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Monday, May 5, 2008


Recently, someone cut and pasted the Rouge Wave blog post about shifting expectations in structure on a particularly cantankerous message board. One that is dear to my heart. One on which I have made dear friends. But that cantankerous element can be found online anywhere. Anonymity creates mighty experts and strong opinions.

A kerfuffle arose mightly, with many casting aspersions on the Wave-inatrix, naming her as a contemptible witch for suggesting that the expectations for spec scripts is shorter and more compressed than in the past. Some posted examples of scripts sold at 114 or 123 pages. Good examples, true examples.

But on the Rouge Wave, I hold this truth to be self-evident: Rouge Wavers are an intelligent, interactive and thoughtful bunch who weigh, measure and try things out for themselves. Color me optimistic, but I do not view aspiring screenwriters as "newbies" akin to chicks in a nest with chunks of food being rammed down their innocent throats. I hold all writers - anyone who willingly sits in the silence and makes stuff up and then hopes we'll get paid for it as slightly insane heroes. And I count myself among you.

But. As the Wave-inatrix is wont to say - I do not make this stuff up. I am hearing, repeatedly, from the managers, executives and producers whom I have professional relationships with that they want shorter scripts with more giddy-up. Does this apply particularly to the comedy and horror genres? YES. But Wavers, in my belief, there is merit in this concept full stop.

Does that mean that if your first plot point is on page 30 that you are doomed to fail? Of course not. Think, people. Or rather - think, people on cantankerous message board! Whether you use the 3-act structure of the 4-act structure is purely a personal decision - whatever works for you. The Wave-inatrix finds it useful beyond measure in my own writing but an executive won't notice and won't care. I mean, really, there's no neon sign that says "welcome to act 2B!"

Wavers know how to use their god-given noggins. The Wave-inatrix, while seemingly quite goddess like, understandably, is just a girl working in this business. A girl who employs many readers, reads many scripts, cultivates relationships with managers and executives and who makes observations based on that experience.

It says so right above you and I'll paraphrase because I'm lazy: The Rouge Wave is a place to get inspired, motivated and edu-tained. Not indoctrinated and hopefully not confused.

Do what works for you - but the word on the street is shorter is better. If you wind up taking that advice and going for a structure that looks more like this:

Page 1 to 25 - act one
page 26 to 50 - act two (a)
page 51 to 75 - act two (b)
page 76 to 100 - act three

- and you find that your story isn't being served well - then by all means, have a look at that. Here's the thing - that's not a bad problem to have. However, writing a big, fat, overstuffed, overlong script is a tough one to solve. Much more difficult to rewrite. Building on your story is much less difficult than having a wandering story with a ton of excess fat. Not that trimming excess fat is not a GREAT exercise in your evolution as a writer.

But that's what it's all about, Wavers - you are continually evolving as human beings and as writers. You learn lessons along the way. Do what works for you while keeping your ear to the ground - the word on the street is important to pay attention to.

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This Space Blank said...

Now knee deep with HBO in script negotiations (with a story that was pitched long before the strike started/ended), so I might know what I'm talking about (we're not negotiating over the 3 or 4 act structure or if at 117 pages the script needs to be shorter or not) I'll say only this: the story dictates not only the how, but also the length, the number of pages, of the script. Getting hung up on structure or a certain amount of pages is a complete waste of energy...

I'm not saying forget the sage advise of the Wave-inatrix via her manager, executive, and producer friends, instead I'm suggesting all you need to do is tell the damn story and tell it well. Be better than every script that comes across that producer's desk and the rest will take care of itself.

Julie Gray said...

This space - couldn't agree with you more. But for newer writers, structure and guidelines are very helpful. There's an interesting evolution that happens with writers, which is that at first, you learn about and hew to all the "rules" like crazy but over time, all of this stuff becomes very intuitive. And the other thing is that while it seems crazy or cliched, very often the first thing an exec looks at is the page count. It's an imperfect barometer for the skill set of the writer. But what do you do after that? Start reading on page one. And therein lies the true test of the material - after a few great pages, I really don't care how many pages there are because I am compelled by the read. Guidelines are just guidelines. But the more experienced you are, the more you get to ignore them. I, believe it or not, once read a 500+ page romcom. That's a particularly keecrazy example that I throw in just to give a laugh. But what is self-evident to an experienced writer (i.e., that story is king) is not as evident to a less experienced writer. On the Rouge Wave we have Wavers who run the gamut from "whats-a-slugline" to produced, paid writers. So I try to address the concerns, questions and needs of most everybody. But you are spot-on and I wish you luck and thank you so much for your comment.
Cupcake for you. xo