Monday, June 19, 2006

How Many Pages Per Diem?

As a followup to How Good is Good and How Many is Too Many, I now tackle "How Many Pages Per Diem?" And, I have no answer.

Many screenwriters post comments on boards and blogs about the number of pages they write each day and measure their progress that way. That's great. But, I can't do it.

I just read a post where the writer says he tries to write at least five pages each day. This is a difficult concept for me to grasp as opposed to "I try to write two hours every day" or "I try to write one scene each day". How do you dictate quantity in screenwriting each day in terms of pages? How DO writers put a page number goal on their writing day when five pages could be one scene, half a scene or five scenes?

I've been known to spend hours, HOURS, working on a single line.


I once needed a line by a teenage boy. One line! He had to be a pot-head (which I've since learned is NOT what they are called) and have a general dislike for the police. I researched arrest statements, searched notes I'd taken, got advice from my own teenager, and looked up conversational blogs by teenage boys who appeared smoked dope and were the same age, race and (if I was able to discern it) similar living conditions as my character. When that didn't work, I asked my son to recommend a place to eavesdrop on dopeheads. He informed me that they are "stoners" and knew where to send me but said I'd stick out unless he came along. So we went to a store where stoners and goth kids buy a lot of their clothing, piercing apparatus, fishnets, chains and weird paraphenalia.

Yikes. They weren't all stoners, but I still got my line. It cost me an AFI t-shirt, SouthPark shoe laces, an AC/DC patch and a very interesting belt buckle with a quote on it, but at least I got my line. There was probably a better place to get it, but my boy being the clever teen he is... well, the belt buckle he bought with my money said it all --- "carpe diem".


Douglas Cootey said...

I have ALWAYS wondered about that too, MaryAn. When I write I try to accomplish segments of story - whether I'm pounding out dialog, or researching the backstory. Thinking of productivity in terms of page count is alien to me. The only way I've been able to understand it is to assume the author in question means, "After all my research, backstory, plotting, and character profiling is done, when I begin writing I try to get a minimum of five pages finished daily or I'll never get the blasted thing done!"

Chesher Cat said...

So, what was the line?

Anonymous said...

I just try to write every day, a line, a scene, a correction of a few things from yesterday or hours of full on exploration. No content specific goals like time or pages... just every day. Just yesterday I stared at a line of dialogue for a long time too, that's all I did.

Anonymous said...

hey, BTW, what would you say to Pirates 4,5,6

ECHenry said...

MaryAn you're an interesting fig, mixing journalism, family bonding, and screenwriting -- and all at the same time! Your sort of an existentiallist. Could have use ya in "I (Heart) Huckabees" or perhaps one those quicky Charlie Kauffman movies.

I TRY to write 2 hours a day, usually early in the morning. No page quotas. Writing is all about creation, problem solving, and rewriting.

Great, interesting post, hope youre teeth are feeling better.

- E.C. Henry in Bonney Lake, WA

P.S. Found my new dream girl, watched "EDTV" last night. A rom/com staring Matthew McConney and Jenna Elfman. Man that Jenna Elfman sure can act -- easy on the eyes too! She'll be in my dreams for sometime. If you've never seen "EDTV" rent it. It's not really funny, but it has a good story and oh yeah it has that Jenna Elfman girl in it...

MaryAn Batchellor said...

Douglas - don't know how you do it even with an outline.

Deb - "He's a tool." - anti-climactic, isn't it?

Todd, I'd say (cue Meg Ryan) "YES! YES! YES!"

EC, love Jenna as Dharma.

J. D. said...

An internet search brought me here at first. Then I left. Now I've come to resurrect this old comment. I hope you have your blog configured such that you will have a chance to see it. I'd hate to have wasted my time writing this comment.

I agree, MaryAn, I could not fathom how someone could set page quotas for themselves. I was perplexed by that even before I ran across your commentary. After I left, though, I got to thinking: Maybe it's an idea that has merit. I returned to write this comment.

You said you spent quite a bit of time on the teenage stoner's line. I understood the need for investing some of that time into research. I also understood that, if you had skipped that line (or if you expected other lines or scenes to hinge on it, that entire scene or set of scenes), it may have given you an opportunity to apply yourself to writing other portions of your work. Perhaps the line would've come to you later in a blinding flash of brilliance. In the least you may have reassigned some of that wasted effort and found the clothing store solution via a different route.

Of course, hindsight is 20/20...

Page quotas could be used as a mechanism to force you to construct your overall story--like the framer that's framing a house on a deadline--with the "finishing" occurring later. This would be similar to outlining, only you are outlining directly into the script.

If you're worried about finding the places you skipped, it would be easy if you used some sort of marker. "[X]" would work. Anything that can easily be separated from the rest of the text. Then you need only use your writing software's Find feature, and [X] marks the spot!

Once you reached your target page count under the page quota methodology you could then stop focusing on pages and start focusing on fleshing them out. I think this would be somewhat dangerous, though, as an inspiration that forced a change of direction early in the story may force a massive rewrite if the overall concept doesn't support the change. So we've come full circle. Not really sure why someone would set a firm page quota.

I think the two methods could possibly be balanced with one-another, somehow. Each has its strengths and weaknesses.

Anyway, when I ran across this page about page quotas it inspired me to come back and share the link and my own thoughts with you. I hope they help. It's food for thought, if nothing else.

Now back to my regularly-scheduled screenplay crafting, already in-progress...

MaryAn Batchellor said...

Thanks for the link and the comment. I know a lot of writers who quite successfully use quotas - by the page, by the scene, by the plot point. I'm just not wired that way.

J. D. said...

Neither am I.

Here's yet another page I stumbled upon on the general subject of writing habits. This one's from the "Every little bit helps" school of thought.

MaryAn Batchellor said...

"The only way to become a better writer is to write" - couldn't agree more. Okay, except I would say that reading also ahelps.