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.”
“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!”
“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.
“Tell your dad that you can stay here.”
“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?
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!”
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.