Wednesday, October 01, 2008

The holy grail of screenwriting

Okay, so back to blogging. I've been (semi) busy working on a TV pilot rewrite for a client from the day job. It started as just a dialogue punch-up, which turned into a more substantial reworking of the story. If there is one piece of advice on television writing that I would comfortable giving (having now completed a spec and original pilot) it's is simply to know your "act outs." One-hour dramas are divided into four (sometimes five now) acts, with the endings corresponding to the commercial breaks during broadcast. As you may already surmise, it behooves the successful television writer to give audiences a reason to want to come back to the show after a two-minute bombardment from fast food, soft drink, and automobile companies. Thus, the end of each act should be as cliffhangy as possible -- a shocking plot twist that will ensure viewers stay tuned to see what happens next. Every plot point in your episode's storyline should be built around maximizing the dramatic potential of the act outs.

I'll try and post more writing and career tips as I come by them in my own experiences. Until then, I'm hesitant to make pronouncements about the process or business that I aren't based on firsthand knowledge. An empiricist theory of screenwriting, as it were. But that's not the purpose of this post. The purpose of this post is to provide validation and encouragement to all of us who are afflicted by the procrastination bug. That is to say, all of us. In some strange Orwellian twist, procrastination is now productive! The WSJ article caught my eye because it quoted a Maryland attorney who "was surfing the Web, avoiding several pressing matters" when she came across the website of Stanford University professor John Perry: structured procrastination.

Perry's thesis is that putting off the big, big tasks can be functional if (a big if, in my experience) if you fill the time you're not doing the big, big tasks with numerous, smaller tasks:

Structured procrastination means shaping the structure of the tasks one has to do in a way that exploits this fact. The list of tasks one has in mind will be ordered by importance. Tasks that seem most urgent and important are on top. But there are also worthwhile tasks to perform lower down on the list. Doing these tasks becomes a way of not doing the things higher up on the list. With this sort of appropriate task structure, the procrastinator becomes a useful citizen. Indeed, the procrastinator can even acquire, as I have, a reputation for getting a lot done.

I haven't tried to put this system into practice yet, but I've promised myself I'm going to get around to it just as soon as I finish that next rewrite on my biopic assignment I'm starting next week . . .


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