a platform for the real work to begin.  But like scaffolding during construction, the first draft pages will eventually disappear with further stages of project completion.

By definition, first drafts are just a start. They lack the explicit “audience experience” and cultivated seamlessness expected in a viable script. New writers, with an outsider’s view of professional craft, tend to show and submit material prematurely, putting their most sympathetic industry relationships at risk.

A writer’s commitment and passion for a project can be undermined by the litany of notes, let alone an unenthused response, or even no response at all.  Unless an idea is so clearly compelling and distinctive–a rare feat in our very competitive, idea-based business–a first draft, whether by a new or experienced writer, is usually far from a fully expressed vision or well articulated blueprint.

Most rewrites, done conventionally and linearly, and focusing mostly on plot, are not true rewrites and tend to simply swirl words around.  An early rewrite is not about editing but will ideally bring 30-50% new material– new scenes, character interactions, encounters, events and relationship phases–to supersede the first draft pages.

Here is a list of common first draft problems that apply to both feature film and television writing. Knowing these issues will help you accept where you are along the creative timeline and to manage your own expectations, as well as help you understand the timing of submitting to a reader or a particular company.

1. Whether feature, TV spec or TV pilot script, the 1st Act and Set-Up are too long and the early events, created from the start instead of reverse engineered from the end, take too long to unfold.  Also, the first half and most of the middle of the script can be cut and compressed to make room for more specific scene material.

2. The Main Character is not active, often due to the writer unintentionally internalizing the character’s POV and also due to an unclear or undefined motivation.

3. The Dynamic Character and Dynamic Relationship lacks enough clear stages of progression throughout the middle of the story or story line.

4. The events along the Adventure are episodic, meaning that they don’t resonate with greater and expanding interpersonal and thematic consequences.

5. The Adventure lacks enough connected events that represent the organic, incremental stages of the Main Character’s experience.

6. The Complication after the Mid-Point is not compelling yet in that its contribution to the intensification of the story or story line is not fully articulated.

7. The Ultimate Opponent is not well developed and clearly motivated in the draft.

8. The Low Point is not strong in that its levels are not mined for direct conflict, physical and emotional jeopardy, emotional expression, opponent presence, reversion to misbehavior and dynamic estrangement.

9. The Battle Segment, including the Battle Scene, is missing the convergence of characters and payoffs based on what and who have been introduced throughout the Adventure.

10. The Genre is soft, meaning that the expected entertainment is not coming through in terms of emotion and the conventions of the kind of story depicted in the script.

11. The Project Conceits are not fully developed; there aren’t enough set pieces (moments of interaction, lines of scene direction and dialogue) that carry the DNA of what’s uniquely entertaining about the project.

12. The Scene Work hitches in that there are a myriad of craft issues that make the script a difficult read.  Common Scene Work problems include rambling dialogue, overly linear dialogue, dialogue that is too polite, overly expositional dialogue, dialogue that lacks character separation, dense action, choreography that disrupts the dialogue flow, mundane or stiff writing, lack of inspired Scene Conduct–just to name a handful.


One Comment Add yours

  1. Joe Shapiro says:

    This is a great list!

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