When writers send me a rough draft of a book or script for notes, they really really want me to tell them all they have to do is rearrange some deck chairs (punch up some dialog, cut or add a scene).

When I read a draft I really want to find that’s all it needs to make it great – or even just viable. But usually I can’t. Usually it needs more than a cosmetic ‘fix’ and no amount of cosmetic ‘fixes’ will get the script where it needs to be.

You probably knew when you started this project would need more than one draft, but now you feel that you’ve put in so much time and energy it must be close to done.

“Maybe one more pass to polish dialog on the existing draft…?”


“What if I just trim the scenes and tighten…?”


You desperately want your project to be just a kiss away from being finished, done, ready to send out to everyone you know and everyone they know. In fact, admit it, you probably already did send it to some people (not just friends for feedback). Don’t worry about it (and don’t try to recall it now), but you should really try to ‘fix’ it before sending it out to more people. It’s hard enough to get someone to read anything once. If they didn’t love it the first time they won’t read it again. And you’re script isn’t just a kiss away, it’s a shout away.

But maybe I’m wrong.

First, get feedback from at least 3 people (see my other posts on who can give you feedback and how to get it) – to clarify and verify your instincts and get consensus on what kind of rewrite you’re doing:

4 Kinds of Rewrites

  1. Page 1 rewrite – This is a worst-case scenario where you have to address (and potentially change) one or more essential elements of your project. Maybe you realized you don’t have the rights to some of the material or Spielberg just announced a project that’s very similar. This is a good time to take three steps back and consider writing a different project first. This doomsday possibility should make you feel good about the other three kinds of rewrites.
  2. Structural rewrite – There’s no point in arranging deck chairs if your ship is off-course. Or, if you prefer a sportier metaphor, you’ve staked out promising territory but don’t yet have the project in the ballpark. This rewrite mode retains most if not all of the essential elements of the previous draft while re-structuring story and potentially re-thinking character dynamics. You may need to add a character or, more likely, combine or eliminate characters in the interest of getting and keeping the story moving or providing a more satisfying payoff. It almost necessarily requires a re-outline. Oh, you didn’t have an outline to begin with? Well there’s no avoiding it now!
  3. Character rewrite – If you’re doing this kind of rewrite you already have the project in the ballpark – yay! Your basic structure is working (yay!) and now you can focus on making the characters, especially the main character(s), deeper, juicier and more dimensional. It usually involves rewriting scenes but doesn’t require a full outline or story overhaul.
  4. Punch-up/Polish – Now you get to re-arrange the deck chairs! The challenge in this scenario is to not get carried away and start fixing things that ain’t broke.

Usually, a Rough Draft lays the cards on the table, a 2nd Draft gets you into the ballpark and a 3rd Draft gives you a viable project that’s ready to start showing around. But sometimes it takes more. Ask your other reader what kind of rewrite they think it needs.

If you’re between the rough draft and second draft you probably have to take a step back and (re-)outline and in order to do that you probably need to take another step back and clearly answer these essential elements: Elements of a TV pitch (mostly applicable to a movie or novel too).

Then (re-outline) then re-write.

It seems like you’re going backwards when if you could just straighten those chairs… but it is actually the shortest, fastest way to a finished kick-ass project.

If you need feedback or aren’t sure what kind of rewrite you need, you can get more information about my coaching and consulting services here or contact me directly at 323-717-4731 or to discuss your particulars.

Write on!