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Screenplays – Vomit Drafts and White Whales

When I was first learning how to write a screenplay, everything I’ve been reading was talking about planning every little thing in the story, character backgrounds, environment settings, etc.

This did not appeal to me. It sounded like work. So, I come across the idea of a vomit draft while reading an interview with Judd Apatow. This is how I want to write! Hearing a very successful (and working) screenwriter talk about sitting down and hammering out a script to the end appealed to me. I had a seed of a story working around in my mind, and decided to try it out.

I sat down and after about 50 hours I finished my screenplay. Was it great? No. It was okay, there is a very good story in there with some reworking. Now everyone I’ve talked to and everything I read about a vomit draft, is that the purpose of it is to get the screenplay out and get past the “editing” one tends to do when writing. And that’s a very good point, but the best thing I’ve found from doing this is that after writing 120 pages and putting the characters through their paces. I now know how these characters act and have a much, much clearer understanding of why they did what they did in the story.
For me, this is a tremendous benefit. Plots are easy to come up with, characters that are more than a cut-out or a justification for having action happen is a lot harder. For me at least. And with a couple weeks work, I have better defined characters to put into a more personal story.

And that, in my opinion, is the best benefit of a vomit draft. With minimal work, no in-depth planning of every single piece of history or planning out future events, and just plowing through to the end, I’ve allowed my characters and their universe to come alive and watch how they exist. On their own. It sounds flaky, but the characters started to develop personalities on their own. Instead of trying to keep them in line with what I would have decided they act like, they start doing things their own way.

Hold on… If I’m talking about writing a screenplay without planning, why did I create Visual Plotter?
Well, because sometimes there’s a story that just won’t be vomited. Planning is a necessary step. The key, for me, is finding the amount of planning I need to start writing the screenplay, but not too much that it keeps me from writing.
The earlier story I was talking about worked out beautifully with a vomit draft. It started with a concept for a plot (bad guy does such-and-such), rattled around for a while then got thrown onto paper (or screen, really) and now, I have a tighter storyline in mind from that work on the vomit draft.

The story that got me into screen writing I can not make work, after many, many years. It’s my white whale of a screenplay. It’s gone through one completed short (with many uncompleted) and two separate vomit drafts with a rewrite of one of those. And I am embarrassed by each one I put on paper. No one has ever read them and no one ever will. Every so often I keep coming back to it and can’t crack it.

In comes Visual Plotter. I made it so I can see the cause and effect of the actions my characters take in the white whale story. I’ve tried flowchart software, mind mapping software, handwriting notes, spreadsheets, but I couldn’t find a computer equivalent of index cards. With Visual Plotter I can write a scene down and put it around where it would fall in the story and fill in the blanks.

Here’s what I have so far.In-progress plot for my white-whale of a screenplay This is just the first act.

Some stories are easy for me. They come in and spill onto paper. Some stories demand more sweat to make them work. The ones that refuse to come into existence, are bastards. That story is the dirty, little, needling goblin that mocks me. When a story slides out and the characters come to life and become more than you planned, is amazing.

So I wrote Visual Plotter to help out when a story decides it’s not going to cooperate and needs that extra push.

In truth, I like having a white whale of a story. It’s always there to work on when I’m out of new ideas, and gives me something to measure my skills against. I feel if I can crack this story, I can write anything. But since it eludes me I have a goal to reach.

The day I can sit down and vomit draft a screenplay out, will probably be the day I will have nothing left to write.

And my screenplay will still suck.

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