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ON SCREENWRITING: How to polish a draft

Mar 20, 2017 Phil Parker 0 Screenwriting , , , , , ,

The first three steps every screenwriter should take.

Writing a draft of a screenplay is incredibly hard, yet rewarding, work for most screenwriters. After many weeks/ months/ years of toil, it’s natural to ache for an immediate reward, but unless you’re being paid for that writing, there usually isn’t one. Desperate for a pat on the back, many screenwriters will rush their newborn scripts out to others, hoping and praying to hear that it’s already near perfect.

If you’re a screenwriter, and you’re doing this …STOP. Take the time to examine the layers of your script first, and your readers will love you more for it.

But first, there are three steps you should take:

STEP 1 – Do nothing.

“Say what?!”edit draft screenplay script doctor screenwriter

Yeah, that’s right. Nothing – nothing to do with THAT screenplay, at least.

This is the first and hardest step, but the one most likely to improve your script. When you’ve finished a draft, put it in a drawer for a week. Go on a vacation if you need a reward. I recommend focusing on something non-writing related. This’ll help restore your objectivity and refresh your creative brain.

Have you failed the Three Step Program already? I’d wager 90% of screenwriters find Step 1 impossible. But why not join the 10% who are giving their scripts the BEST odds of standing out from the crowd?

STEP 2 – Read three scripts.

While still keeping your screenplay in a bottom drawer, find three great scripts to read that are in the same genre as yours. Produced scripts are ok, but even better are spec scripts from the Black List (if you can find them). That’s because produced scripts are often just written
screenplay screenwriter script draft writerversions of what’s on screen rather than original specs that caught the eye of agents and producers (and hence propelled them onto the list). Take note of how those screenwriters approach dialogue and action because these are some of the things you’re about to examine in your own script. And if what you’re reading inspires new ideas for your magnum opus, jot it down.

Ok, NOW you’re ready to blow the dust off your baby.

Think of yourself as a 3D printer – each pass you do of your draft will focus largely on one layer
of your writing that will make the entire story stronger. But first, it’s time to do a ‘kitchen sink’ pass.

STEP 3 – The Kitchen-Sink Pass

Having taken a week or two away from your script, now read it all the way through once. Along the way, go crazy with your Red Pen of Deathrough draft screenplay first draft screenwriter script
and correct whatever stands out or annoys you, but don’t get bogged down. If you stumble upon major plot holes or logic problems, make a note and move on. The point of the Kitchen-Sink Pass is to take it all in; to get a bird’s-eye view from start to finish. You’ll probably find lots of typos. That’s ok. You will on every pass you make. Don’t obsess over them, either. Remember, this is not the Fine-Toothed Comb pass.


After you’ve finished Step 3, you’ll have a pretty good idea of how much story work still needs to be done. If you’ve found problems, now is the time to fix them. No point fine tuning your layers if there’s a festering swamp of confusion weighing them down in the middle. Go fix it. Don’t know how to? Ask a writing friend (or manager, if you’re lucky enough to have one) who is willing to suffer through your draft. DO NOT ask someone who can move it up the food chain. That comes later, once you’ve finished The Layer Approach.

The steps of which I will outline in next week’s blog. In the meantime, decide where you’re at – Step 1,2 or 3 – and get started.

Good luck

Phil Parker

Screenwriter Phil Parker is one of ISA’s Top 25 Screenwriters to Watch in 2018. His multi-award winning WWII script is being packaged by BAFTA-winning producer Sias Wilson in London; and two animation projects he was hired to work on are in development with Tent Pictures in Abu Dhabi. Phil is also a sought-after script consultant with clients in Australia, the US and England.

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