Finding Your Way

Welcome to my world.

Welcome to my world.

A script’s journey from concept to completion, and subsequent sale is a complicated one. It’s rarely a straight line from point A to Z; more often, the journey is an Odyssey, in which you, the writer, sail to and fro various ports, journeying here, there and back again, while all the time, you simply want to sail that script home.

In my world, this journey can resemble a maze.

About 7 years ago, I was listening to NPR. WWII was in the news, as often happens when our country is at war. There was a story on about the North Platte Canteen. During the War, North Platte, Nebraska was the central railway stopping place between the coasts. Trains taking servicemen to Europe traveled East, while those sending brave souls to the Pacific traveled West. The trains would stop, and the soldiers would get off to stretch their legs in this small town in America’s heartland.

People in the Plains and the Midwest are giving by nature. A sense of community permeates the air, then and now. The people of North Platte wanted to thank the young men and women for their courage, and for their service. And so, they grew wheat and corn. They hunted for pheasant and for trout, and upon the soldiers’ arrivals in North Platte, each one who stepped off of the train was handed a paper sack with a meal – usually fried pheasant and corn bread – for them to take with them as they traveled into the unknown. A last supper from home.

The young girls in the town had heard about the Hollywood Canteen, and so they created the North Platte Canteen, where soldiers could take a turn with a pretty girl, and go off to war with her name on their lips. Romances blossomed; addresses were inserted into the sacks, and pen pals were formed. Some of the pen pals became lovers; some of the boys returned as men, and married those they left behind in North Platte. Some never returned from their missions. Hearts were broken. Marriages were made. All because of a train depot in a place as humble as North Platte.

I  loved the story, and I decided to try my hand at writing it. That being said, research was very difficult – finding the people, interviewing, etc… and so I decided to create an “Inspired by True Events” type of tale. I outlined it… but something was missing.

One night, I had a dream. There was a man, hunting pheasants. It was very foggy; mist swirled around, obscuring him. As the mist cleared, I looked at him more closely – and realized that he was missing an arm.

I decided to follow him. I knew that his name was Tom, I knew that he had a young sister named June, and I knew he belonged in my story. And so, I put him in.

Trouble was, Tom was not happy being relegated to a secondary or tertiary role. Tom had a lot to say – he kept competing for space on the page. And so, I indulged him.

Eventually I ended up with a hodgepodge mess that was about the Canteen and munitions and war-profiteering and… I sighed, and put the pages away.

But Tom – and his little sister – stayed close in my heart.

Two years later. I’m in L.A. I’m in the shower. The water, ions and scalp massage get those synapses popping and I have an AHA moment. I jumped out and called Blake. I pitched him a piece about a one-armed man who wants to save his dying Depression era town. Blake had a workshop that weekend - Come on down! he cried. I threw on my clothes and walked into the STC! Austin workshop. Met Al, Peg, Deb, Jen… and countless others. Within an hour, I had a title – EDEN (thanks, Al), and by the end of the weekend, I had my beat sheet. Within a few months, I had a first draft. Several drafts, reads and even an option later, and here I am, preparing to issue another draft again for financing. Yes, the little pumpkin is still growing.

Well, I’ve finally found my way. I’m killing my darling minotaur. I’m whittling the script down to get it under 3 mil – well under. I’m chopping off 10 pages, and a wrapped-up happy ending. I’m finally getting down and dirty with it, to the heart of the story, serving it, not myself. See, I had fallen in love with the characters, and tried to give them what I felt they deserved… but life isn’t always like that. Seven long years on a story that began as a bit of an Y.A. fluff piece about some girls who longed to create the Hollywood Canteen.

I’m so glad to have been trapped in this story’s labyrinth for so long, for finally my muse has given me that golden thread that will, I hope, help me find my way out.

What’s the longest you’ve spent on a script?

Now, go write.

HRH, Princess Scribe

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About princessscribe

Princess Scribe lives in Los Angeles, and can be found haunting any one of the thousands of food trucks inhabiting her area - and others. Email HRH at princessscribe@gmail.com
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11 Responses to Finding Your Way

  1. It’s about the journey, and allowing your characters to take you along… THAT is one of the best things about writing! :-)

    • Indeed. EDEN was a bit of an exception in that it only happened b/c I let Tom have his way. Often, I find characters begin to compete – they all think the story is about THEM, lol. Usually, I gently remind them what the story is about… and quiet them down. But Tom is rather pugnacious; he simply would not accept being silent. And so, it began… ;) xo

  2. N.G. Davis says:

    Well, since you asked…

    I spent about a year and a half rewriting and rewriting my first script. I think that was a waste of time, as it was simply a learning process and I’d have probably learned more by moving on to the next one.

    I spent a little over a year on the script that I optioned last year. About six months from concept to the final draft that I used to query, and then several more months on various drafts for my manager and producers. Now that it’s been optioned, there will be at least one more draft, and hopefully — because it’ll mean the movie’s getting made — several more. I’m getting a bit tired of this one at this point, but it’s exciting just the same!

    It’s a grind, isn’t it?

    • Oh gosh, not a grind, ever.
      Lucky you! Capote was 7 years in writing, as was INSIDE MAN. INGLORIOUS BASTERDS took almost 14.
      I don’t think any time writing is wasted. This is not my usual method – I wrote a 65 page pilot in a week about a year ago this week – but some stories are worth the wait ;)
      Congrats!

  3. N.G. Davis says:

    Well, if you count on-again-off-again projects, I’ve probably spent a fair bit more time than that. But I don’t think I’ve spent more than a cumulative year and a half on anything, to date. That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t spend the time if the project were worth it, though. Just haven’t been there yet!

  4. scriptcat says:

    I love your WWII story. My WII story came to me in a dream and I did research and wrote a spec. It was a coming of age story near Golita in California where a Japanese submarine shelled our coast in 1942. At the time the script nearly won the Nicholl Fellowship and it bounced around Hollywood to all the wrong people—and then finally the right producer. It took seven years from first draft script to first day of filming—and then two more for proper distribution… a premiere on TV and worldwide distribution. By far it was my longest journey with one project in my career to date as it was my spec and my baby—and of course at the time no one was making WWII homeland coming of age stories with kids. Thank God it found the right home.

  5. Tr-Tr Jyrki says:

    At the moment I’m finishing the first draft of a story whose research started in 2005. Between that moment and now I’ve graduated from film school, had one co-written feature premiere in two countries and written two specs, but that story (or rather a theme, since the original based-on-real-events story has given room to a completely different one) has remained within me, teasing.

    But why has it taken so long to finish the first draft? Well, I’ve written dozens of outlines, hundreds and hundreds of pages of notes but never found the right character-plot-setting combination to bring to life exactly what I want to say (who told to write a story about “situational evil”?). I would finish an outline and be ready to open Final Draft, but then a tiny voice inside me would say: this is not the story you envisioned. And when that feeling hits me, I can’t rebut it. Rethink, recast, rewrite.

    Now, finally – fingers crossed – it’s giving in. 25 pages in and on a roll.

  6. Michelle Shy says:

    oh, just shoot me now. I have been notWorking on Exit Strategy for 8 years now.

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