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Screenwriting Help E-Mail (Previous)

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This week's question: 

Every consultant seems to have their own ideas of what is NOT ALLOWED.  I've been told by some to avoid all adverbs -- to find action verbs to replace them.

 We see and we hear are all through final drafts of screenplays that I have read.
 When I write what I truly feel, I'm told by consultants:  I CAN'T SEE THAT.
 How can I describe reactions if I can't use words like REALIZE, etc.?


(* Ellen sent in a part of the screenplay, Hostage, to show an example of what she considered writing that quite subjective and often doesn't adhere to the "Show; Don't tell" rule.)

This week's answer: 

No Just One Way

Ellen, I really appreciate you taking the time to put down your thoughts, and so very clearly, at that.  The concern you bring up is a major problem that many screenwriters come upon, and there's no easy or one answer. 

I understand exactly what you're referring to, regarding the many opinions about how a screenplay should be written.  The truth is, even though some self-appointed screenplay experts will tell you different...

                                       There is no one way to write a screenplay.

Yes, the "show, don't tell" axiom is a good one to work by, but there are always exceptions to every rule.  Action verbs are preferred because they create the sense of immediacy in the present time; it's the same reason scripts are written in the present tense.  (The past tense is usually reserved for novels, and, if they were written in the future, there wouldn't ever really be any screenplays -- philosophically speaking, that is.)

Adverbs are best to use sparingly in order not to wander from the specific moment, but they are useful to describe how something is being done and how a character is acting.  Parentheses were originally only utilized for adverbs in screenplays.

The "We see" and "We hear" is usually just superfluous.  It's understood that "we" are present.  Normally it just slows up the reading and it's more words to read before the reader reads what is happening.  Sometimes the "we" is necessary, usually when there is a subjective POV, the "we" being a way for the writer to indicate where he wants the camera, but without saying, "put the camera here in this scene," knowing that it's best to let the director take care of that -- but, usually, that's not the case.

Regarding "Hostage."  The writing you sent is more like a novel than a normal screenplay.  And, in actuality, it's not easy to read, nor is it all that clear, especially out of context.  But it might help to realize that we don't know what the circumstances of the sale were.  Screenplays aren't sold because of "correct formatting."

For me, it's not about allowing and not allowing, or even abiding strictly by any set of rules.  If the screenplay gets the story across and is rendered in some way that aligns with a cinematic concept that can be clearly envisioned by the reader, the writer has accomplished his or her task.  And there are more ways than one to bring that about.  As the saying could go: 

There are more ways than one to skin a cat (an awful visual there) and write a screenplay.

*In terms of your "realize" question:  If you write too "internally," as novels are often apt to do, then we don't know what we're seeing -- and films are primarily a visual medium.  But I also know what you mean about feeling restricted about expressing yourself through the characters.  I advise you think down the middle of the road.  Here's some examples that can incorporate "realize" and stay as external as possible:

Jeremy stands absolutely still as he realizes he's still in the same room.

Jeremy opens the door, stares, then freezes as realization floods his  visage.

(Visages have been known to be flooded, so why not with realization?)

Actually, I believe that there will be more and more leniency regarding screenwriters depicting the internal world of characters, as in novels.  And according to "Hostage," it looks like it's already happening.

Just don't let the rules (which are ever-changing) take you "hostage."


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