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Archive for the Category "Modern Craft"

Modern Craft: The Voices Aug 30

Intro

Screenwriting: Modern Craft

Every few weeks I’ll showcase a modern script that does something really well. The discussion will center on a specific facet of “screenwriting craft.” It won’t be a critique of the full script.

Today’s script is…

The Voices

Genre: Black Comedy / Horror
Premise: A disturbed but well-meaning man attempts to walk the straight-and-narrow while receiving advice from his “talking” pets.
Writer: Michael R. Perry
Details: 111 pages / January 28, 2009 draft
Status: In Development / Black List 2009

Screenwriting craft — What sets this script apart?

SENSORY IMAGERY

What is Sensory Imagery? Here’s a pretty good definition:

Sensory Imagery is a writing technique based on the five senses. Using [words] to describe what is seen, heard, felt, smelled, and tasted draws the reader into the story… [T]his technique helps the reader to feel transported into the place where the story takes place by helping the reader to feel, hear, see, smell what the main character [experiences].1

Basically, the more you can evoke a reader’s five senses, the more immersive and vivid your script will feel.

Sights and sounds are obviously script mainstays (“Only what you can see and hear”). But what about the other three senses? If you’re a skilled writer like Michael R. Perry, you can also strategically evoke (or suggest) touch, taste and smell.

In this example, the protagonist Jerry, returns to the spot where a woman (Katie) has been killed. (WARNING: Graphic imagery):

EXT. WOODS – TWILIGHT

Long shadows and a light rain makes the woods look radically different from the last time Jerry was here. He carefully makes his way down the edge of the ravine, and then stumbles on something.  He looks down.

Katie’s hand sticks out from under a pile of leaves.  It’s discolored and swollen except her manicure, which is perfect.

He brushes leaves off of her; she’s been outside nearly three days and is swollen, gooey and stinky.  Further, some woods animal has started eating her stomach, none too neatly.  Jerry tries to lift up her body but gets slimed with bowel oozing, is repulsed, and drops her.

Keep In Mind

  • Enhanced sensory details like taste and smell in a script are used primarily to indicate a character’s reaction to something — hence, to show what’s happening. For example, you wouldn’t describe the aroma of a hot cup of coffee if a character isn’t savoring the experience.
  • Don’t get carried away with your scene descriptions. A little goes a long way. Only utilize sensory imagery that’s essential to a reader’s comprehension of what’s going on, or to reinforce tone. You’re writing a script, not a novel, after all.

Do you utilize all five senses in your screenwriting when appropriate?

Further Reading


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  1. Original Sensory Imagery definition found here.
Category: Modern Craft, Writing  | 4 Comments
Modern Craft: Brad Cutter Ruined My Life… Again Jul 27

Intro

Screenwriting: Modern Craft

As I mentioned in this post (where I brilliantly announced my blogging return, then promptly disappeared for a month), I thought it would be a good idea to take a look at the craft of some modern scripts that have garnered attention.

Every week or so, I’ll showcase a script that does something really well. The discussion will center on a specific facet of “screenwriting craft.” It won’t be a critique of the full script.

This week’s script is…

Brad Cutter Ruined My Life… Again

Genre: Comedy
Premise:
A successful business man is forced to relive his miserable teenage years when the cool kid from his high school is hired at his company. (via IMDB)
Writer: Joe Nussbaum
Details: 112 pages / March 16, 2006 draft
Status: In Development / Black List 2006

Screenwriting craft — What sets this script apart?

CHARACTER THOUGHTS AND EMOTIONS

Somewhere along the line, many screenwriters were scared into believing they should never indicate a character’s thoughts or emotions in scene description. “Only physical actions you can see!”

Obviously, physical manifestations of thoughts and emotions are mainstays of effective screenwriting. But surely, if a character is angry, shocked, embarrassed, etc., we know what that looks like too right? So it’s okay to come up with creative ways to express those thoughts or emotions when appropriate.

Now having said that, determining when it’s appropriate is an art form unto itself. What’s even trickier is coming up with ways to describe a character’s reaction or emotional state with language that’s doesn’t feel bland, and in ways that allow the reader to approach the scene from the point of view of its main character.

Joe Nussbaum is a master at this aspect of modern screenwriting craft.

Check out this script excerpt where the protagonist, Dave, is in a conference room with his boss and coworkers. The set up is that he’s been expecting a promotion to come his way for some time now.

WHITMAN

I have an important announcement to make this afternoon.  I’ve worked in this business a long time.   I’ve seen a lot of people come and go.  Hard workers, creative people, smart businessmen and women.  And it takes a lot to impress me.

Dave pumps up.  Could Whitman be announcing his promotion right now?

WHITMAN

So when I see a person with that special combination of smarts, skill, charisma and character, I jump at it.

Dave can’t believe this.  This is going to be so awesome.

WHITMAN

Every team needs a star player.  And I think I’ve found ours.

Dave could burst with excitement.

WHITMAN

He came in to interview last week and I hired him on the spot.

What?

WHITMAN

He’ll be starting on the ground floor, but I have a feeling he’ll work his way up quickly.  He arrived a few minutes ago and I sent Cathy to bring him in so you all could meet him right away.  Ladies and gentleman...

On cue, Cathy opens the door and brings in...

WHITMAN

Brad Cutter!

Holy shit!  Dave gasps.  He can’t believe it.  Standing next to Whitman is the one and only...

BRAD CUTTER

He looks great.  At thirty, he’s handsome, tanned athletic and dripping charisma.  Of course he has a full head of hair and hardly an ounce of body fat.

The women are wowed, the men are impressed, and Dave may have just swallowed his tongue.

Notice the way Nussbaum he weaves the physical (e.g. “Dave pumps up.” / “Dave gasps.”) with the internal world of the character (e.g. “Could Whitman be announcing his promotion right now?” / “He can’t believe it.”) You feel like you’re right there with poor Dave.

If memory serves, using a thought reaction as a description (e.g. “What?”) was first pioneered by Oscar-winning scribe Ron Bass. It can be a very effective technique, when used correctly.

Keep In Mind

  • Beware “unfilmables” — descriptions that are impossible to see. For example: “Herbert looks up from his meal. Wonders if he should save a piece of lettuce for his pet rabbit, Hoppsie.” How the heck are we supposed to see that on screen?
  • In amateur scripts, I commonly see a thought response and a redundant physical response, that doesn’t add any new information, in the same line (e.g. “Huh? Sally looks confused.”)
  • I’ve also heard stories of screenwriting contest readers giving negative feedback to correct uses of this technique — just because of their unfamiliarity with it.
  • You should also be careful not to interrupt every line of dialogue with description. It’s a big pet peeve of readers. In the scene excerpt above it was used for a very specific comedic effect, and is not representative of the script as a whole.

How about you? Do you utilize thoughts and emotions strategically in your writing?

Further Reading

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Category: Modern Craft, Writing  | 4 Comments