Last week I borrowed the DVD of season one of the BBC show Sherlock from my mom, and this weekend sat down to watch the pilot. Quite often the pilot becomes the first episode of the show, and that was in fact what the writers/producers of Sherlock had intended, but the BBC asked for three 90 minute episodes instead of six 60 minute shows. The 60 minute pilot wasn’t going to work as it was, so the writers had to revisit the script.
It’s basically the same story, just longer and a little expanded. But comparing the two is an amazing example of the value of rewriting. Many of the scenes haven’t changed, or changed little; some are nearly the same but with the setting moved. But a few scenes were completely reworked, with new settings, new pieces of dialogue, and, most interestingly, new plot paths. The climax is quite different between the pilot and the final version, for instance: the same basic premise is there, but the way it was executed is completely changed about.
I think the new version works so much better; the dialogue is richer and the plot smoother and more engaging (and of course, more run-time allows for more character development). It must have been a lot of work to go back to that original script and take it apart and rewrite it to fit the new length; but it was worth it, especially as it gave the writers an opportunity to rethink approaches to various plot points. The pilot is available on YouTube, and the first episode is on Netflix (or you might be able to get it through your library). Totally worth watching them both – watch the final version first, so as to avoid spoilers. :)
I’ve been thinking about this recently as I continue working on revising Secrets. I made the decision to remove a character – one with a relatively large role – and it’s been a bit of a headache as I keep running into small instances where they affected the plot and have to figure out how the plot would work without them there. But I think the story is going to be a lot stronger for having gone through and done all that. Seeing how much the first episode of Sherlock improved with some serious rewriting was a great reminder of the value of putting in the work.