“LYP” was a screenplay I started and never finished.
It hatched from nothing on New Year’s Eve 2008 and six months later I actually got around to writing it. For 9 working days across a two-week stretch I wrote with the goal of completing 10 pages a day. 9 working days and 81 pages later, I don’t think I was doing too poorly considering the longest thing I had written before that was 51 pages. Although, now that I think about it, that particular abandoned script was written in less than 24 hours and begun with no real story or planning involved. I just got home from dinner and wrote, then did a little more the next day.
My goal was the Tony Gilroy school of writing as passed to me by Bryan Edward Hill. Write ten pages a day, every day. Each day you start from Page 1 and revise what’s come before so when you get to a final draft it’s really tight and really polished. Or at least that’s what I remember of it.
“LYP” was a story that needed to get out. It came to me in a flash while I was getting ready to go out, I typed up a one-page synopsis and fired off to Hill. I then spent almost 7 months figuring out the story, and whether I could pull the trigger on actually writing it. It was about murder and relationships and feeling lost and time travel (sort of), and I wanted to write it. So one day I sat down and promised myself I’d write ten pages a day until I finished.
I wrote 81 pages, stopped when I couldn’t write any more on that last day and never picked it up again. Outside of first drafts of comics done in an unrestricted screenplay format, I haven’t written a word of a screenplay since. It wasn’t because I couldn’t keep writing and power through to a bad first draft. It wasn’t because I ran out of steam or got “writer’s block.” I even sent the unfinished draft to Hill and got some great overall notes and a way to fix some things I didn’t even know were wrong about the opening. I couldn’t get back to it for some reason, but as of today I think I know.
I’ve been reading “Story” by Robert McKee before I go to bed and sometimes on the can. It’s my third or fourth attempt, having previously been derailed by Stephen Gaghan and boredom. This morning I read about how a character making a simple choice – to lie or tell the truth – ends up creating two very different stories, and a different character. I let this sink in on all day, nothing I didn’t know, and then had this epiphany a few minutes ago.
Stories are supposed to build so that each successive choice (or obstacle) for a character is greater than the last. His final choice should be the toughest thing he’s ever had to do, and a real test of who he is as a person. The problem with “LYP” is that the choice my protagonist makes doesn’t work for who he is as a character. I made what would be the biggest decision of his life the first real choice in the screenplay and what spins us off into Act 2. The decision is made so lightly, and the choices he has to make later on don’t exactly escalate. I screwed my story, and my protagonist, in one fell swoop.
I think that’s why I started not liking the story as I got into Act 2. It wasn’t because it didn’t have the “Fun and Games” trailer moments Blake Snyder talks about in “Save the Cat,” but simply that there was a major structural (and character) flaw that I didn’t catch until 50 pages after it happened.
It feels good to know this, but I’m also not going back to “LYP” any time soon. It’s not the right story for right now, both for my life and for my writing samples. Question is…
What do I want to write?