LONG POINTLESS POST WHICH WILL PROBABLY MAKE YOU THINK LESS OF ME
I went to a fancy dress party at the weekend, which, at first glance may not seem like it has anything to do with writing.
To be honest, at second, third and fourth glances and a final lingering stare it still has very little to do with writing; but bear with me.
The theme was 1968, since it was a friend’s 40th birthday party and ’68 t’was the year he was born.
Money’s a bit tight at the moment, so the costumes needed to be cheap and easy to make and after much deliberation I realised this was my one and only chance to dress as Captain Kirk without feeling the need to kick my own geek-boy arse.
So I bought a red mini-dress for Mandy and a long-sleeved T-shirt and some gold dye for me. We already had the necessary boots, tights and trousers so we were all set – but the costumes weren’t quite right. Some gold ric-rac braiding for the sleeves and hey, look! There’s a site which sells the badges – cool. That really sets them off.
So there we are: two Star Trek costumes for under a tenner each …
Except … no. The more observant among you (or at least, among the few of you who are still paying attention – there is some writing stuff coming up, promise) may have noticed a communicator and tricorder in the above photo. Because suddenly, the urge to ‘do it properly’ gripped me.
We needed all the toys.
Needed, you understand?
So I was halfway through buying two phasers, two communicators and a tricorder when Mandy wanders in and asks:
‘What are those for?”
Ah, right. Mandy has zero interest in sci-fi and has no idea what accessories should or shouldn’t go with the costume. Not only that, but no one at the party is going to know what a tricorder is or what it does beyond a vague understanding that it’s something they once saw on the telly.
No, all they care about is the costumes are roughly the right colour and shape. As long as it’s recognisable as a Star Trek uniform from a distance – they’ll be happy.
So I cancelled the order … sort of.
Obviously I still bought myself a communicator and phaser – I’ve wanted them since I was six.
For Mandy, I figured any black handbag which was taller than it is wide would do as a tricorder … before my anal retentiveness kicked in and I decided to just build a mock up out of card. A simple box covered in the black sticky-backed plastic I bought to hide the shame of my gay laptop should do. I just needed a reference photo …
Which plunged me into the world of prop making and detailed schematics. Okay, so I didn’t go as far as building my own vacuum forming machine – but I wanted it to look as accurate as I can make it without actually spending any money.
Because, well, I’m a little on the anal side.
Which brings us, eventually, to the point.
I’ve noticed with screenplays that format is nowhere near as prescriptive as various gurus, teachers and general know-it-alls would have you believe. Like the fancy dress costumes, as long as your script looks roughly like a script, no one cares.
Except people who’ve been on these courses which tell you otherwise.
You know, the people who don’t actually make a living in film or TV and have no ability or experience. Those type of people.
There’s a great analogy for sticking to standard screenplay format about wearing a suit to an interview. You know the one: presenting your script properly is the equivalent of presenting yourself properly – and this is true. It’s always nice to read a script which looks the part – but no-one’s actually looking at the colour of your screenplay’s socks or the width of its tie knot.
No one cares as long as it’s vaguely right – the content is what’s important.
However, once again, my anal-ness kicks in and I feel the need to iron out all the little creases. In fact, there are a list of things which really piss me off if I leave them in my screenplay. If I see them in anyone else’s, they merely nark me. However, the more items from the list – the more pissed off I get. There is a tipping point where I spiral off the edge from reading a screenplay fairly, to looking for all its faults. Once I’ve crossed that line, I’m less likely to give it a fair chance.
I don’t want that happening when my script is read by anyone else, so I go out of my way to avoid it. These aren’t gospel rules and possibly no one else in the world except me cares about them, but I thought I’d post them anyway:
Single word on the next action line.
You know, when you have a line of action description and the last word spreads onto the next line? I hate this, it looks messy. I will spend literally minutes staring at a line to try and stop this happening. There is always a word or two you can delete which will condense it. Every time I see this, I think the writer’s just lazy and isn’t trying hard enough.
Although, possibly, they just have more of a life than me.
To me this is an exercise is being concise. Part of the art of screenplay writing is to say as much as possible with the least amount of words.
Unlike this post, which is kind of the other way around.
(CONT’D) after character names.
Weird one this – some people think it’s gone out of fashion, some people think it’s essential. Personally I find it a complete waste of time and ink. It just clutters up the page without adding any useful information.
‘Oh, the same person is still speaking, are they? I thought there were two people in the room with the same name.’
Someone once told me at a table read that the actors were struggling because I didn’t use (CONT’D) on every bit of dialogue. Possibly that’s true at a table read where no one had learnt the script – but it’s not going to be true by the time you get to production and personally I think the solution is just to hire cleverer actors rather than clutter up my beautiful script with pointless contractions.
More than four lines of action in one block.
I firmly believe this is just a guideline rather than a definite be all and end all – who the fuck decided on four? Why not three or five? Will someone really bin your script because it has a …. gasp … five line block of action?
Of course not.
It’s a guideline to stop you filling the page with a single block of action. Every time I see big blocks of text, my mind just slides to he last word and carries on.
But … once you know some people might be counting, more than four lines just looks weird. Especially when the fifth line just has one word. You lazy bastard! ONE WORD? Sort it out!
Starting each block of action with the same word.
John opens the door.
John combs his hair.
John punches the old woman in the face.
Enough about John already I’m sick to fucking death of hearing about his age-biased violence. I think it looks really weird when every action line starts with the same word. It’s like a list of bullet points. This is a relatively new one for me, one I didn’t realise I was doing it until Danny pointed it out on his blog. Now it drives me mad and I avoid it at all costs.
Thanks Danny, ’cause I really needed another thing to be obsessive about.
Which and that.
You just don’t need these words.
Except when you do.
But generally, they just take up space. Apart from this blog, which I tend not to spend too much time editing, I look carefully at every instance of ‘which’ or ‘that’ to see if I really need them. Most of the time they can be removed without anyone noticing.
So I do.
Not all capitals, obviously – it would be a pretty odd world without them; but I hate SEEING every OTHER word CAPITALISED. It MAKES me FEEL like I’M stuck IN a ROOM with BRIAN Blessed.
Again, this is a matter of taste, but it doesn’t half piss me off to see every ACTOR and every SOUND and every PROP in capitals. It’s just fucking annoying to read. Capital letters make me mentally raise my voice, which inexplicably makes my eyebrows raise. A line full of capitals gives me a very tired forehead – it’s not fun.
Okay, so maybe a production company might insist on this because it makes it easier for a certain department or an actor who can’t read his character’s name unless it’s in capitalised; but unless someone specifically asks me to do it – I won’t. I hate the way it looks.
Double space after a full stop.
Taste again. I think there was a reason for this when type was handset – but it’s no longer valid. Some people may prefer the way it looks or consider it proper English or something; but for me it’s just irritating. It wastes space and when they all line up it looks like someone’s spilt Tippex on the page. Maybe some people think it looks neater – I don’t know. It just reminds me of when I used to work in a cinema and people would leave a seat between them and the next couple. The end result being an auditorium which looks full but actually has a third of its seats effectively rendered useless.
Interestingly, Germans don’t do this. A coachload of Germans will fill up the auditorium from front to back (or back to front). Very orderly and civilised race the Germans.
Having the same word directly underneath itself.
I don’t know how to explain that properly – it’s when you’re writing action or dialogue and the same word (or group of words) reoccurs directly underneath the last occurrence. It just looks wrong and I try to avoid it – hard to do on a blog where the width of the published post is different to the draft version; but inexcusable in a screenplay. I think my bug bear with this is my eyes slide off the top line onto the second line and everything stops making sense.
And other shit.
Which covers the things I can’t remember right now.
Like I say, none of these things seem to be standard format – but they all make a script look messy. I work hard not to have them in my scripts and am a little disappointed when I see them in others’.
So there you go, a post about me dressing up as Captain Kirk which turned into a rant about spaces after full stops. It’s like an episode of The Simpsons, only with less pictures and nowhere near as funny.
The party was great by the way, and our costumes went down well. I’m quite proud of Mandy’s tricorder – okay, so it’s not an amazingly accurate reproduction; but it looks okay from a distance and it cost nothing but an afternoon to make:
I even put a photo of our baby scan on the screen so it looks like it’s ‘scanning’ Mandy’s bump. I thought that was a nice touch.
For any Trekkies reading this – yes I know the buttons, the lights, the moiré disc, the dimensions and the general construction are completely wrong; and yes I know how pissed off that will make you … but that’s exactly my argument about scripts. It’s okay for me not to care about Tricorder accuracy because I’m not a massive fan – it’s not okay for me to ignore the minor details of script presentation because that’s what I do.
Okay, rant over. Feel free to ignore, add to or dispute anything you want.