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Archive for August, 2010

Modern Craft: The Voices Aug 30


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?


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):


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

Need someone to review your screenplay and give you insights that are guaranteed to make it better? Please take a look at my script services.

  1. Original Sensory Imagery definition found here.
Category: Modern Craft, Writing  | 4 Comments
How To Be An Agent’s Dream Client Aug 28

Reminder: Michele Wallerstein will be holding a book signing and free talk today from 3:00 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. in Sherman Oaks. Click here for details.

How To Be An Agent’s Dream Client

by Michele Wallerstein

An agent works very hard to guide a writer’s career. We help them with their material, we set up important meetings for them, and we see that their material is read by the right people, we negotiate their deals, we share information with them and we even listen to their personal problems. Is that enough? OK, we also show an interest in their spouses and children, we try not to hurt their feelings when their work is rejected; we are loyal and often very caring. We keep our eye
on the ball and an ear to the ground. We know what’s going on in the business and who’s buying what. Is that enough?

But… then we must let the writers go out into the world by themselves and we pray that they do not do themselves harm. This is the most daunting of our tasks.

Here are ten (10) things that clients mustn’t do:

  1. Getting stuck on one idea. I’ve had clients that have written the same basic story in novel, screenplay and theatrical play form. This is an incredibly huge waste of time.
  2. Thinking everyone is wrong, except you. When your project has been turned down by more than five (5) companies, chances are it won’t sell. This can happen with a pitch or a completed novel or screenplay. Right or wrong, they aren’t buying and there’s nothing you or your agent can do about it.
  3. Ruining a meeting. Are you talking too much or not enough? Are you listening to the principal person in the meeting? Did you arrive late? Did you dress inappropriately? Did you argue too much? Did you stay too long?
  4. Missing your big chance. I’ve represented many writers who really wanted to direct. In one specific case the writer became a producer on various TV series over the years. I kept telling him to direct some episodes, but he said that he was too busy. He never became a director.
  5. Calling your agent too often or not often enough. If you don’t seem interested in your career, why should your agent. If you are calling every day without new material or ideas, you are nagging. Big no-no.
  6. Not showing appreciation to your agent, manager, and lawyer. Yes we all get paid, but sometimes that isn’t enough. Everyone wants to feel approval. We all want someone to simply thank us for a job well done. Take them to lunch; buy them a simple birthday or Christmas gift. Say “thanks.”
  7. Changing agents. Most of the time when clients change agents it’s because they aren’t getting work or selling their material. Is that really your agent’s fault or are you not doing your job very well? Have you brought in new ideas and scripts? Are you keeping up relationships with people you’ve met via your agent? Are you
    doing everything you can to further your own career? Remember, you get to keep 90% of the money.
  8. Moving from a small agency to a very big one. Bad idea. If a small agency has worked hard to build your career, you can bet a larger one will come along and make tremendous promises to lure you over to their client list. Invariably, you will be ignored, forgotten, mistreated and overlooked.
  9. Demanding too much. This can mean time from your agent, producer, development person, manager or lawyer. It can mean money for your project that may not warrant as big a deal as you want. Once you earn it… you’ll get it all.
  10. Drugs and alcohol. They will ruin your career.

Getting into the world of screenwriters and published authors is difficult enough. Making the mistakes listed above is a sure-fire way of losing any toe-hold that you may gain, at any time. All too often I’ve seen successful writers fall off the “hot writer” list in Hollywood because of any of the above errors. Don’t let it happen to you.

Michele Wallerstein is a Screenplay & Novel & Career Consultant and author of “MIND YOUR BUSINESS: A Hollywood Literary Agent’s Guide To Your Writing Career“.

Web site:

Copyright 2009 Michele Wallerstein. Not be used without written permission from Author.

Quick Screenwriting Tip: Deus Ex Machina = Bad Aug 24

Quick Screenwriting Tip

Avoid a deus ex machina ending to your story.

What is deus ex machina? According to Wikipedia:

A deus ex machina (Latin for “god out of the machine”) is a plot device whereby a seemingly inextricable problem is suddenly and abruptly solved with the contrived and unexpected intervention of some new character, ability, or object.

I feel the need to bring up this writing tip after reading Dean Koontz’ recent novel, Relentless. The ending was so contrived, so preposterous, I had to check the spelling of the author’s name twice to make sure it was indeed that Dean Koontz.

The novel was a good reminder of why it’s important to properly establish the rules of your world in the beginning of the story.

For example: If your story’s a western, with no sci-fi components, then it shouldn’t end with the hero saving the day after discovering an alien laser gun hidden inside a spittoon.

Can you think of any movies that use deus ex machina successfully?

Need someone to review your screenplay and give you insights that are guaranteed to make it better? Please take a look at my script services.

Michele Wallerstein Book Signing: August 28th Aug 21

Mind Your BusinessMichele Wallerstein will be holding another book signing next Saturday. She’ll also be giving a free talk called: “How To Jump Start Your Writing Career”

As you may recall, I reviewed her new book, Mind Your Business: A Hollywood Literary Agent’s Guide To Your Writing Career, a few weeks back.

If you’re in the L.A. area, and want to pick up a great book and some terrific advice, please stop by!

Borders Books
14651 Ventura Boulevard, Sherman Oaks

Saturday, August 28, 2010, 3:00pm – 4:30pm

Deleted Scenes Aug 20

This really should be kept secret, but you can learn a lot by watching the making-of DVDs. – Bill Murray1

Scene Bloat

Many a screenplay has been scriptwrecked by scene bloat. Either scenes go on too long, or they don’t belong in the script in the first place.

As screenwriters, one of our main goals is to make our scenes as short as possible — maximum impact/minimum words. A great way to learn how to trim your scenes is to watch the deleted scenes of your favorite movies and TV series, especially if they come with a Director’s commentary track.

The ShieldWhy were the scenes cut?

Recently I watched all 7 seasons of The Shield on DVD. It’s one of the grittiest, most innovative and exciting television series ever created. It’s also one of those rare shows that actually gets better with every season.

Fortunately for us, Shawn Ryan, the show’s creator, provides a commentary track for all of the episodes’ deleted scenes. Here are some of the most common reasons the scenes were cut, in no particular order. The lessons can be applied to both television writing and feature films.

  • Same story beats hit
    Every scene must add something new to the story; new character revelations, new plot twists, new information. If a scene or moment feels like it’s repeating itself, it has to go.
  • Impact
    Even with the most well-acted/well-directed scenes, longer does not always mean better. Cutting a scene down to its essence will keep the audience engaged and make it more impactful.
  • Wrong tone
    Comic relief has its place, but occasionally a joke or lighthearted moment can lessen the poignancy of something dramatic that’s just come before it. There are many people who believe the quick jump from the profound ending of the movie Being There, to its comic outtakes, cost Peter Sellers the Academy Award for his brilliant performance.
  • Pacing
    Sometimes a story can lose momentum if you break away from the main driving plot to deal with a subplot — especially if the intensity, interest or importance of the subplot isn’t on par.
  • Setup was unnecessary
    Most times you don’t need the setup. You don’t have to show the cops sitting at the station, receiving an alert, then dashing out to their police cars. Just start with the cops arriving at the scene. The audience will fill in the blanks.
  • Cut for time
    TV episodes have very rigid parameters for length. Even for feature films, there will always be pressure to ensure a movie has an optimal running time. When cuts need to be made, the first scenes (or parts of scenes) snipped will be ones that don’t drive the story forward.

The next time you rent a DVD, make sure to check out the deleted scenes. Watch them first without the commentary track and see if you can recognize why they were cut. Once you have a feel for it, it will help your writing immensely.

Watching and learning from The Shield… Best. Homework assignment. Evar!

Need someone to review your screenplay and give you insights that are guaranteed to make it better? Please take a look at my script services.

  1. From a fascinating interview with Bill Murray for GQ. H/T to Scott M. for sending me the link.
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