Writers: Three Quick Easy Ways To “Kill Your Babies”

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Like so many, I was devastated by the news of the sudden death of Prince. Having grown up with his music, I had, frankly, taken for granted the legend’s existence, as well as, his undeniable genius this last decade. Even though he was significantly older than me, I had foolishly assumed he would always be out there somewhere, dressed in lace and high heel boots, singing in his signature falsetto and making every guitar his bitch. I know, I’m making it all about me. But bare with me, there’s a method to this reverie.

You see, these past few weeks since the “doves have stopped crying,” I’ve been immersing myself once again in Prince’s prolific musical catalogue. I have also sought out, with fervor, his most recent interviews and performances. After watching at least eight hours worth of these in one day, I was struck by the wide variety of musical approaches that he endeavored to take on throughout his extremely successful career. I was not only able to feel greatly soothed but was given a much needed shot of creative inspiration. In fact, after watching “Little Red Corvette” for the twentieth time, I was literally ready to go out and buy a red Corvette. That is, until I remembered that I am as broke as Jay Z’s face will be if he cheats on Beyonce again. But, I digress.

Currently, I am in the throes of writing a new pilot and am at the unenviable stage of making it “mesh” and have really been struggling. But after indulging my musical bone with the stylings of his “Royal Badness,” I couldn’t help but come back to my current editing task with a renewed since of possibility. When I first sat down to my completed first draft, I was a bit overwhelmed. Initially, as I trimmed the fat, I agonized over what sentences and phrases to keep and expand upon or what scenes and/or characters to cut. But after the jolt of “purple” goodness I received from my “Prince-a-thon”, I started wondering about the creative process and how do you get from “good script,” with mediocre to good ideas and jokes, to a “great script” with great ideas and jokes. In other words, how exactly do you kill your babies?

With some inspiration from the “Son of Minneapolis,” here are three ways that have helped me thus far:

“I was dreaming when I wrote this. Forgive me if it goes astray.” – 1999, Prince

Sometimes, late at night, I write things that seem brilliant but, in the light of day, reveal themselves to be lackluster at best. This is one of the dilemmas that I faced while attempting the first major rewrite of my current pilot. For instance, as I reviewed my first act, it became very apparent that I had a gone off on a major story detour. I’d had way too much of one character and not enough of another.

So like the song says, I offered an apology to the story god and proceeded to cut, cut and cut some until the quick, rapid-fire pacing that I desired started to emerge.

“Nothing compares to you.” – Nothing Compares 2 U, Prince

Is it funny? Or is it hilarious? These were the questions I was faced with when I moved on to my next task. Now that I was on track with the pacing, I had to punch up the jokes. So I looked to another Prince classic for inspiration. I had three jokes on the page so I figured if I compared the level of funny, I could weed out the weaker material and replace it with much stronger fare. And that’s exactly what I did.

“Keep breaking me down, down, down…” Breakdown, Prince

After my “jokes pass,” it was time for me to address the plot holes that may have been lurking deep in my script and waiting to rear it’s ugly head when and only someone “important” would start to read it. Often times, it’s good to do this kind of pass even before giving it to your friends for feedback. It requires an objective view that many writers may not have when reading their own work.

So as the song, “Breakdown” commands, just take that part and break it down sentence by sentence. This way, you’re able to fake objectiveness by singling out a phrase, a sentence or even a sequence to see if it’s strong on it’s own. If not, this is also a good way to improve this area and link it back into the script.

So if you find yourself stuck in “rewrite hell,” my advice would be just to turn on Prince’s music, inhale some of that purple light and find your own inspiration. Happy writing!

Lavetta Cannon

About Lavetta Cannon

Lavetta Cannon is a nerd/writer/improviser living in Los Angeles where she is in training to become a “cougar.” She loves eating carbs and all things Japanese. When she’s not listening to a plethora of podcasts, she is watching an inappropriate amount of television. Follow her on twitter@lavetta_cannon or on instagram@lavettacannon.