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Archive for the Category "Writing"

Shakes His Head Jun 13

Efficiency

Screenwriting is all about efficiency. Maximum impact with the minimum number of words.

So one of my biggest pet peeves is when I see the following in scripts:

She shakes her head no.

There are two big things wrong with that action line:

  1. Why is the word “no” there?! We already know she’s saying “no” because she’s shaking her head. If the audience can figure out what she’s indicating without her actually saying it, there’s no need to give the reader this extra piece of information.
  2. What’s a “head no”? Even though it’s completely unnecessary, if you’re going to explain what she means by shaking her head, at least put a comma between “head” and “no.” Or better yet, add quotation marks and capitalize the word: She shakes her head, “No.”

But really, this is all you need to write:

She shakes her head.

Similarly, if someone is nodding their agreement, there’s no need to write:

She nods her head, “Yes.”

Just write:

She nods her head.

Or even:

She nods.

The Importance of Active Verbs Dec 20

Dude, aren’t all verbs active?Are you using active verbs?

Good question, smartass!

The truth is, there are passive and active forms of verbs. The active form (without the “ing”) is almost always the best one to use.

For example, I often see a variation of the following sentence:

Jack is sitting at his desk.

It’s grammatically correct, but it’s passive. Consider this version:

Jack sits at his desk.

Now we have something that not only uses the more active tense but is also shorter (which you should know by now is a good thing in screenwriting).

So things are better, but “sits” doesn’t tell us a whole lot about what Jack is really doing or feeling. It’s something of a wasted verb, because if he’s at his desk, he’s obviously sitting.

What about?

Jack pores over his research at his desk. / Jack fumes at his desk. / Jack types frantically on his computer.

Get the idea? Much more descriptive and interesting.

It gets worse

I’ll often come across something like this sentence after a master scene heading.

Katy on the ship’s deck.

Now you’re not even trying. Sure, it tells us who we’re looking at and where she is (and it’s brief), but again, it doesn’t provide us with any action or context.

What about?

Katy grips the rail of the ship’s deck, eyes burning.

A seasick Katy slouches against a crate on the ship’s deck.

Katy scrutinizes her crew on the ship’s deck.

You get the idea. Don’t be lazy. Use a more descriptive verb, put us in the mindset of your character and make us feel something.

Note: In the first of the three sentences above, I actually use an “ing” form of the verb in the second half of the sentence. That’s perfectly acceptable.

Do you have any writing questions? Let me know!

Category: Style, Words, Writing  | Leave a Comment
Capitalizing God, Mom and Dad Jan 22

When do you capitalize god, mom and dad? 

When to capitalize God, Mom and DadBased on the frequency with which I encounter these capitalization mistakes while proofreading scripts, there seems to be a lot of confusion surrounding this question. Luckily, there’s a really easy trick to remember when to capitalize these words:

If the word is being used like a name, then it should be capitalized.

So let’s look at the sentence:
“Are you there, Mom?”

Now let’s substitute the name Karen:
“Are you there, Karen?”

The sentence still makes perfect sense, so “Mom” should be capitalized.

Now let’s try another:
“Some people believe there’s a god that lives in the clouds.”

Substituting Karen:
“Some people believe there’s a Karen that lives in the clouds.”

That doesn’t make sense, so “god” is not capitalized.

Even if, in the context of the story, you were referencing a supernatural being named Karen, you still wouldn’t have written the sentence that way. You would have written: “Some people believe that Karen lives in the clouds/Some people believe that God lives in the clouds” — now a perfectly legitimate capitalization.

The “a” preceding the word is a big tip-off not to capitalize. Here’s a full list of articles and pronouns to watch for (i.e. If mom/dad/god is preceded by any of these words, then it doesn’t need to be capitalized):

  • a
  • an
  • the
  • my
  • your
  • his
  • her
  • its
  • our
  • their

A final note: Many atheists believe that “god” should never be capitalized, while many religious folks believe that it should always be capitalized. Both are wrong. It depends on the context. It’s a grammar thing, not a religion thing.

 

Category: Writing  | Leave a Comment
Interruptions Revisited May 17

The Problem

In a previous post, I discussed the difference between using dashes (hyphens) and dots (ellipses) at the end of a sentence — a common source of confusion. Recently, I’ve discovered a new and erroneous trend with hyphens.

With increasing frequency, I’ll see a writer use hyphens to both indicate an interruption (at the end of a sentence) and also to start off the next speaker’s dialogue (at the beginning of the following sentence).

Let me show you what I’m talking about.

PETER

You never let me finish a single sent--

JANICE

--That’s because you never have anything good to say!

Those two hyphens in front of “That’s” in the sentence above? Completely unnecessary. The two hyphens at the end of Peter’s sentence are all we need to indicate interrupted speech.

The Exception

The only time you’d use two hyphens to begin a character’s dialogue is when the second speaker is attempting to complete the first speaker’s sentence.

For example:

PETER

You never let me finish a single sent--

JANICE

-- Sentence? Yeah, because I always know what you’re going to say.

In the above exchange, Peter’s dialogue could also have been written with the double hyphens coming after the word “single,” without the partial word “sent.”

Do you have any other hyphen-related questions or need me to proofread your script? Let me know!

Embrace The Grind Jun 23

Anyone else out there a fan of MMA (mixed martial arts)? No? Doesn’t matter, this lesson applies to any professional endeavor — including screenwriting.

So there’s this fighter named Benson Henderson. He’s got about as much genuine swagger as any human has a right to. And for a good reason — he steamrolls over most of his opponents.

Benson Henderson

This, ladies and gentlemen, is genuine swagger!

After handily winning his last bout, he was almost in tears talking about how people have no idea how hard he trains for his fights.

Here’s a guy who you can tell by looking at him, and seeing him fight, has tremendous natural gifts. He’s one of the best fighters in the world, yet he still pushes himself to the breaking point during his training camps.

Gone are the days when some fighter, who merely dabbled in mixed martial arts, could rise to prominence off of luck or talent or connections alone. If you want to be successful in MMA, you have to embrace the grind.

It got me thinking. The same rule applies to screenwriters.

We may not risk traumatic brain injury every time we write a script (hmmm, that’s debatable), but we do have to compete with other screenwriters. Professional screenwriters. Professional screenwriters with agents and managers and industry credibility and one more thing…

A strong work ethic.

The successful screenwriters are the ones embracing the grind and putting in their hours of writing, networking, and keeping tabs on the industry. Every. Single. Day.

How on earth can you expect to compete with them (or other amateurs who are similarly inclined) if you’re only writing once in a blue moon?

This isn’t meant to depress you. It’s meant to explain the reality of the modern screenwriting business. It’s not an industry where dilettantes do well. You have to really want it. And you have to be really good at it. And you have to put the time in. Lots of time. That means lots of scripts.

If not, the screenwriting equivalent of Benson Henderson, or Ronda Rousey, or some up and coming amateur, is going to kick your ass. Because right now there are only a few coveted jobs or spec sales for screenwriters.

Bottom line is, if you you want to succeed — hell, if you just want make the fight competitive — you have to embrace the grind.

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