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Screenwriting Help E-Mail (Previous)

Updated every Monday, one selected e-mail will be posted and answered here each week. With many years of experience in the film and television business, I look forward to providing answers to your questions (often with a humorous eye) about screenwriting or the entertainment industry in general.  Please send your e-mailed questions to: Script Advisor.  You may also wish to visit our Screenwriting Help E-Mails - The Archives.

This week's question: 

At the Academy Awards last night when they showed the screenplays, "The Queen" screenplay had a line describing how she had never seen a deer like that before.  Isn't that wrong to describe something you can't show?  I'm really confused.


This week's answer: 

It's the Story, Morning Glory

I understand, Confused.  I saw that description line and did a little pause, also.  It's very astute of you to notice.  Very.  Yes, a screenwriting teacher or advocate or even the author of "The Screenwriter's Bible" (you have to wonder if that work wasn't really composed by many inspired followers of the script consultant who spoke to the masses of screenwriters from the mount, reminding them of the Golden Rule:  He who sells a screenplay gets the gold and rules!) might take umbrage with such a description, remarking that it is not correct.  That may be so according to the strictest of terms.  But, if you notice, the breaking of that rule did not stop a producer from purchasing the screenplay (or shooting it).

Many novice screenwriters get bogged down in the details to the point that they can't see the bigger picture (and, if you're writing for a bigger picture, you're definitely going to want to see that).  Time after time, I have received e-mails from screenwriters who are overly concerned about formatting rather than the writing, itself.  No matter how perfectly a screenplay is formatted, it won't be a well-crafted one unless there is a good STORY.  It's as though some beginner screenwriters think all a screenplay has to do is look good.  How wrong they are.

Yes, in "The Queen," instead of the descriptive line cited above, the screenwriter could have written something like this:  "Her eyes widen and she becomes still, gazing upon a beautiful deer."  Actually, I think it was a stag.  The writer could have written it that way, staying closer to the FIRST RULE OF SCREENWRITING (trumpets blare):  SHOW AND NOT TELL.  But maybe it's not all that awful to tell a little (please Gods of Screenplays don't strike me down with a thunderbolt from that laser printer in the sky), letting the reader use his imagination a little more as he does when reading a novel (or poem or play or the newspaper)

Although screenplay parameters are important (if we didn't have them, story analysts would be reading 300-paged scripts), it's the writing (I'll say it again), the WRITING that counts.

I just realized that I'm not happy with this e-mail.  I think I'll change the font and reformat it.

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