Who’s Worth The Time?
Sometimes advice is good until it isn’t.
Years ago, I remember a teacher telling me that “if you don’t finish a script, you may as well have not started it.” Which is a fantastic thing to tell a new writer. You learn so much from seeing your early, bad scripts through to the end, and it’s an experience that can’t be replicated anywhere else. I’ve plowed through more than a few scripts that were doomed from the beginning, and I’m certainly glad I did it.
Fast forward to now. I still can’t claim to be an experienced writer, but I like to think my eye has improved a bit. It’s become easier to tell a winning idea from a losing one. And I’ve made peace with the fact that some ideas are going to be losing ones. Even the best baseball players fail seven out of ten times, and I’d gladly take half of that for myself.
I never have a shortage of ideas, but the reality remains that quite a few them are not great. So it’s in my best interest to write as many scripts as I can, so that I can find those good ones. And that means not spending three to six months on the bad script ideas, even if I’ve already started them. Lately, I’ve been trying to figure out which ideas are worth sticking with, and which ones can be abandoned midway through the process.
It’s tough, because like any creative product, scripts can change a lot. Sometimes you’re writing something that bears little to no resemblance to your original idea, and you’re also not sure how it’s going to end. But some of those are worth continuing. And sometimes you have an incredibly tight, clearly-outlined story that never changes, but the smart play is to throw it out and write something else.
So which ones are worth finishing? I wish I could say I have one of my increasingly-famous patterns, but if I had that I’d also have an Emmy. But I’ll share the closest thing I’ve found.
I feel like I owe much more to my characters than I do to my plots. If I come up with a premise and a story, but the character are interchangeable, it never lasts. But once I fall in love with a character or two, I’ll stop at nothing to find them a good story. I have seen plots turn 359 degrees on a dime, but I’m willing to see it through if the characters deserve it. It’s become something of an obsession for me. Creating great characters is hard, to say the least, but once I have one, I’m determined to do right by them.
It simultaneously works as a method for choosing scripts, and a motivating factor to write every day. It’s easy to not start something, but once I bring a character into the world, they deserve my best. I try to avoid letting other people manipulate me, but this is one time that I’ll happily allow it.