#WritingAdviceWednesday – Neil LaBute on Rewriting

labute-neil_etbscreenwritingI am a member of the WGA Writers Education Committee. We put together a number of panels and programs on various topics for the Guild membership. Tonight’s program was the first in several planned discussions on rewriting with a variety of screenwriters. Writer/Director Neil LaBute (In the Company of Men, Nurse Betty, The Wicker Man, Lakeview Terrace) discussed his rewriting process.

Since LaBute’s background is as a playwright, he often rewrites based on his collaboration with actors. His most important point for me was never say in words what you can say with action; with a character’s look, expression or movement. He also discussed trusting the audience to make the necessary intuitive leaps in a story.

In my own work I find that the less experienced a writer is the more often he or she is tempted to say the same thing two or three times in different ways– afraid that the audience won’t “get it.” You never want to be too far ahead of your audience but you also don’t want to lag behind them.

The audience wants to piece things together themselves– if everything is spelled out in too much detail the story doesn’t engage their imagination. The less engaged an audience is the more likely they are to tune out or turn off. Trust your audience to work with you in filling the gaps without step-by-step instruction or too much detail, which just gets tedious.

According to LaBute, the best rewriting involves cutting a story to the bone– reducing it to its most essential elements and then letting the actors and audience fill in the empty spaces with their own imagination.

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