SUDDENLY, Phill began realising he’s a bit anal

Every now and then I read scripts for people; partly as a favour, partly because I’m interested in their career and partly to further my own knowledge and understanding. Unfortunately I frequently find myself mentally editing people’s work to remove passive voice and the blindingly obvious, so:

“We hear footsteps echoing along the corridor.”

becomes:

“Footsteps echo along the corridor.”

Because it’s mind-numbingly obvious we can hear something which echoes; and the ‘-ing’ just slips out of my mind as something which is happening in the background. It’s not important, it’s something which is ongoing. Anything which happens is important, anything which is happening probably isn’t.

“SUDDENLY the PHONE begins to RING!”

becomes:

“The phone rings.”

Because capitals all over the place make me feel like I’m being shouted at, phones rarely ring gradually (unless you’ve got a ringtone which starts quietly and increases in volume – which hardly seems worth highlighting in a script) and ‘begins’ makes me think it starts and immediately stops.

and:

“Tell your dad that you can stay here.”

becomes:

“Tell your dad you can stay here.”

Because THAT is generally just a waste of ink.

Do any of these things affect the story, characterisation or plotting?

No.

Do any of them affect how enjoyable the script is to read?

Well, yes. Or at least they do to me. I know it’s horribly anal, but I just can’t get past the word ‘that’ in any sentence without pausing to wonder if it’s necessary. I tend to use it in blog posts more than I should because I rarely edit these things, but in a script I try to find and eliminate all of them. So when I’m reading anyone else’s work, if I find a ‘that’ I stop and look critically at the sentence; which means, I’m no longer engaged with or enjoying the story. The same is true with passive voice – any ‘-ing’ verb warrants a pause for thought: is there a better way of saying that?

“Suddenly the bomb exploded!”

No shit.

The stupid thing about all these ‘rules’ is that more than fifty percent* of working writers in the UK have never heard of them. Or at least, couldn’t care less. A similar or greater number of producers and directors feel the same. The truth is that loads of films and TV scripts get produced regardless of passive voice, transitions, ‘we sees’, ‘we hears’ and ‘the camera zooms in, tracks left and disappears up its own arse’. On the surface all this worrying about bits of format and presentation doesn’t seem to matter.

Except, how do you know which camp the person reading your script falls into? Are they anal or not? Do they know ‘the rules’ or do they just read the story?

The way I look at it is: the people who know and care about ‘the rules’ will be drawn out of the story if you break them; the ones who don’t know about ‘the rules’, won’t care if you stick to them or not. So to me it makes sense to try and make my scripts as inoffensive as possible – just in case.

Now if I could just shut off that anal part of my brain when I’m reading, I’d be a happy man. Last night I went to bed with a book and a pencil – I spent half the night crossing out superfluous words and scribbling amendments into the margins.

There’s no help for me – save yourselves.

* Genuine made up statistic.

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Categories: My Way, Random Witterings, Sad Bastard | 19 Comments

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19 thoughts on “SUDDENLY, Phill began realising he’s a bit anal

  1. I care! 20 years of magazine publishing mean that (a) I know exactly what you mean; and (b) I do it too.

    And so does my wife (15 years magazine editor).

    We edit each others work ruthlessly.

    With great rapidity the red phone started ringing once more…

  2. Nice. Do you lie in bed together sniggering at the bad syntax in each other’s books?

    Hmm … other’s, others’ others?

  3. We never snigger … way past that stage. Everyone makes mistakes, everyone needs an editor. Luckily we each have one that doesn’t charge (ooh err, missus).

    We sigh heavily at incorrectly apostrophied signs.

  4. I agree with you on “we see” and “we hear,” although I do tend to cap any and all sounds, and I can write “suddenly” into an A/D line. It feels very wonky and awkward to write without it at times. I tend to write as if I am recounting a great story, and doing it as succinctly as possible.

    In the States, they not only capitalise words, but underline them and throw in a few fucks as well.

    John turns the key and . . .

    THE CAR FUCKING EXPLODES!!!

    That, to me, is irritating as all hell. However, my big pet peeve is the ellipsis. It’s so overused and misused. I can’t stand them anymore.

  5. I cover my inability to punctuate with dashes.

    Colon? Semi-colon? Comma? Ellipsis?

    Fuck it, use a dash – no one will notice.

  6. Yes… but it is really messy looking… and ugly on the page, plus… it makes no grammatical sense. It’s like having three question marks instead of one. It’s really grating to read. Not to mention, a true ellipsis should have a space before . . . and . . . after and if closing a sentence it should have four points of punctuation with no spaces preceeding. . . .

    I think those that use ellipsises (siq?) are just copying what they see in other screenplays with no regard for proper punctuation or grammar. And it’s a total script pandemic.

    But then we all have our pet peeves.

  7. 4?

    ARGH!!!!

  8. Ooh, I hate four dots. I know it’s right, but it looks so wrong. Not as much, mind you, as I hate fifty of the fuckers mid sentence………………………..grrr.

  9. Anyway that wasn’t a dash you used up there, it was a HYPHEN goddammit. Then, of course, you can have an en-dash or an em-dash. But nobody uses em-dashes properly any more–I mean, it’s something I will not up put with.

    But truth is, you guys have it easy: I have been paid to edit books to put them into readable English. Books written by people from Portugal (who used online translators for complete sections), from Iraq (interesting stuff but aaaaargh) and even someone who supposedly had English as their first language but was so ignorant they used the Word Thesaurus to replace words with no regard for appropriate meaning.

    And since I was being paid I had no choice but to finish them. It was pure torture.

  10. I feel your pain.

    I don’t: understand- the; punctuation_ but …

  11. Isn’t grammar fun?

    . . . Hello?

  12. Grr….

  13. One of my pet script peeves is people bizarrely using apostrophes to ’emphasise’ a word. Which just comes across as ‘sarcastic’.

    I also hurl toys from t’pram when people repeat the slugline in the first action line.

    INT. DAY CARE WARD – DAY

    Keith enters the day care ward. Looks around.

    How about if he just enters? We know it’s a barn.

  14. Arf. Made an editing error there. That last sentence should’ve been ‘We know it’s a day care ward’. Started off using a barn, see. But ‘day care ward’ is longer.

  15. Oh, I thought you were being satirical about the state of care on the NHS.

  16. How could I have missed a conversation thread as anal as this? A missed opportunity there to wow you with my incredibly insightful points on grammar *sigh*

  17. It’s never too late, Lucy. I’m still reading.

  18. I’m not.

    …damn.

  19. Thank you, it was interesting. Have more to these posts.

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