Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Diving Boards and Mountain Peaks

Here are some things I always look out for in first drafts: “diving board lines” and “traveling up and down the mountain.”

“Diving board lines” are those three to five lines before a song that are building up to the explosion of song. It’s like someone climbing up to a diving board and pitty-pattying down the board and gathering momentum before they finally leap off.

Nobody really needs or wants to see the climb, climb, climb, pitty pat pitty pat. Just get right to the impulse to sing – dive off into song.

(This is my drawing of an ant on a diving board. You’re welcome.)

In revising my first drafts, I always look at the chunk of lines right before any song. Most of the time, they aren’t needed. When an actor is reading a scene, you can see or feel them “lean in” right at the moment the song should begin – the moment when the water is about to boil. Cut any lines after that peak of energy.

The other thing I look out for in first drafts is, am I making my little ant “travel up and down the mountain” through my plot? Often we writers feel we need to go through every event – our little ant-protagonist crawls through several scenes on the way to her Big Moments at the top of the mountain peaks.

Signs that you’re making the ant travel up and down the mountain are phrases like “this song spans three weeks, while we see that gradually…” “Over the course of a few months, they fall in love, while we see…” “In this next sequence, we show that…”

Identify the “mountain peaks” – then just snip off the top of the mountain range, keeping only the peaks – and let your ant skip from Big Moment to Big Moment. If a scene or sequence is only showing the passage of time, or filling in “all the between bits”, chances are, you don’t need it. Go from peak to peak.

Often we worry that the audience "won't get it" without all the in-between bits. They will. They just want the peaks, really.

Of course, this is all about editing. Create what you need to in a first draft -- get up the diving board, crawl up and down the mountain. When it comes time to shape and hone and distill, that's when you look out for diving boards and mountain peaks — and just take us right to the glorious leaping-off point.

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