When the Gap Fills from Unexpected Places

I finished the latest draft of Machiavelli & Tymes on Thursday. It’s been a long time since I felt such a profound sense of accomplishment. In receiving feedback on previous drafts, I was told that it was a fun and fast read, with lots of action, sharp dialogue, and memorable characters. There was some confusion over what was happening in my Teaser, as well as with Act IV.

This latest draft addressed those concerns. I moved my Teaser to an art gallery in Bucharest, where both of my protagonists were now undertaking an art heist. The stakes became higher, and we got more of a sense for what these characters are about.

Act IV has been almost completely rewritten. I went back to the drawing board and wrote a new outline for how it would unfold. My intent was not to salvage what I had already written, but to blow it up and start anew. However, I did take an inventory for what I liked about the Act.

The opening scene was not only solid, but essential. Only a few tweaks there. Ditto for my next scene, which was only 5/8’s of a page anyway. The big reveal at the end was also solid, but the dialogue and arc of the scene needed to be cleaned up. The final scene, 4/8’s of a page, was good, but could be subject to change, depending on what I did with the rest of Act IV.

It took me about five hours to write the third scene of Act IV. Two of my characters have completely new objectives – which profoundly transforms the whole dynamic of Act IV. The action in the scene became cleaner, sharper, more focused, and the scene moved much faster. To my surprise, I was able to show off the ‘super powers’ or special abilities for two of my characters in this scene. One’s proficient at Parkour, and the other can dislocate his own joints at will, to effect an escape. When I drew up the scene, I had no idea they could do these things, but I knew I would have to come up with something special for them eventually.

What made the rewrite successful is that I knew where the scene began, and I knew where it had to go. I knew the characters’ objectives, and I knew what obstacles would complicate those objectives. The rest I left up to the characters themselves, to improvise their way through the scene. One character does something, that forces another to react a certain way. They’re both fighting to win their objectives, and the clock is ticking. In times like that, I don’t even feel like I’m writing anymore. I’m transcribing. Characters completely take over the writing process.

Then the scene ends, and I run into a wall. No plan for what would come next. I wasn’t even sure how many pages the scene needed to be. Great big question marks, with a blinking curser sitting there, doing nothing – and three characters waiting on me for  directions.

After an hour of sketching out different ideas, and rejecting all of them, I decided to jump to my penultimate scene – the big reveal. This scene at least had a shape to it. If I could get this scene right, I could work backwards to my third scene. I would then know how big the gap is between this scene, and my third scene and I would know my page count. Most importantly, I would be writing, instead of sitting there staring at a blinking curser.

The fine line between expository dialogue and moving the story forward with conflict and action, can be tough to navigate. I think the biggest problem with my penultimate scene was that I erred on the side of less exposition, in favour of more conflict. The ending felt incomplete, and even a little confusing as a result. I found the solution from another source.

Between bouts of writing M&T, I had been breaking down episodes of The Blacklist for the spec script I’ll soon be starting. Blacklist is one of the highest rated, and most critically acclaimed shows on television right now – and it is loaded with massive scenes of pure expository dialogue. Sometimes you just need to stop, and lay out all the clues, so everyone on the team (audience included) can move forward. These scenes are pure exposition, completely free of conflict. If Blacklist can be loaded with so much exposition, why can’t I salt a bit of it into my script, where I already have a scene ripe with conflict?

With my penultimate scene fixed, I looked at the two-three page gap that remained in my script. I still had no idea how I was going to move the characters from the third scene to the big reveal. I had no idea and none were coming – the purest form of Writer’s Block I’ve ever felt. I decided upon a utilitarian approach.

My three characters rush out of scene three and into the next logical location. Then thud. They’re there. Now what? One character is up in the rafters (set up from previous scene) and two others must get to her somehow, as quickly as possible. Stairs would be too slow. Elevator would be slower. Scaling a rope, slower yet.

Perhaps they can find a way to bring her to them? Perhaps they can CUT THE ROPE that’s supporting the catwalk she’s currently running along!

Boom!

Problem solved. Fresh objectives. Over the next two pages the resulting action took on a wonderfully memorable twist, that had me struggling to contain my laughter as I wrote. I was back to transcribing again, and everything made complete sense. This scene turned out to become one of my most favourite in the entire script – and all of it came from a black gap empty hole.

I’m so proud of this draft. I sent it out to my circle of writer friends, and I’m waiting on feedback.

And then I’ll be sending it off to LA.

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