Posted by: michellemuldoon | October 28, 2010

When Good Scripts Go Bad

I’ve been working on and off again on a screenplay called “Who’s Got Wendell Finster”. Some of my friends have heard me talk about it for what seems like an eternity, and I’m sure they’re all thinking, “when the heck are you going to finish that first draft?” Their phrasing might be a little more choice than that, but you get the idea.

It started out as a very simple premise, and blossomed into a problem child on walk-about. And when I say it’s gone on walk-about, I mean it’s become the wandering love child of an 80’s After School Special and an 80’s Tuesday Movie of The Week. I don’t even know if McMillan and Wife could help me figure out where this is going.

I think writing a screenplay can sometimes be like raising a child. You need to give it room to breathe, room to find its own voice, yet if you don’t provide some guidance, then sometimes life can go a little bit off the rails.

I’m not the best at outlines and beat sheets. The truth is, I rarely use them, and it has never failed me before, but this time, I’m struggling.  I’ve blamed it on the idea that I’ve taken too long on the draft and become distracted by the idea of filming something every year. It’s two different sides of the brain, I keep telling myself.  Right… Well, I’m beginning to see it as nothing to do with either of these things.

So, if it isn’t my diverted attention, and it isn’t my ongoing disdain for beat sheets, what is it? I think it’s my characters. Don’t get me wrong, Wendell’s a rock’n loser of a dude trying to make good, but I don’t think these kids sing to me in the way that others have.

This is not a Glee reference, although, I kind of wish it was after watching Kurt play Riff Raff (Love him!).  No, this is about how a character comes alive as you write. How you think you know them better than anyone, including the actor who always thinks they know their character best (People, who created him/her in the first place?).  When a character sings, it’s as if they’re alive, next to you, spending the weekend watching your beloved Canucks sputter through another Hockey Night In Canada performance, reading the movie listings and lamenting how you couldn’t care about most of this week’s premieres and even, standing next to you at Whole Foods deciding which type of organic chocolate you’re going to buy, the milk, or the 75% Cocoa Venezuelan Dark.

They live, they breathe, they laugh, and they cringe when your first draft makes them say the stupidest things that you initially think are sheer and utter brilliance that’s so hot, some producer’s head will explode when they read it.

Unfortunately, right now, Wendell, Carl, Reese, Emily, Seth, Lamont and Jacob aren’t crowding the bakery counter salivating over that last piece of pumpkin cheesecake with me. And that’s sad. Sad that they can’t appreciate the brilliance of working cheesecake into every holiday imaginable. And sad that I’m now going to have to go back and ask myself, “If I’m not connected with this misfit group of high school students, how can I ask anyone else to be?”

Maybe it’s not me, or the characters. Maybe I need  to stop crying in my pumpkin and go back to the bakery. Every recipe is unique, and so is its journey to deliciousness.



  1. Enjoyed reading your grief! lol, eh? I have a similar situation but I’ve determined different causal affects: I’m not sure what I’m trying to say (i.e. that my POV is unclear) and I’m also haven’t quite settled on the character’s full bits…in particular their dark side, or what they are naturally wanting to work through but have been stopped by….something similar to Dara Mark’s “Inside Story” concepts….

    So here’s wishing you and I both finding the focus and drive to finish our compelling stories.

  2. I wouldn’t sweat it, first drafts are meant to be exploratory and as you so aptly put it a bit of a walk about.

    I must admit that I too never used to use beat sheets and treatments, but now that I do I realize that they do help me to focus and figure out what my story is really about without too much aimless meandering.

    However as us writers know, the story tells itself through us and we simply need to be open to it. So in the meantime explore, walkabout, have cheesecake and ask yourself, what is it that I want to say with this story?

    Then write and have fun!

  3. The wonderful thing about writers is that we all feel each other’s pain. I don’t think there’s any part of the process that we don’t all experience, at some point.

    Paula, I have tried cards and modified beat sheets and found them marginally successful. When I find the characters, the characters find the story. And the beat sheet become a version of broken telephone. Maybe it’s jsut me, or maybe I just need to be patient with the learning curve.

    Jason, you and I are always on similar paths, it seems. Kindred souls, eh?


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