Into the aether

‘Tis over, ’tis done, ’tis sent.

Oh fuck, what if they don’t like it? What if it’s a pile of shit? What if … oh look, shiny things.

Luckily my panic induced feelings of inferiority are easily diverted by … oh, a wall. Wow, it’s really flat.

I read back through the script this morning, resisting the urge to change every other word for the moment, just trying to get a feel for the story – does it make sense? Do you get the right impressions at the right places? Do the characters react properly? Are there any bits when the rest of the movie seems easily avoidable – you know, can they just go home at any point?

I almost missed the big reveal at the end, primarily because none of the characters reacted to it. Oops. There’s a spooky sequence near the end which is just too short and nothing makes things spooky like dragging it out. Ratchet up the tension, drag it out as long as possible:

“They search the house. It’s dark.”

Doesn’t quite cut it. It’s no where near as tense as reading a couple of pages of creaks, doors being opened, shadows looming at them … and all that shit.

A nice walk along the seafront this afternoon to digest and back into it this evening.

First thing to go – all the ‘ands’.

I’m not quite sure where this has come from, maybe from Russell T Davies’ book, can’t remember him saying it, but maybe it’s in the way he writes … anyway, I’ve somehow come to the conclusion ‘and’ is evil and has to be purged. Not in dialogue, obviously, but in lists of actions:

“Mike opens the fridge, grabs some milk and closes the door.”

Seems better to me (this week) as:

“Mike opens the fridge, grabs some milk, closes the door.”

It just sounds more immediate, more dynamic.

Of course the fridge then turns into a killer robot, massacres Mike, his kittens … etc. Pretty lame bit of action otherwise. Oh, he gets milk out of the fridge, does he? How interesting. Marvel at how storing milk in a fridge, then retrieving it, advances the plot and defines character. Why would you want to dynamically get milk from the fridge?

Anyway, back at the point.

Next thing to go: ‘but’.

“Mike kicks the door, but it’s locked.”

Yuck.

“Mike kicks the door … it’s locked.”

Better. Oh no! How’s Mike going to get his milk out of the fridge now? Who locks a fucking fridge? Oh, it’s a different door – that’s alright then.

Next up: all the ‘ings’.

Where do they fucking come from? I don’t write ‘ings’ I hate them … but there they are, all over the fucking shop. And the script. In sentences when they shouldn’t be:

Sleeping, running, walking, BORING!

Gone.

More swear words, translate some into Polish … pierdolic, this is looking better already.

What’s left? Dialogue, trim it down, hack out the first few words of every sentence, get rid of most of the words.

Yes, like it!

Add some more spooky words, everything’s blood-stained or gore-encrusted at the moment. Some chunks of brain, blood-matted hair, fragments of skull … make some bits slick with blood … stuff like that. Where’s that thesaurus?

Bits have been cut, bits have been added, bits have been shortened, bits have been lengthened … it’s 84 pages, that’s close enough. Save it, back it up, PDF the motherfucker and BOOM … it’s on its way.

What’s on telly?

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Categories: My Way, Random Witterings | 37 Comments

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37 thoughts on “Into the aether

  1. Yeah, I like paring action lines down to the bare minimum. It’s actually fun, making it speed along more effortlessly. Ands, buts and ings must all be destroyed.

    Mike is walking along the dark corridor.

    is the Devil’s work compared to:

    Mike walks along the dark corridor.

    Hell, if you’ve already got ‘corridor’ in the slugline, make it ‘Mike walks along.’ Let’s go crazy.

    And then Phill Barron kills Mike with Tippex.

  2. Walks? Walks?

    Advances, ambles, ambulates, canters, hoofs it, legs it, lumbers, marches, meanders, paces, pads, parades, patrols, plods, prances, races, roams, roves, runs, saunters, shambles, shuffles, slogs, stalks, strides, strolls, struts, stamps, stomps, toddles, traipses, tramps, traverses, treads, treks, troops, trudges, wanders, wends …

    But no, Mike WALKS.

    Christ this fucker’s dull, him, his bloody milk storing habits and his door kicking.

  3. WTF, it’s snowing?

    For me, it’s “as,” — Mike darts across the street *as* the car hurtles his way.

    Fine, in moderation but “as” seems to find itself moving in on every page,

    That being said, I am not a fan of the staccato clipped sentences. I feel the rhythm is all wrong. I like -ing. However I use in ways such as, “Mike darts across the street. Whistling as he goes,” “Donna trips, falling,” “Mike gasps, sweating.” I think in instances like that, it flows better.

  4. Mike’s a walker, okay? It’s part of his character. Yes.

    Oh, and another thing I have to cut loads of from every script is people nodding. Christ, they don’t half do a lot of nodding.

  5. Unless they’re nodding because their head is falling off – just the single downward nod followed by a plummet and spurting crimson. Slumpthud.

  6. I like the whole staccato thing, me, although it’s possible I take it too far. I’ll write this:

    Mike. Darts. Across. The. Street.

    Ho ho ho, just a bit of fun there. But I don’t think I ever use an ing. For me, it’s:

    Donna trips. Falls. Grabs at the bannister –

    Yes, I use those RTD horizontal dashes at the end of especially kinetic action lines. The ones that Phill hates. This makes me love them all the more.

  7. Danny

    Is that snow? Or dandruff?

    One thing a director said to me once: “He saunters into the room. What does that mean? Like a cowboy?” “No,” I said, “he walks into the room”. “Well why didn’t you just write that,” cried the director. No pleasing some people.

  8. RTD’s an ‘ing’ man -makes it very difficult for me to read his scripts because every time I hit an ‘ing’ my brain stops and tries to rewrite it. I’m not sure where this aversion’s come from – I know it’s better not to, but the odd one … who cares?

    It’s one of those RULES I’ve picked up somewhere and it concerns me someone reading my scripts may have the same or even higher level of anal-ness.

    As for the saunters thing … Jesus. “What does that mean?” “It means you should expand your vocabulary, you prick.”

    A mate of mine had the same blank look when he wrote: “The starship zooms past, guns blazing.” … “Zooms? What does that mean?”

    I means fuck off, okay?

  9. Oh, and the whistling, sweating, falling … I only use stuff like that when it’s an action continuously performed alongside something else.

    “Mike dives for cover, sweating.” … Indicates he’s sweating all the time he’s diving for cover.

    “Mike dives for cover, sweats.” … Sounds like he does them one after the other.

    I’m sure you could find a way to describe both without using ‘ings’ but why tie yourself in knots when there’s an easier way?

    Similarly, ‘We see’ is the easiest and quickest way to describe something – just don’t over use it.

    Nodding too, why not use it occasionally? True, no point nodding and saying something affirmative; but sometimes it’s perfectly appropriate for a character to nod instead of speak.

  10. Bingethink

    Re: Walks or saunters?

    I’m as unashamed of “walks” as you are of “we see”. Sometimes, you just walk. Plus, it’s five letters. I might consider replacing it with “paces” or “flies” but “perambulates” is about seven letters too long and “traverses” or “wends” smacks of trying too hard.

    Re: Sweat.

    I think there’s a time when we all reach for rules or guidelines that in context make no damned sense. “He’s sweating all the time he’s diving for cover”?? I’d like to see you film that!

    I know scripts are about action, not description, but “Mike, sweaty” beats “Mike sweating” or “Mike sweats” every time for me.

  11. I guess you have to find your voice and commit to it.

    And as per what Jason said, I have to admit I too have the nodding disease, but I also have something far worse; The smiling disease. He nods. She smiles. She smiles weakly. Tensely. Tootlessly. Whatever. But she keeps effin smiling. Say something ya damn bitch.

  12. Same thing though, sometimes a smile is better than a long complicated speech. I think the problem comes when you add smiles to speech … but even then …

    Fuck it, do whatever you want as long as the story makes sense.

  13. Just so I’m clear . . . if you read this sentence, Phil, you’d bump?

    >> Jack boots the brakes! Skidding, they swerve across lanes. Tires spewing smoke.

    Because if so you lot would hate my A/D.

  14. I’d bump? What the hell does that mean? Is that how you crazy kids talk these days?

    I understand the sentence, and can even deduce Jack’s in America from the spelling of tyres …

    Um … what’s the actual question? And is A/D Assistant Director?

  15. God, sorry. I’ve been writing in yank for too long. Blame my erstwhile writing partner.

    Bump, meaning . . . you’d be thrown. You’d, as you say, stop and mentally rewrite it. And A/D is Action/Description. In my circle anyways?

  16. Ah right, yes – sort of.

    Jack boots the brakes! – fine, although I’d wonder about the excalmation mark.

    Skidding, they swerve across the lanes. – fine.

    Tires spewing smoke. – I’d struggle with that. First off I’d get pissed off about tires/tyres; then, I’d wonder where the rest of the sentence is. Tyres spewing smoke … what? That’s a passive of description of something which is happening incidentally, like the skidding in the last sentence – the purpose of that sentence was the swerve across the lanes, the skidding is the background action. In this sentence, there’s nothing else going on.

    You could combine them: Skidding, tyres spewing smoke, they swerve across the lanes.

    So yes, I would bump.

    Gosh, I feel all ‘with it’.

    The most important lesson here though is never, ever listen to a word I say – do it the way you think’s best.

  17. Bingethink

    I think that description is great – simple, clear, visual, shot-by-shot.

    Jack boots the brakes – that’s on him.

    Skidding, they swerve across lanes – that’s the car in position on the road.

    Tyres spewing smoke – that’s much closer on the car. Ii get a

    Writing that in an action sequence tells me you have a really clear idea of what’s happening onscreen.

  18. Bingethink

    I get a SQUEAL from those tyres, is what I was trying to write above.

  19. And there you go, proving everyone has a different opinion and you should listen to no one.

  20. Darren

    I prefer to lose the ‘…ing’ (bearing in mind that I have very limited experience) because the result seems to be much more immediate.

    1) Darren writes

    2) Darren is writing

    Although the second one (Present Continuous) is happening now… the first (presumably just the Present) is even more immediate.

    And yeah, I also do combos occasionally… whatever feels right at the time.

    1) Darren writes, whistling tunelessly.

    As a continuous development of the Present.

    P.S. I can whistle in tune.

  21. And he has a lovely collection of bass guitars.

  22. I have to go through my scripts and cut out all the “justs”. Everyone “just” does this and “just” makes it. Congrats on getting it off.

  23. Darren

    One thing I have noticed I’m doing, is adding:

    He/she smiles/laughs

    quite a lot, to break up the dialogue. I’m never sure if this kind of thing should be left to the actors. If I have something specific:

    He/she chokes, spitting orange juice

    I suppose that makes more sense and is more creative… but is it OK to have the simple ‘smiles/laughs’ too?

  24. Darren

    Bass guitars… yes, one for every day of the week with a rest at the weekends! 🙂

    Have a hankering for a Rickenbacker 4001 stereo (à la early Geddy) to add to the collection. Not to play, just to ogle…

  25. My rule of thumb (which will be different to everyone else’) is a simple question: if I took that action out, would it still make sense?

    So a smile – is it there because it’s replacing a line of dialogue or because it’s vital you know the person is happy at that moment? (Although a smile is a bit ambiguous – is it a grin, a smirk, a leer?) Or is it there because you think that’s what you’d like the actor to do at that point?

    If it’s the former, leave it. If it’s the latter, get rid.

    Another example: in the script I just wrote, it’s vital that two characters shake hands because it’s part of the plot and provides a clue to the mystery which comes back right at the end. That action HAS to be there.

    Whether the other characters shake hands, high five, air kiss or knock knuckles is irrelevant to the story. Good actors will pick an action they think best suits their character. Bad actors will stand there like fucking lemons.

    So, yeah, just think about why you’ve put that action, indeed any action, in the script. If it’s not vital, bin it.

    Unless you don’t want to.

  26. Darren

    OK, that makes sense.

    Although the ‘unless you don’t want to’ is a cop out. 😉

  27. Yes, I am a dirty cop out.

  28. I used the phrase “dirty cop out” in a review which I sent off only today. How queer (he smiled.)

  29. I demand to see proof of sending and the time – if I find out you’ve stolen that phrase from me – for ’tis obvious I invented it out of my own face this very morn … then forgot to post it until this evening – then I shall see you on the hustings, sir.

    Once I find out what that means.

  30. It’s like a raised boxing platform, surrounded by sharp spikes.

    The combatants (known as hustlers) use halberds or glaive-guisarmes an an attempt to open a vein or artery in their opponent, or to knock them onto the spikes.

    It was outlawed in 1835, at the same time as bear-baiting.

  31. in. in an attempt.

    Because otherwise the above would make no fucking sense.

  32. Learn something new everyday.

  33. Yes. Today we’ve learnt Piers has a search engine and fingers.

  34. I miss Mike. Wonder what he’s doing these days.

    Mike squats in an alley, shivering. A torn piece of cardboard with ‘Will exemplify for food’ lays next to him.

  35. …Of course that should have read…

    I miss Mike. Wonder what he’s doing these days.

    Mike squats in an alley, shivering. A torn piece of cardboard with ‘Will exemplify for food’ written across it in felt tip lies next to him.

  36. Sadly, Mike is dead.

    It’s tragic really – he survived all the nasty horror stuff: monsters, escaped mental patients, evil doctors, ghosts, demons, ghouls and fluffy kittens … Mike lived right through it all.

    The next day, at home he was getting ready for work (bastards wouldn’t give him the day off for his girlfriend’s funeral, after she had her head ripped off, because she wasn’t a blood relative). He starts cleaning his ears, gets distracted, his mum opens the bathroom door and SQUELCH!

    The door hits the cotton bud, forces it through his ear drum and into his brain. Poor sap died instantly.

    His mother, crazy with grief and guilt, ate his pet goldfish raw and strangled his grandfather with a ludicrously strong strand of linguine before bashing her own brains out with a claw hammer.

    Still, it’s how he would have wanted to go.

  37. Pingback: The Jobbing Scriptwriter

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