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Question For Writers: How many drafts do you write?

Alexxx

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#1
Question for the writers here. How many drafts do you go through before completion? I read Taylor Sheridan only does one draft. My process is a little different than his. I can't imagine writing only a single draft, even if the second or final draft is simply a polishing of the first.
I basically begin with a very general outline separating acts and including notes and whatever compelled me to write the story in the first place. Then I write a full first draft using Word. This draft is rambling, may include pictures, research, character back stories, etc. My second and usually final draft is composed on screenwriting software - either Celtx or Final Draft, depending on which laptop I'm using - and is written as either a screenplay or shooting draft, depending on whether the project is spec or commission. So that's two drafts and an outline. It usually takes me two weeks to a month, but I've written one - both drafts - in a single week.
What's your process?
Thoughts?
 

cracken

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#2
I go to 6 or 7 drafts. I send it out for feedback after the 3rd draft. Then I will send a revised draft out for more feedback.
 

Hunter

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#4
I really don't know what to make of some of the things Sheridan claims about his process. From the interviews of his I've read or listened to, according to him, he doesn't outline, he writes only one draft, and his scripts are filmed as is. While there certainly is the possibility that it's true, it's highly unlikely that he goes from idea to complete and finished script to filmed movie. Also, there are at least two drafts of Hell or High Water that are different out there. So, kind of negates one claim right there.

Sorry to be self-indulgent. I love Sheridan's scripts, but can't really discern him as a personality.

When it comes to my writing, I start with just a cluster of ideas about a story, figure out what the arc is, then outline. After that, 3 or 4 drafts. First one, maybe two are all about story structure - adding scenes, deleting scenes. Then it's all about scene structure and dialogue - making everything dramatic and the dialogue fun.

@Alexxx You mentioned doing things on commission. Have you written anything we'd know? I'd understand if you want to keep anonymity so feel free to skip the question.
 

Alexxx

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I go to 6 or 7 drafts. I send it out for feedback after the 3rd draft. Then I will send a revised draft out for more feedback.
Wow, that's a lot of drafts. I'm relatively new to the process. Been writing all of my life in different aspects. Held several positions where the storytelling craft was essential. Never had to write more than three drafts before. However, that was advertising, not lengthy narratives.
Thanks for the response.
 

Alexxx

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#6
When it comes to my writing, I start with just a cluster of ideas about a story, figure out what the arc is, then outline. After that, 3 or 4 drafts. First one, maybe two are all about story structure - adding scenes, deleting scenes. Then it's all about scene structure and dialogue - making everything dramatic and the dialogue fun.

@Alexxx You mentioned doing things on commission. Have you written anything we'd know? I'd understand if you want to keep anonymity so feel free to skip the question.
Nope. The feature I'm currently finishing up a 3rd draft on is in pre-production - scouting locations, casting, test shots, etc. If it doesn't fall through, I'll give the board a heads up when it's done.
As mentioned above, I'm relatively new to writing screenplays for features and I'm quite surprised my experience has gone as smoothly as it has. Especially for someone who does not live in LA or has many connections in the industry. It was just dumb luck, really. A friend overheard a producer wanting a certain type of project, he vouched for me, I stepped in, that's about it.
Anyways, I'm just tooting my how horn there. Here's hoping I can one day gather enough cred to actually have one of my passion projects produced.
 

Hunter

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#7
Nope. The feature I'm currently finishing up a 3rd draft on is in pre-production - scouting locations, casting, test shots, etc. If it doesn't fall through, I'll give the board a heads up when it's done.
As mentioned above, I'm relatively new to writing screenplays for features and I'm quite surprised my experience has gone as smoothly as it has. Especially for someone who does not live in LA or has many connections in the industry. It was just dumb luck, really. A friend overheard a producer wanting a certain type of project, he vouched for me, I stepped in, that's about it.
Anyways, I'm just tooting my how horn there. Here's hoping I can one day gather enough cred to actually have one of my passion projects produced.
Well hey man, congratulations! Can't beat that. I hope for your sake it doesn't fall through and you get that career going. I also hope for my sake it doesn't fall through; I'd love to read what you've written.
 

Alexxx

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Well hey man, congratulations! Can't beat that. I hope for your sake it doesn't fall through and you get that career going. I also hope for my sake it doesn't fall through; I'd love to read what you've written.
Thanks, man. I'd like to add that the project is a very low-budget indie feature. I'm hoping the project will open doors for me in the industry.
 

Lon

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#9
As many as it takes. There's no set number. Although I'm calling bullshit on the Taylor Sheridan thing. I can't fathom any writer nailing a script exactly on the first draft. Even Beethoven needed rewrites.
 

Alexxx

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#10
As many as it takes. There's no set number. Although I'm calling bullshit on the Taylor Sheridan thing. I can't fathom any writer nailing a script exactly on the first draft. Even Beethoven needed rewrites.
The way I interpret what Sheridan has said is he probably has one working draft which he constantly tinkers with until he's content and does not write out completed drafts. I've known several other writers compose novels this way.
Whatever works, really. The reason I stop at three is that I have so many different ideas and outlines there's no way I can finish them all, or a majority, at this stage, without moving on to the next project, asap. I may be in the minority here, but I don't value screenplays in and of themselves as an art form or even a completed product. For me, they're a means toward an end. They are meant to be filmed. The format does not make for compelling reading, either, imo. I much prefer to read prose.
 

235wide

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#11
I really don't know what to make of some of the things Sheridan claims about his process.
Taylor Sheridan is primarily in the business of perpetuating the myth of Taylor Sheridan. When he first transitioned from an actor to writer, he claimed no superpowers or higher purpose. he wanted to stay in showbiz despite knowing that he was never going to be big as an actor. Flash forward to Wind River, and he now claims to write his screenplays like Mozart, and is saving the world single handedly with the important issues in his film noir. His behavior is understandable, yet disappointing.
 

Alexxx

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#12
Taylor Sheridan is primarily in the business of perpetuating the myth of Taylor Sheridan. When he first transitioned from an actor to writer, he claimed no superpowers or higher purpose. he wanted to stay in showbiz despite knowing that he was never going to be big as an actor. Flash forward to Wind River, and he now claims to write his screenplays like Mozart, and is saving the world single handedly with the important issues in his film noir. His behavior is understandable, yet disappointing.
If this is so, it reminds me of Nic Pizzolatto's behavior during and shortly after the airing of the first season of True Detective.
 

jbird669

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#16
Whatever works, really. The reason I stop at three is that I have so many different ideas and outlines there's no way I can finish them all, or a majority, at this stage, without moving on to the next project, asap.
I'm the same way. Part of my thing, too, call it an issue if you will, is that I can only edit myself so much. I need outside feedback. I had a writer's group but they disbanded.
 

mechagoji75

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#17
When I worked on the Bruce Lee biopic script, I just go on until I stop after I become dreadful on it, I'm currently working on a 5th draft so far.
 

sullivanalvarado

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#18
I tend to work for a very long time on the "idea-generation/brainstorm phase" during which I read as many books as possible: fiction and journalistic accounts, various research (sociological,...) etc... I also try to watch movies that could be a bit similar. This gives me plot ideas and defines a bit more what it's going to look like. The whole problem for me is knowing what sort of film it's going to be: a comedy, a relationship drama, a film noir with thriller elements (I always try to find humor either in the characters or the situations as I think it's ALWAYS important and it is a crime not to do so).
I like to define the film in "this film meets that classic" terms. My latest project is a geopolitical thriller set in Beirut (no, I'm not Tony Gilroy :)) and I wanted it to be relevant/interesting and true in terms of what's going on... So it involved a lot of research that was needed in order to know about the region's dynamics, the key players, etc...

That period of exploration lasts months during which I note down plot points. Then I have an outline on which I work thoroughly. I show it to friends and re-work it until it's bullet proof (I do believe a strong premise, which always centers around a strong conflict, if articulated well-enough can be bullet-proof -- see The Art of Dramatic Storytelling for more on that...great book). That's an important phase as people could tell me things like "Why doesn't she call the cops when that happens?" or "Isn't he aware that they're after him at this stage?", "This guy would NEVER do that!!", etc... This pushes me to make everything logical and psychologically solid and sound, redefining the character or their motivations if needed (there's so many potential problems due to the fact that the writer is omniscient, but the characters have access to limited information).

For my latest script, I worked on the outline for months, then went to script. I'm realizing that the longer I take to write scenes, the more conflict/subtext/dynamics I can inject there and the more interesting these scenes get. It's okay if it's slow as it's a arduous process and I want to have a solid first draft at the end (I'd rather not rush and end up with crappy scenes - for various reasons). For my latest project, my third act in my outline was vague and I paid the price: in the script, I ended up "faking it" (to make my deadline with my writers group) and it was clear that it needed work. After that, I went back to creating a very short outline of my script with just the sluglines and bullet points of what happens. This was a 3 pages Word document that allowed me to see the whole story quickly again "at a glance" which is very valuable as it's so easy to get lost in car brands or the character's vocabulary abilities, etc. So I re-wrote the end from an outline perspective, and then wrote the last bit of screenplay. This gave me a super solid first draft that I was truly proud of. It was a bit on the long side, but because I used formatting techniques such as William Goldman's (ie no sluglines, just shots sometimes), this does creates more white space and maybe that's okay.

That draft is my solid first, and I send it to another panel of readers (close friends) who have never even heard of it. What they tell me about it is very interesting and useful of course.

To answer some of the myths about writing: no one writes a perfect first draft without an outline. Frankly this is bullshit. Some people want to create a myth about themselves, but it's just a lie. The Coen Brothers don't write outlines, but they know exactly what they want to do and they've read the same books that underlie the story ("It's gonna be a story about a NY playwright hired in Hollywood in the 40's. We'll base it around Clifford Odets's life, etc..." ==> Barton Fink). They then write the scenes, and three months later, they have a script. Two (smart) brains taking 3 months to write a spec script is equal to one brain finishing it in 6 months. But with another job, I do believe it's okay to write one solid spec a year.

Also, the only things that matter in screenplays are relationships. The way they develop, fold and unfold, the way people deceive each others, fall out of love, help each others or fall in love over time. That's all we're interested in: human behavior. And so that's an important thing I think about for a long time before I write: who is connecting with whom? How do they clash? Why? Where do they start and where do they end up? Who else is there? Also, and that's Plato, not me: no one who is bad knows that they are bad. Unless they want to hurt someone for revenge. But most people do the best they can, and have reasons for what they do - and sometimes they hurt others and don't know it.

And yes, same as above, I do tend to become blind to my own writing. What's important is to look at something with fresh eyes as it's the only way to see the weaknesses and improve. So yeah, I also need outside counsel. But that advice is different at every stage: logline, outline, script... as it'll be about different aspects of screenwriting.

That's my process. Sorry for such a long description. I hope it makes sense!
 

Lon

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#19
I tend to work for a very long time on the "idea-generation/brainstorm phase"...!
Same. I'll sometimes spend months mulling a story over in my head, working out the fine points, before I type a single word of it. This -- I freely admit without a drop of shame -- is because I'm a lazy writer. I don't want to have to sit down at my desk and write any more than I absolutely have to. And while this approach has left me far from prolific, I also don't tend to have to rewrite as much. Even so, I've had some scripts that have dragged on for seven, eight, nine rewrites. Typically those are the ones I end up giving up on. If you haven't nailed a script down after nine rewrites, you never will.
 

Alexxx

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#20
Thanks to everyone who responded.

I have stuck to my three drafts method. One sort of long hand, two on screenwriting software. It works for me. As for research, I tend to research future projects at the same time I write an already established outline. Similar to Aaron Sorkin's style. It keeps you writing at all times and that's the important part.

Using this method I've written 9 screenplays over the last year - 7 full-length and 2 shorts.

Anyways, thanks again everyone!