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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: 

Dch, I see so many scripts that have description that looks like a novel it’s so good.  I don’t write that way and it starts me thinking that, since I never could, I’ll never sell a screenplay.


This week's answer: 

Description Isn't Everything

Vance, Vance, Vance. If producers were looking for screenplays that look like novels, they’d buy novels.  True, it is nice to read flowing, descriptive, pleasant-to-the-senses words in a description as it sets the scene up.  Being someone who reads many screenplays, I recognize and appreciate wordsmiths (which are like blacksmiths except, instead of horseshoes and other metallic things, wordsmiths forge words), but I’ve passed on many of the “nicest written scripts I’ve ever read.”  Why?  I’m glad you asked.  Because well-written, lyrical, poignant, extremely well-written, even poetic description does not a good screenplay make.  (I reversed a few words so as to appear rather classical and poetic.  But reversing a few words does not a good classic poet make.  Or something poetic and lyrical like that.  Being lyrical and poetic does not – Okay, okay. I get it; I get it!)

There’s so much more to a screenplay than good description.  Sharp, engaging, deeply-meaningful, nuance-filled dialogue is a must.  And there’s a lot of talking in a movie.  Unless you’re watching “Quest for Fire” (which still had a lot of grunts) or “One Million B.C.” (another grunt fest).  But let’s not put down the screenwriters of the aforementioned (I guess I could have said “atwomentioned”) scripts just because they didn’t have a lot of words to write in the dialogue.  How do we know what painstaking effort they made to put in just the right “ugggh”’s and “arrrrr”’s.  And then, in addition to dialogue, you’re going to need excellent plot, characters, tone, pace, character development, transformative arcs (I think Noah built one of those), and a whole lot of other stuff that doesn’t have diddly to do with flowery, expressive words describing a sunset or a sunrise or just the sun or the moon or anything else that people like to describe with flowery words.  Including flowers (which can really bore me in a script, in case you wanted to know).

Don’t let other writers define who you are.  (Unless you write to one of them and ask them to define you.  I think they charge for that.) Find your own style.  They laughed at Hemingway.  (At least, I think they did.  Or was it me?  I have a tendency to laugh at short sentences.  I know; it’s a curse.) T.S. Elliot had his own style.  Even a guy named, “William Shakespeare” some say was kind of unique.  (I think he was a bit too much, always rhyming and showing off what a command of the English language he had.  Big deal.  And, while we’re on the subject, not to be petty, but I think Hamlet should have just married Lady MacBeth so the merry wives of Windsor could finally tell Romeo that Puck was not dead but just sleeping with the three witches.  I hope I didn’t give anything away.)

What I’m trying to say (in my own inimitable style – which most people don’t like, which gets me to thinking that I just might quit writing altogether), is write the way you want to write.  Let your own unique way you write come out as you continue to master the form of screenwriting.

And here’s something that might help you remember:

It’s screenwriting; not screenrighting.


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