Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Screenplay too long?: What to cut...

Recently, I saw a link that said “How to Make Your Screenplay Better.” And then I realized, that that is really the root of all our problems of screenwriters. We always have to strive to make our work better. I also realized that that is really what this blog is about. Cataloguing all the ways that works for us, so these tricks and tools get indoctrinated in our heads, and maybe sharing it with whoever reads this.

So I asked myself that question, and the first thing that popped into my head – the one piece of advice that has stuck with me possibly more than any other – is to get into your scenes as late as possible and get out as early as possible.

We always ask ourselves this question. With literally every scene. Is that “Hello, how are you?” really necessary? No…probably not. And if you cut it, it might help solve some pacing or page count problems or any number of other issues you might be faced with.

Here are our top 5 pieces of extraneous dialogue:

1) Hi. – we don’t need to see our characters greet each other. If you do this a lot, that could be five or ten pages of purely useless dialogue. Also, see number 2.

2) Any response to hi. See number three.

3) Salutations in general – Yes, this basically got three spots because it is the most frequent culprit. There are some really interesting ways to incorporate salutations, but they must be used sparingly. (when salutations are acceptable…future post?)

4) Opening with a question – Scan your work for scenes that open with question, and see if you could achieve the same effect by opening with the response. Or even the response to that response. But be careful not to rephrase the question in the response, it usually comes off as sloppy. “What do you mean rephrasing the question in the response comes off as sloppy, John! I want a divorce!” SEE!!! Open with the demand for a divorce and work backwards, and I’m hooked.

5) Any aside. At all. Especially to end a scene. Especially if the scene ends on a joke. Don’t deflate your punch by having one character comment on it before you cut away. No matter how clever that comment is…you want to get out of every scene as quickly as possible, and on a high note.

This kind of cutting is what a lot of people refer to ‘cutting the fat’ in a script. Often, these mistakes come in early drafts, but they also stick around far too long after that.


Jonathan K said...

I'll have to get my writing partner to read this. Though I am curious how you handle characters meeting each other for the first time.

Scripted Wit said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Scripted Wit said...

Check your favorite scripts, I bet that this issue is always massaged really well.

Make the introductions happen in an interesting situation, or during an argument. Bury them or make them show something about your characters.

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