I come from the world of journalism where descriptions (narratives, “action” in MM Screenwriter), etc., have to be both economical AND precise, leaving the reader no doubt as to what the writer is trying to report.
With screenwriting, that isn’t the case.
Of the seventy or so scripts I’ve read so far, a vast majority of the descriptions are extremely vague, meaning incomplete, leaving the reader to fill in the blanks and interpret what the writer may (operative word) have had in mind. For example: in one I read a few months ago, the narrative simply said, “…He steals a bicycle and escapes.” I assumed it was a ten-speed. But, on the second read, I pictured it as a boy-size (20”) bike, which put a totally different spin on the character and the story.
I have no intention of trying to change Hollywood, but why are scripts not more concise? Two readers can easily imagine two different stories being told, neither one perhaps being what the writer had in mind. Is it a game being played, or what?
Thread: Writing style
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01-05-2011 01:05 PM
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- Jan 2011
01-05-2011 01:41 PM"I have no intention of trying to change Hollywood, but why are scripts not more concise [sic. PRECISE?]? Two readers can easily imagine two different stories being told, neither one perhaps being what the writer had in mind."It is important to understand that scripts are meant to be interpreted. When you commit to a specific item (10 speed bicycle) you are basically telling a bunch of people to go acquire that real world object, and that you know how the actor (who hasn't even been cast yet) will look on that vehicle. You assume that the 10 speed will be the best possible solution, when some new mountain bike (with product placement sponsorship) will look so much better to the director. Once the mountain bike is acquired, they can add a new off road scene down a dangerous trail, etc.
The most important quality of a spec script is to inspire the reader to buy in, and imagine as much of the world as possible. They should bring their own ideas.
Many types of things just aren't that important to the story. Is it a Boeing 767, an Airbus, or a private jet? Does it matter? It's just a scene about a boy trying to get a girl's attention.
The ironic quote above answers the question, actually. It is very concise to say INT. BUS and let the reader imagine the bus, without bothering to describe unnecessary colors, models, amenities. Everything that distracts from the drama of the scene is of less importance than getting the character interactions across.
The characters should be front and center in every scene. Better to give them little things TO DO than to elaborately describe locations that you can't possibly know about yet -- since they haven't been acquired. This also ties into cost. There's the free location, and the million dollar location. You don't want to tie the hands of the producer and ensure they have to use the million dollar location. This is of less importance with giant budget films, but crucial with the rest.
01-05-2011 04:47 PM
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- Jan 2011
Granted, anything can be over-written. On the bicycle scene, by simply noting, in as few words as possible (I use voice-to-text, and tend to talk a lot ;o) ), that it was too small for him was an opportunity missed that would have helped flesh out the character. It would have been a matter of the writer writing either: EXT. BICYCLE -- CONTINUOUS or EXT. SMALL BICYCLE.... I know better than to include the make, color and condition (provided that doesn't come into play). In other words, I don't sweat the small, unimportant stuff.
On the airplane thing you mentioned, it might matter if the boy is flying the thing. A J-3 Cub (seven or eight extra key strokes) would be believable (clear), although most people don't have a clue what a J-3 Cub is. A 747, which everyone is familiar with, might become a hard sell when he puts it down on a high-school football field during half-time, especially if the reader had "...it's a 747...," stuck in his/her mind from the get-go.
I have a script of historical importance (IMO) that's autographed by the producer, who won an Oscar for Best Picture that year. My better half read it and said that had she not seen the film, she would not have known they were the same. Oh, well. I'm glad I'm retired.
Thanks for listening, something my wife stopped doing several years back. ;o)
01-05-2011 09:05 PM
The trick is to be concise and precise, but only when it counts.
Sometimes it matters if your character picks up a Beretta F92 or a Walther P38. Other times, you can simply say "he picks up a 9mm pistol," and the reader can fill in the blank with what type exactly (something they will usually do without thinking or stopping - which is important for the flow of the script).
Sometimes it's important to differentiate between a .357 Magnum and a .38 special. Or a '98 Ford Taurus vs. a 2008 Honda Civic.
Other times it's better to say "He gets in his car."
I rarely put in car models and types into my scripts - because they usually are irrelevant. If you establish the character and what kind of life he lives, what kind of environment he's in, etc., you can sometimes let the reader fill in whether he drives a Prius or a piece of s*%t the model of which isn't even distinguishable.
In a few scripts, though, I use the car model to help establish the other factors. It's all about what you need to show and what you can let the reader imagine.
01-05-2011 10:46 PM
Depends on the story and the context. If you did meticulous research on North Korean political prisoners and you're writing a scene about state security agents arresting a 'politically unreliable' family and you know that they cart them off on a Tsir truck, might as well write that because you just cut out a 2 hour story's worth of research someone would have to do later.
01-05-2011 11:24 PM
Agreed. You're not trying to do the DoP's job or the costume designer's job or the prop handler's job, your script should only contain the details which matter, i.e. those which affect the story in some way.
01-06-2011 12:00 AM
I think genre is important in determining how much description and detail you include.
My favorite genre is science fiction, which requires more description for the world building aspects of the story. Not that it gives me license to go crazy with big chunks of exposition and or descriptive passages, but that I have to be aware of what items and concepts that the reader is either familiar or unfamiliar with.
01-06-2011 11:01 AM"A 747, which everyone is familiar with, might become a hard sell when he puts it down on a high-school football field during half-time, especially if the reader had "...it's a 747...," stuck in his/her mind from the get-go."Which means you include it IF IT'S NECESSARY FOR THE STORY, and if it isn't you don't bog down the reader with unnecessary details. They much prefer to get through the thing quickly.
It's a planet in the far future
with two suns.
Who plays the sons?
01-06-2011 11:26 AM
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- Jan 2011
I'm trying to agree with you. ;o) On the one I'm working on now, the draft came out 145 pages because I included any and everything I felt like. Now the fun part - editing, down and out! I crossed over the 125 page magic threshold today but there's still half of it to go as I keep asking myself two questions; "Do I need this?" and "How can I make it shorter w/o giving up anything important?" My money is on 110 to 115 pages.
Have a good day.
01-06-2011 02:11 PM
110-115 is a good mark to shoot for on a feature script. What genre are you writing in?