Saturday, 14 November 2015
The Top 10 Worst Script Devices That People Still Seem to Use
Humans are creatures of habit. Life is comfortable when it's routine. Writers are no different. Not to imply that we're a different species - we get enough of that from everyone else. But, like impressionable children who desperately want to emulate that episode of Casualty they accidentally watched without their parent's permission, many writers lack the discipline in their lives to know that they've been very naughty. Yep, your Anti-Scriptwriting Guru is living up to his name this week, and suggesting we abolish these script-based atrocities that have somehow permeated their way into the spongy consciousness of novice scribes.
10) Back to Scene
Here's a bit of free advice - if you're actively taking the time to yank your reader out of a scene just to show them something on a screen or on a phone or in a book or inside a self-help pamphlet or whatever, you've already lost their interest. The moment you break that immersion, readers will start to question what actually counts towards the narrative, what a scene in this story actually entails, and WHAT IS SCRIPT?
"Yo, where we at?", asked the innocent reader. "Outside. Inside. Wherever. You choose. Doesn't really matter", responded the moron responsible for the 90+ page waste of time. Scene headings are pretty damn important, y'know? They let us know where we are, they tell a producer which locations to scout for, and, most importantly, they actually ground the action in a tangible location, rather than the big white nothingness from that bit in The Matrix.
8) FADE IN
Someone told a bunch of gullible writers one day that you must begin your script with FADE IN. Why? Just start the damn story. People seem to just include FADE IN without even considering what that even means - I've read a few scripts now that have followed FADE IN with BLACK, which just defies everything that the natural behaviour of light and logic dictates. Fading into black from a black background is... well, nothing.
7) Numbered Characters
"Mom, Dad, you'll never guess what! I just bagged a part in a part in a major feature film shooting next year!", "Oh my Gosh, sweetie! That's amazing! Who are you playing?", "WOMAN #3". This conversation never happened. Frankly, most of us would be less embarrassed to admit we were playing a tree in a school nativity. Even the most minor of characters, speaking or non, should be characters with personalities, not numbers.
6) "In the b.g."
Aside from a "b.g." sounding like a 16 year old's nickname for a sexual act that they're pretending they've experienced, it apparently stands for "background". I don't know about you, but I have no trouble writing or reading that word in its entirety. I get we have O.S. and V.O. for dialogue but that's for formatting brevity. Sticking this random abbreviation into description feels distracting and redundant, or, as you would say, "St.kng this r.d. abbrev. in2 d.script feels ds.trctng + redund."
5) Action in Parenthesis
Most of us get that there are two major components to a script - dialogue and description. Occasionally, if you're feeling fruity, you may include a little direction in parenthesis to indicate how a line of dialogue might be delivered, but even then, most sane writers will start telling you to lay off the Chardonnay. So, to all of those """writers""" (with added quotation marks for emphasis) who describe physical actions in brackets - Stop. Scene Directions exist for a reason.
Do you know what the word "beat" makes me think of? No, not that. It makes me think that I'm reading a script. "Surely that's a good thing?", you ask, so naive that you still believe Santa Claus is actually your Uncle Gary. Nope. I don't want to be reminded I'm reading a script while I'm reading a script - I want to be lost in the story, as trippy as that sounds. So why not indicate the passing moment in time in a way that's organic to the scenario, with a "Pause" or a "Silence"?
3) CUT TO:
Oh really?! We're cutting to the next scene?! I thought this scene was just going to go on forever, whilst the new scene played out elsewhere without us ever getting to see it. A CUT TO is just a wasted line on a page, and when you insist on ramming it into my eyeballs between every... single... scene... Let's just say those lines add up. And my rage adds up. All Wasted Pages and Much Rage Makes James A Dull Boy. All Wasted Pages and Much Rage Makes James A Dull Boy. All Wasted...
Intercutting is just the height of laziness. Say you have two characters on the phone - both people are making that call in different contexts, doing different actions and responding differently to one another. Just writing INTERCUT and leaving it up to us to decide which side we should be visualising from moment to moment doesn't take advantage of the dynamics of the conversation. It's like EXT/INT, but actually suggests a reluctance to take two seconds to write something worthwhile.
1) "We See..."
I fall to my knees in utter despair. WHY ARE PEOPLE STILL USING "WE SEE"?! Wait, sorry... "We see James fall to his knees in utter despair". Ugh. I feel dirty writing that. Let me break down why it's the most bafflingly, pointlessly stupid thing to ever write in a script ever - You're writing the actions, characters and events unfolding on screen in description. OF COURSE WE'RE SEEING IT. Imagine opening a book where every sentence started with "We Read" or listening to a radio play where every sound was preceded by "We Hear", as if it were being presented by an insufferably smug audio descriptor. Picture going to the cinema and, rather than the usual sign language interpreter in the bottom of the screen, you get an avatar of the film's writer pointing up at the action unfolding behind them, yelling "Watch this bit! Look at what you're seeing! Don't glance away from the massive screen in front of you!". We Read that James is at the end of his friggin' tether by this point, clearly suggested by this massive rant about the idiocy of two small words, but explained through this sentence, just to make sure you picked up on his frustration... SEE HOW HORRIBLE AND PATRONISING IT IS TO BE SPOKEN TO LIKE THAT?! IMAGINE 120 PAGES OF THAT.
I must rest now.
James Cottle, a Scriptwriting Mega-Scholar™, is now a real world Freelance Writer, in between intense bouts of Script Reading. Follow him on Twitter @Jxmxsc, "like" the Anti-Scriptwriting page on Facebook, and share this blog if you want his opinions on your work to be completely unbiased.