Friday, July 12, 2013

Stop trying to be so fancy

Lilly consults on all my notes.
 In order to encourage donations to my Strut Your Mutt campaign, I have offered to do screenplay notes. I don't do notes very often but I get asked a lot, so I figured that was worth something. I was blown away by the response. Originally I was just hoping to raise $300, but when I got a few donations I thought I'd be really ambitious and raise my goal to $800. As of this posting I have raised $1,420 for Angel City Pit Bulls. This will help save homeless dogs in Los Angeles and prevent more pitties from being euthanized in local shelters, something that is very near to my heart.

The offer is posted on Done Deal Pro, but the basics are, if you donate $25 I will read your first 10 pages and give you notes. If you donate $50 I will do the entire script. I will not sugar coat the notes - just read honestly and tell you what I think. I always provide suggestions for ways to approach the problem. So far people tell me the notes have been helpful, which pleases me.

Anyway, on days I haven't been immersed in a rewrite, I've started my morning by opening one of these donation scripts and going to town. There are a few things I've found myself writing over and over that I don't always see listed as common problems with newer writers, so I thought it might be helpful to post a few of them here.

I'll start with one common issue I've been seeing - too much love of words.

I have a saying: "Clarity Over Cleverness" or COC, if you will.

We all love words. As writers, it's sort of our job to be in love with our own voices, and we thrill when we put clever lines together. We're constantly told that we need to have a clear voice and style and a way to stand out in the reader's mind.

And some people take that a little too far.

Look, I'm the last person to tell you not to embrace your own voice. I can't shut mine the fuck up. But you have to remember that your personal style - all that poetic shit you love so much rolling around in your brain - is not as important as being understood.

Here's an example I made up as sort of a combination of the stuff I've been seeing:

Rebecca runs for the door, hoping to escape unscathed. Bullets fly like darts, searching for Rebecca as she steps into the sun. She catches the light against her hands - covered in red, flowing rivulets down her arm.

So, she was shot, right? Was she shot? She was shot, and then she touched the bullet wound, and now she's got blood on her hands? Or was she shot in the hand? Or did she touch someone else and now she has their blood on her hands? Or did she stumble on a pile of melting red crayons? Is she just standing next to a stained glass window? WHAT THE FUCK HAPPENED TO REBECCA?

It's nice that you want to be poetic, but we ain't got that kind of time. This is not a novel, where you can weave beautiful words in and out at your leisure, and it's not a poem, where the words are the point. It's a screenplay, and a screenplay's FIRST job is to tell a story in a way that everyone who reads it understands what they're seeing. Because everyone who reads it is going to then have to go off and do their job to make it happen. If they don't understand what they're reading, they're not going to appreciate your beautiful words.

Tell the story in a way that makes sense. Be poetic if there's room. Use clever words if they come naturally into  play. Talk about Rebecca's flowing blood rivulets after you've explained that she was shot. You can do that poetically too, if you want:

A bullet SLAMS into Rebecca's chest. She grabs the wound with her hands - looks at them. Blood, flowing rivulets down her arms.

Let people be impressed with your story first, words second. Clarity Over Cleverness.