Saturday, December 09, 2006

The Final Polish

There is a thin line between efficiency and eloquence. An easy-to-read style might not elevate a terrible script into a great one, but a cumbersome read can all but ruin a good story. Many execs don't have (and probably shouldn't have) the skill to see through the rough to find the diamond.

The skills of writing and storytelling are very different. But when you are done with your storytelling, the last polish must hone the language. Nothing can detract from the read; and that includes typos, grammatical mistakes or so much as a wasted word. If your story is brilliant, but your action-description is clunky, then hire a proofreader/ editor. At the very basic level, a proofreader/editor can catch typos and awkward phrasings. At the more advanced level, he/she can suggest rewording that uses active verbs, which more accurately and succinctly convey your intent.

Here are some tips to help with that final polish:

1) Use action verbs instead of adverbs.

He runs fast. She hits him hard.
He bolts. She slams him.
You save words.

2) Use active voice instead of passive voice.

He is hit with the football. He is taken away by Henchman#1.
The football hits him. Henchman#1 takes her away.
We lose up to 33% of the words.

3) Kill your widows.

When there is only a word or two on a line of action description, those words that are there by themselves are called widows. If you tighten up the action description, so that you never start a new line for just 2-3 words, you can tighten your script up to 5 pages.

4) Watch redundancy and redundancy, in general, you always want to find the most efficient way, usually with an action, to convey your intent. Consider these two sentences.

Sally is worried. She loses her smile.

Why not cut the first sentence?

5) Don’t use a lot of words to describe the details of insignificant actions.

Trying to regain his balance, Mike walks wobbly across the room. From Mike’s POV, the walls seem to throb. He stutter-steps, stops, takes a breath, then proceeds to grip the doorknob and manages to open it.
Mike wobbles out the door.
Before you submit your screenplay to producers and managers, make sure its presentation is flawless.

The above article appears courtesy of James P. Mecurio, Articles & Essays Jim’s script doctor and consulting services are highly recommended for both the professional, emerging professional, and beginning writer.


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