Here’s a Friday Question worth an entire post:
It’s from Charles H. Bryan:
Are there times when you look at a script (yours or someone else's) and think "There's something missing, but I don't know what?" Or can you always pretty specifically nail down the problem?
I only wish in my dreams that I could detect all script problems and what the fixes are. But the truth is, there are plenty of times something’s not working and I’m completely stumped as to why.
This is another reason it’s good to have partners or a writing staff. And I’ll be honest, there have been many times during a rewrite when as a group we arrive at what we think is the problem, spend six hours rewriting, and then send the script to the stage not having a clue whether we really solved the problem or just did an alternate version. Generally, we’re right about 75% of the time. But once or twice a season we find ourselves right back at square one the next night.
Why do we find ourselves in these pickles? Because we strive to be original, tell stories in a fresh inventive way. If you just follow the same story structure week after week you rarely have these problems. Personally, I think the trade off is worth it. (Of course I say that now. Sitting in a rewrite at 5 A.M. I may not be such an artiste.)
On one show I worked on early in my career we would have a scene that didn’t work in a runthrough or a story that was problematic and one of our producers would say “Don’t worry. I got the fix.” So we would just move on to the next scene. Then we'd get back to room and say, “What’s the fix?” and he’d say, “Oh, I was just saying that so we could move along. I didn’t to stand on the stage debating this all day with the actors there.” We wanted to kill him… and then ourselves for letting him fool us again.
But if you find yourself in this situation, you can take great comfort in knowing you are not alone. Practically all writers face this, even the great ones.
Night after night the same thing would occur. Monster laughs until the last fifteen minutes. Neil and Mike would then sit in the hotel lobby staring at each other. They would decide on a course of action, Neil would sit up all night rewriting, and the next evening the new version would be presented to the audience. And the cycle would be repeated. Night after night after night.
Finally, a Boston critic casually mentioned he really liked the Pigeon sisters – two characters that appeared in a second act scene. He wished they had come back. A lightbulb went on. Yes! Bring the Pigeon sisters back.
Neil wrote them into the last scene and suddenly THE ODD COUPLE played through the roof. The rest is (Broadway, motion picture, and television) history.
When geniuses like Neil Simon and Mike Nichols can't put their fingers on a problem, what hope is there for the rest of us?
So when you get stuck just know, there is no Dr. House for writing. At times we’re all Frank Burns.