How to rewrite and improve the script

You’ve heard the phrase “writing is rewriting,” and that’s particularly true for screenplays and sitcoms because your goal as the writer must be to entertain, and the whole point of the rewrite is to shape your script into one that maximizes the entertainment value of every level of your story. So what’s the best approach?

Start by reviewing the audio recording of your script reading. I used the voice recorder app on my smartphone to record the actors I recruited for my reading, and, while the audio quality is not the best, it serves its purpose: to allow me to hear the dialogue and audience reaction. I listened to the recording with script in hand and marked where I was bored — usually by excessive, unnecessary dialogue — where the audience reacted, and any other relevant observations, like the length of the reading (the standard network 30-minute sitcom is actually 22 minutes).

(Note: This is part of a series of posts about my sitcom development process in preparation for a free staged script reading Aug. 1, 2011.)

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The next step was to review my sitcom’s plot points:

  • Was the main plot effectively and humorously established in the Cold Open (the short scene you see prior to the main credits).
  • Did ensuing subplots affect the main plot and humorously introduce complications?
  • Was the main plot humorously resolved?

Note a few things here:

  1. I’m focusing on plot; and,
  2. I’m focusing on humor.

Ultimately, focusing on plot will lead me back to the characters, because, especially in sitcoms, it is the characters’ actions and decisions that will drive the comedy. One-liners are funny, sure, but the sitcoms with longevity are the ones with the intricately drawn characters who fill in the spectrum from normalcy to absurdity and who are forced into situations in which their character traits will clash. So, without even opening my screenwriting software — Final Draft — to edit the script, I’m already revising the story.

The other thing I noticed when reviewing the audio recording was the least interesting lines of dialogue came from the least developed characters, so that’s another task for the rewrite: adding depth to those characters — either by enhancing their character traits or back stories or just changing who they are and what dramatic function their presence will fulfill. It’s one thing to ensure no two characters are alike, but it’s another to ensure each character comes from a place of depth and whose actions in some way affect the plot.

With that foundation for the rewrite, revising dialogue will come easy, and I can also revisit how the characters are introduced and brainstorm new actions and decisions that can enhance the episode’s humor. And to get a rough idea of the new length of my revised script I’ll use Final Draft’s text-to-speech feature, which will allow me to hear the script read aloud, albeit by goofy computerized voices.

So there it is. If I can cover all that in these next few days hopefully the revised script will elicit more laughter and the characters will be more fun for the actors.

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