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Screenwriting and IKEA – How to Embrace the Page One Rewrite

This post was guest written by Script Quack. They offer professional script analysis and are currently giving readers of SellingYourScreenplay.com a special discount. Just enter the discount code “sellingyourscreenplay” (without the quotes) on the discount page which can be found here:


Writing a screenplay is like putting together a dresser from IKEA. First, you’ve got your outline. This is the Swedish manual that comes in the box. It works great in theory, and it’s generally a good guideline, but after a few hours, you’ll probably toss it away and go with the flow. Then you’ve got your nuts and bolts and mystery Swedish Alan wrenches. These are the words on the page. The underpinnings that make the script a script. The jokes, the clever turns of phrase, and the witty dialogue your mom thinks you’re so good at. Then, there are the big pieces of wood. The sides of the dresser and the drawers. These items are the structure of your script. They hold everything together, and without them, you’ve got a backwards, upside down piece of furniture that looks like it was built by a one armed blind alcoholic.

I’m not saying that I’ve actually put an IKEA dresesr together upside down and backwards, but I have. And when that happened I cried. And after I cried, I took it apart, and started again. But the second time around, the entire process went much more smoothly. I knew how to use the garbage Swedish Alan wrench, I understood the manual much better (and used it until I was done), and I already knew which nuts and bolts went where. In half the time it took me to build the upside down version, I had built its replacement. The new dresser was made from the same parts, but it actually holds clothes and other items. You know. Like dressers do.

Obviously screenplays take much more time and effort to assemble than an IKEA dresser (depending on how handy you’re not), but ultimately, rewriting a script is a lot like rebuilding a piece of moderately priced furniture. It’s annoying at first, but in the end, it’s incredibly satisfying, and much easier the second time around.

Despite that, many screenwriters live in fear of the rewrite, or as industry folk refer to it, “Rewrite Hell.” They find it impossible to change their script. They feel lost, unsure what change and what not to change, and unable to precisely alter the ailing pages without destroying the rest of the script. That’s why, more often than not, we advocate the “Page One Rewrite.” This is the death knell for many a screenwriter, the horrible solution to their problems that’s so bad that it’s actual another, even bigger problem itself… But really, with all the nuts and bolts left over from the first draft, restarting from page one can be the quickest, cleanest solution to a big script problem.

To be clear, page one rewrites aren’t always the solution. In fact, doing a page one rewrite for small problems (dialogue, character, or pacing) is like bringing a gun to a swordfight. But when there are real issues with concept, structure and execution, tossing the last draft and starting anew is very often the answer.

Like rebuilding the dresser, a page one rewrite is most effective if you used the tools and information you gathered in your first draft to fine tune the next, and actively avoid making the same mistakes you made on your first pass. In short, you have to have a plan.

Here are a few steps to take before you begin your page one rewrite:

1)     This one is obvious. Get an obvious evaluation of your script. This can be from friends or family, but you’ll get your best notes from other writers, maybe in a writer’s group or in an online forum. If you’re going to look online, I recommend the forums at Selling Your Screenplay, they’ve got online writer’s groups and other services that are very helpful for the aspiring screenwriter.

2)     Make a list of all the questions people asked about your screenplay, along with all the notes and ideas that resonated with you.

3)     Take a break from your script. One week minimum.

4)     Re-read the script, taking your own notes as you go. Then compare your notes with the notes you liked from peers and colleagues.

5)     In prose, write down exactly what needs to be changed in your script. What should be the same, what should be different, and what should be gone altogether.

6)     Read your first draft AGAIN. This time, write down every single scene. Write the location, the characters, and what happens in the scene.

7)     Go through , color every scene that needs to be CHANGED red. These are scenes that generally work, and only need to be tweaked or re-finished. Then, insert new scene ideas in green. These are scenes you did not have in the last draft, that you need in the next iteration of the story. Finally, delete any unnecessary scenes. At the end of this process, you’ll have a new scene by scene outline for your page one rewrite.

8)     OR, if your first draft is beyond repair, just chuck the whole thing in the trash, and start completely anew. You’ll at least be familiar with the subject matter, theme or characters, and that will smooth the process when you begin again.

The key to conquer the fear of rewriting, is to be prepared. Follow the process described above, and you’ll be ready to tackle your story with true ferocity. As you write, remember to be confident. You wrote the first draft, there’s no reason that you won’t be able to do it again, even better.

No matter what you do, don’t let the prospect of a big rewrite discourage you. Rewriting really is the most time consuming aspect of screenwriting. Learn to enjoy it. Embrace it. Most importantly, get used to it. A lot of screenwriters make careers out of rewriting other people’s work, so if you can master the process now, you’ll be one step ahead when the assignments start to come in.

Remember, think of your screenplay like a piece of IKEA furniture. You’ve got all the parts to make an aesthetically pleasing, functional piece, as long as your willing to correct the mistakes you make along the way.

This post was guest written by Script Quack. They offer professional script analysis and are currently giving readers of SellingYourScreenplay.com a special discount. Just enter the discount code “sellingyourscreenplay” (without the quotes) on the discount page which can be found here: