Here is something that trips me up time and time again, and I’ve seen even the most seasoned screenwriters falls for it. So I thought I would include it in this bonus post about how to write Hollywood-style action lines in your screenplay.
This tip can be summed up in one word:
What I mean is, you should always be trying to REMOVE UNNECESSARY WORDS.
Do you have a screenwriting bible?
It contains everything I’ve ever leant about screenwriting in bullet point form. Only I can understand it, which is fine because it’s only for my use. But in it, I’ve written down the words I should try to avoid at all costs.
And now I’m sharing them with you.
So here they are:
Please note: if you read a lot of produced screenplays written by professional screenwriters, you will probably see these words being used over and over again. The difference between them and you?
They got paid already.
Another point worth mentioning is: don’t go overboard. If you include one “but” in a 110 page script, chances are it won’t make any difference. Also, if you edit your action lines down too much, they may not make sense. Removing every “a” or “the” will confuse the reader. Sometimes you might even want to deliberately break the rules to make more of an impact on the reader.
So use common sense.
But before you start marketing your script, a simple search for these words will allow you to edit them out of existence and strengthen your action lines. And that might be enough to tip the scales in your favour.
Now if only I’d used this tip on my last script…
I feel like I must disagree with you on a couple points; yet, also make clear that my way might be no more right than your way (and vice versa.)
First, I don’t believe in the concept of avoiding anything “at all costs.” I think anything can be used in moderation, whatever that means for the situation. For example, if at one important point toward the end of a screenplay, someone wanted to bold, italic and underline a single word, I say fine, if that’s how exceedingly important you view that single word within the framework of your entire screenplay.
Second, I agree that it’s important to be aware of certain words. However, in the past, I placed too much emphasis on doing what you suggest – editing them out of existence. Let me elaborate (and I’m going to try to do this without an example; I hope it works):
Let’s say you’ve written an action line, with a quality level of “C” (like grades, where A is the best). I think an editing pass where you focus on “eliminating certain words” could raise the quality of that action line from a “C” to a “B.” However, simultaneously, I’m inclined to suggest that something else altogether needs to transpire in order to raise that “C” quality action line to “A” (top notch) quality.
Now, I’m going to be forced to use an example. Let’s say you’ve written:
“Her dress is just plain ravishing.” (Ignoring that this line seems highly lacking, for my example, let’s run with it anyway.)
You can do your editing pass, remove the word “just” and potentially improve the line to:
“Her dress is plain ravishing.”
But, I still hate that line. Maybe it’s better, but the simple removal of one word isn’t going to catapult the writing into the next echelon.
So, what I’m getting at is that a writer on a journey attempting to improve can focus too much time on incremental improvements that fail to improve the writing as dramatically as is necessary. And, I’ve done that in the past.
I’m also tired of the repeated mantra that a “professional” can do something and a novice can not. Granted, there’s truth that a professional will be granted more leeway in a read. However, what if someone’s goal is to enter and win the Nicholl Fellowship? Guess who reads and judges those screenplays? Professional writers.
So, if most of the professional writers are utilizing “we see,” then maybe it might actually help you to properly utilize “we see” too.
In the 2010 Nicholl winning screenplay “Short Term 12” Destin Cretton properly utilized the phrase “we see” on page 50:
“We see her from outside the room, staring at the floor.”
And on page 56:
“Through the small window in the door, we see Grace and Jayden kicking and punching…”
Interesting take on the subject. I completely agree. There will be situations where you need to keep these words in.
Of course, the big exception to this “rule” is the script for “Lethal Weapon”. It has authorial intrusions coming out of its ears. I think that maybe writers like Shane Black get away with things like “we see” is because it suits their particular style.
I, too, am not a great believer in rules. So I would caution everyone to simply bear tips like these in mind rather than taking them to heart as a mantra. Thanks for highlighting something I missed!
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