While watching an episode of Party Down, I was struck by an important concept for us writers. The series is about cater-waiters in LA, every episode showing them working a different party. They’re mostly actors waiting for their big breaks, which, of course, may never come.
In this episode (from the original series, not the recent revival), they show up to work a birthday party for the real-life movie star Steve Guttenberg, who’s rich but no longer relevant. However, there’s a mix-up, so he’s not having this party, but he invites the cater-waiters to party with him instead. When he discovers that one of them, Roman, is a screenwriter, he insists they do a reading of Roman’s latest script.
Roman—who only writes “hard” science fiction—fancies himself a visionary who will never sell out. But when they start reading his script, it becomes painfully clear that it’s awful. Here’s a sample:
Reading on deuterium levels.
BORP-7 (a bio-cybernetic organism)
Seven oh five point two, captain.
Your ship will never withstand the quantum flux between a binary star.
It will in a Godel spacetime field.
Everyone, including Roman, realizes the script is dead on arrival. Steve Guttenberg urges Roman to do a quick revision, which he does. The actors read the new version, which begins showing the heat of life.
Captain. I’m worried–
About our deuterium levels? Me too.
About you, sir.
Since when was worrying part of your programing? Coordinates set?
Thread a binary star? You’ll kill us all, DuKlark. Or is that what you want, since she died?
Maybe it is.
No, it’s still not a great script. But Roman has started making the characters act and sound like real people (even the bio-cybernetic one) rather than entities with no discernible emotions.
Roman, who almost never smiles, shows the hint of a smile, pleased with himself.
Roman didn’t just revise the script. He re-envisioned it. He saw his story in a new light and breathed some actual life into it, which spurred the actors to really play something rather than rolling their eyes as they spoke their lines.
Sometimes, that’s what it takes. Not a tweak. A makeover. Don’t be precious with your writing, especially if it’s not quite working. Crumple it up. Take a break. Then start over, with a new perspective. Maybe it won’t be improved. Maybe it’ll even be worse. And that’s okay, because this is always a process. But…chances are quite good that you’ll have pushed yourself onto the path of making it better. Maybe even as great as you once imagined.