I have a rule when writing first-first drafts (as opposed to second-first drafts, third-first drafts, etc: is there REALLY anyone out there who submits a REAL "first" draft anymore??): walk away for a minimum of THREE DAYS. During these three days one must not even so much as THINK about your first draft, let alone call it up on the desktop and have another quick read-through. No sirreee. Do this and all is lost.
Why? Well, you don't notice the BLOODY OBVIOUS for a start. Maryan has a great post on this and I second her idea. If you keep going back and looking, you're too familiar. Be too familiar and the BLOODY OBVIOUS gets right past you, just like the fact your kid went to school this morning with toothpaste all over his jumper (guilty as charged).
I finished a first-first draft last week in-between Lilirose's naps over a two week period. Because my time was disjointed in writing the draft, the story came out a bit wonky. But that's okay, 'cos I knew that would happen: hell, my life is wonky at the moment; it can't be anything but with a nine month old in the house. My life is perpetual nappy changes, peekaboo and searching for Flat Eric, her favourite Houdini toy. The joys of motherhood.
So, reading through it yesterday then, I found STUFF is wrong with the draft: it's peppered full of typos, there's adverbs (SHOCK! HORROR!), even some NCI. The structure is a bit lumpy. All things I KNEW would happen.
But what about those things that surprised me?
*First off, there's a character who asks people if they want a cup of tea. ALL THE TIME. What happened there? It's a bloke too: in my experience, no fella has ever asked me if I want a cup of tea. Is this some kind of twisted wish fulfilment?
*The profanity in my script is OTT, even in survival situations.
*Considering my character gets beaten up around the end of Act One and everyone says, "Oh, your face!" and "What happened?" BY THE VERY NEXT DAY no one appears to notice: even when she meets new people. Weird.
*A policeman puts his hand THROUGH THE WINDSCREEN to shake someone's hand. Now, I can't drive, but even I know you put your hand through the car side window.
*My protagonist says "Thanks" what feels like every five seconds. Shut up, love!
I could have read through and read through until the cows come home and I wouldn't have noticed these five very obvious things that another, unconnected Reader would have picked up on on the very first time they set eyes on the page. It's like one can be "too close" to one's drafts: whilst coverage is always an idea, sometimes one can pick up things alone. Fresh eyes are what you need - it's the only way to pick up the BLOODY OBVIOUS.
And first-first drafts ALWAYS have BLOODY OBVIOUS mistakes in. Readers can smell first-first drafts like anacondas smell rats. Readers are those fearsome predators, ready to strike and squeeze the life out of your screenplay... Actually, Readers are more likely to roll their eyes, switch the kettle on for another cup of coffee or tea, sigh theatrically and maybe get a biscuit as well, then write PASS.
Don't let them pass. Not on a first-first draft, in the very least. Rewrite right: it's no accident that "draft" rhymes with "graft", I always say. I usually write between five and seven versions of my first drafts, though one once made it to sixteen. Now, I think it's "ready" - but only in the sense that it's ready for development, not shooting. Scripts are blueprints, people.
How many do you write?