One of my pet hates when reading a script is a scene which ends on a revelatory piece of dialogue … without telling me how the characters react.
DARTH VADER Luke, I am your father. INT. MILLENNUM FALCON - DAY Princess Leia soaps herself up for ...
No, wait! What? How did Luke react to that? Was he shocked? Angry? Surprised? Did he already know? I know how I’d react, but I’ve no idea how the character does. The only time that’s maybe acceptable is when you’re not supposed to see the character’s reaction because it’ll be revealed the next time we see them.
Even then, I’d rather be told we’re not going to see the character’s reaction.
Darth Vader smirks at Luke's unseen reaction ...
Just so I don’t hurl the script across the room in annoyance.
Actually, that doesn’t make sense, does it?
Darth Vader wheezes at Luke's unseen reaction ...
Yes, that’s better. Now I know I’m not supposed to know what he knows.
Even a piece of dialogue doesn’t always help me understand:
DARTH VADER Luke, I am your father. LUKE No. INT. MILLENNUM FALCON - DAY Princess Leia adjusts her tiny scraps of underwear as she ...
Stop, stop, stop! What does ‘No.’ mean? Is it horror? A statement of fact? Revulsion? Sarcasm? “No, go on! You? Really? Old leather stinky pants?”
The problem is, apart from annoying me, if you don’t explain how the character is feeling then you risk losing the reader. Or at least unintentionally leading them down the wrong path. Worse than that, if you’re not crystal clear then you might be leaving it up to the actor to decide. And that will never do. Actors have odd ideas and should never be encouraged to contribute to the proceedings.
“Ah, but it should be clear from the context of the text.”
It’s not. You’re not that good a writer. Even if you are, why take that risk?
For the sake of clarity (and the brad-shaped dents in my office wall) please just jot down a line explaining how the character is (and, by extension, I’m) supposed to feel.
DARTH VADER Luke, I am your father. LUKE No! Luke stumbles back in shock - horrified by the information which, deep down, he already suspected. INT. MILLENNUM FALCON - DAY Princess Leia applies lubricant to the flaps of the Falcon's hyperdrive motivator.
A script should describe what I will see on screen. I will be able to see the character’s facial expressions and divine how they’re feeling. Perhaps not what they’re thinking, but certainly the emotion they’re emoting.
Unless they’re wearing a mask. Like Darth Vader. Hmm … I guess he’s got pretty expressive shoulders.
Please, just tell me how to feel.