Here’s a Friday Question worth an entire post:
It’s from Charles H. Bryan:
Are there times when you look at a
script (yours or someone else's) and think "There's something missing,
but I don't know what?" Or can you always pretty specifically nail down
I only wish in my dreams that I could detect all script problems and
what the fixes are. But the truth is, there are plenty of times
something’s not working and I’m completely stumped as to why.
This is another reason it’s good to have partners or a writing staff.
And I’ll be honest, there have been many times during a rewrite when as a
group we arrive at what we think is the problem, spend six hours
rewriting, and then send the script to the stage not having a clue
whether we really solved the problem or just did an alternate version.
Generally, we’re right about 75% of the time. But once or twice a
season we find ourselves right back at square one the next night.
Why do we find ourselves in these pickles? Because we strive to be
original, tell stories in a fresh inventive way. If you just follow
the same story structure week after week you rarely have these problems.
Personally, I think the trade off is worth it. (Of course I say that
now. Sitting in a rewrite at 5 A.M. I may not be such an artiste.)
On one show I worked on early in my career we would have a scene that
didn’t work in a runthrough or a story that was problematic and one of
our producers would say “Don’t worry. I got the fix.” So we would
just move on to the next scene. Then we'd get back to room and say,
“What’s the fix?” and he’d say, “Oh, I was just saying that so we could
move along. I didn’t want to stand on the stage debating this all day with
the actors there.” We wanted to kill him… and then ourselves for
letting him fool us again.
But if you find yourself in this situation, you can take great comfort
in knowing you are not alone. Practically all writers face this, even
the great ones.
Night after night the same thing would occur. Monster laughs until the
last fifteen minutes. Neil and Mike would then sit in the hotel lobby
staring at each other. They would decide on a course of action, Neil
would sit up all night rewriting, and the next evening the new version
would be presented to the audience. And the cycle would be repeated.
Night after night after night.
Finally, a Boston critic casually mentioned he really liked the Pigeon
sisters – two characters that appeared in a second act scene. He wished
they had come back. A lightbulb went on. Yes! Bring the Pigeon
Neil wrote them into the last scene and suddenly THE ODD COUPLE played
through the roof. The rest is (Broadway, motion picture, and
When geniuses like Neil Simon and Mike Nichols can't put their fingers on a problem, what hope is there for the rest of us?
So when you get stuck just know, there is no Dr. House for writing. At times we’re all Frank Burns.