The Blank Page/Screen

It’s the worst when you are actually starting a new project.  I always have this feeling that this is the book/script that is going to prove I’m a poseur, I have no talent and I’ve just been faking it for all these years.  But if I can get down that first line then it’s all okay.  More lines follow and then you have a page, and then you’re off to the races.

But it isn’t reserved for just the opening lines anymore.  I’m starting to find that each new chapter is like a mini-emotional crises now.  I know what has to go in that chapter, what has to happen, but how it’s actually executed is requiring more analysis.  I’m not sure if this is because I’ve gone seriously back to screenwriting, but I think that might be part of it.  How you move from scene to scene is critical in a script, and also easier than it is in a book.  Just like in comics you can use that black space to hint at things that may need to be addressed in a novel.  And when you have to spell out the transitions the action can slow down.  It’s also hard because as the writer I know what is happening so when I explain things it seems boring to me.  But if I leave it out my ever helpful crit group goes, “Hey, how did he get out of that well, anyway?”  I realize it may be dull to me, but to a new reader it’s not.  I try to keep that in mind, but sometimes I forget.

And the agony doesn’t end after you’ve got that first line.  Sooner or later you have to face the last line.  The thing that ties it all up, and puts a period on the book/story/script, and it needs to encapsulate the theme of the story your reader or viewer has just experienced without being too on-the-nose.  It has to provide closure and a sense of satisfaction.

Maybe that is why I love this career so much.  Just like riding dressage I never stop learning and analyzing, and I never feel like I have complete command of these skills.

4 Responses to The Blank Page/Screen

  • Raymond Low says:

    Hi Melinda,

    First let me begin by mentioning is was a great pleasure to meet you (briefly) at the Chicago World Science Fiction Convention this past summer. I was fortunate enough to attend the “Screenwriter Brain” panel and listen to your anecdotes about the business. While I am not an aspiring writer or screenwriter, I am interested in the writing process and how television shows/movies get made.

    You bring up some interesting aspects about the challenges of writing in your latest blog entry. I think you’ve succinctly summed up what goes through every author’s head when it comes to putting words down on paper (or dots on the screen). From a screenwriting perspective, it echoed something I read from William Goldman’s book, “Adventures in the Screen Trade”, and the need to have a character perform some exposition to communicate key information to the audience. Yes, it can slow the action down and — according to Goldman — there’s the added complication with some actors who don’t very much like having to do exposition. Similarly, as you point out, spelling out the transitions can impact the pacing and seem boring to you as the author.

    When it comes to novels, I am curious about your thoughts about re-writes. I am not referring to the instance where your editor asks you to re-write a passage or chapter. Rather — given your experience as a writer — I’m wondering if you follow any particular regimen when it comes to reviewing something you wrote, say, one or two days ago versus the compulsion to leave well enough alone.

    Thanks for your time. I hope you and yours have a very Happy New Year!

    All the best for 2013!

    — Ray

    • Melinda Snodgrass says:

      I tend to reread the previous day’s work before I start the new day. As I’m rereading I’m also rewriting so my first drafts are at least second drafts, and sometimes third drafts if I do roll back a few sections. For some people waiting to the end, and looking at the whole thing works better. I like to get back in the space and rewrite as I go.

      And thank you for the kind words. Perhaps we can reconnect at the upcoming world con?

  • Raymond Low says:

    Hi Melinda,

    Thanks so much for your reply.

    Not sure if I’ll make it to Texas for the next World Con but if I do I’ll definitely look forward to sitting in on some of your panels.

    I do have one more question for you if I can beg your indulgence. This one is more about television production than writing so it’s a little off topic. I’m curious about season ending cliffhangers. Say a show — like Star Trek: TNG — ends a season on a cliffhanger with the next show serving as the opening episode for the following season. Question: Would these shows actually be filmed in succession before the cast and crew go on hiatus? I’m wondering if the economics would dictate doing both shows back to back given the sets are constructed and (I’m assuming) the conclusion of the storyline has already been written. Or, perhaps the answer to my own question is, “It depends”. Union rules, ratings and contracts might dictate how many episodes get filmed per season and sets will just need to be rebuilt in preparation for next season.

    Care to shed any light in this area?

    Thanks again.

    — Ray

  • Melinda Snodgrass says:

    Normally you just wait and shoot the finale to a cliff hanger when production starts up again. There really isn’t a very long break between the end of one season and the start of another. A couple of months. For viewers it seems like a long time, but it’s not for cast and crew. You generally start shooting the new season in July to premier in September. If you have an ongoing show that you know is going to return then the sets on the soundstage just stay set up over the hiatus.

    Actors when they join a show traditionally sign a 7 year commitment. Now they can get out, but every show is hoping for 7 seasons, and a lovely syndication sale at the end of the run. Some of the cast may only get a contract for 13 of 22 or 3 of 10. And as a writer producer you have to figure out when to use those people because it costs a lot if you pull them in for an extra episode.

    The real issue as to how many episodes are shot in a given season is budgetary. You figure out how much per episode, most network dramas cost 1.2 to 1.4 million dollars. Given that budget you figure out how much you are going to get from various sources, and then figure out how many episodes you can afford, and set the “season” based on that. And that you’re locked into. Which is why line producers and accountants are so important to a show.

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