Day 57: Uh-oh! A Setback for Come Ups
Things were going so well. I felt good about the story, the formatting was just about perfect and I spent three days of intense rewriting to clean and polish the characters. What could go wrong? Well, it wasn't so much what could go wrong, as it was what was already wrong. The issue I've had with Shep in my screenplay Come Ups has finally reared its ugly head. I thought I had worked around the problem, and that was a problem in itself. You can't work around a problem; you have to address it.
I sent the script out to some trusted friends for some feedback on what I thought, or at least hoped, would be the final version. The first person to get back to me gave me her notes as I was driving to tonight's reading of the beginning of the second act at Tuesdays@9 writers' workshop. She was confused by who the hero was and as a result was not finding anybody particularly likable or even someone that she was rooting for. There hero was not readily identifiable in the first act and by the second act it seemed that Grady was the hero. As a reader, she was finally starting to learn about Grady and get some background info on him and then he bows out of the story at the midpoint. Shep takes over as the protagonist, but she didn't know a lot about him at that point because he's been unconscious for nearly half of the second act. She was also missing some of the humor that she has liked so much in my previous scripts, and since this story is so dark (bleak was her word) she really needed some humor to break the tension.
I had some humorous moments sprinkled throughout the script originally, but in leading up to the polish draft I started cutting the humor so the script wouldn't go over in page count. The humor didn't really provide forward progression from the story, so out it went. What it did do was offer a break or a release from the tension that was building. Without those release moments, the script became a bit much for her to bear emotionally. It simply wore her out.
I was obviously concerned as I went into the reading, particularly since we would be reading the section where Shep sort of checks out of the story. What would the audience think? Since it was just a small section, they wouldn't 'wear out' from the unrelenting action and dire circumstances without a comedic relief, but how would they view Shep versus Grady. My first indication came when a fellow writer, Matt Hoverman, whose writing I admire very much, came up to me after the reading and complimented me on my writing and my style, he did have a question however. Who is the hero of Come Ups? Is it Shep or is it Grady? That question alone confirmed what I had been struggling with all along and reinforced my friend's criticisms. Matt felt like I was trying to put focus on Shep in the first act, but Grady was overshadowing him. Once Shep was shot, Grady definitely stepped into the role of the protagonist. He makes the decision at the Act 1 break that propels the story in a new direction and he saves the day by performing an emergency surgery on Shep in his garage. If Grady is indeed the hero, I simply had to tone Shep down a bit in the first act, which is the exact opposite of what I've been doing. If Shep is supposed to be the hero, I've got a serious problem. Grady not only overshadows Shep, but effectively takes the story away from him only to walk away at the midpoint. This causes a lot of confusion for the audience.
From the midpoint on, Shep takes control of the story through the end scene, but there will have to be a substantial rewrite from the ground up to make Shep the hero early on. The big change has to be that Shep can't get shot and go into recuperation for a quarter of the movie. He has to be the one to rise above the odds and save the day instead of being saved. It seems pretty obvious now, and I was aware of the problem earlier, but I kept hoping I could work around it and skate by. The thing is you can never skate by your audience; they'll call you on it every time. If I had sent this version to an agent or a producer, it would have been dead on arrival. All the work done thus far would have been for naught. It only goes to show how important it is to have the script ready before you send it out.
My dilemma now is that I am supposed to start NaNoWriMo in four days. I'm not sure if that is enough time to accomplish the necessary rewrites. NaNoWriMo will have to be delayed. Come Ups is the priority if I want to get coverage notes and have the script ready for market by the beginning of the new year. But you know the old saying, writers don't write, they rewrite.