Exclamation Point, CONTINUOUS, and MOMENTS LATER aren’t enormous problems, but they can provide quite formidable when they join forces in a script. (As point of reference, think of them not as the end-of-the-game boss in a 2-D screen-crawler fighter game circa 1995, but as an end-of-level boss. Once you learn their mannerisms and can time their attacks, you can take them down no problem.)
My worries with exclamation points resurfaced at an NYC Screenwriters Meetup last week. In preparation for the meeting, we had to read a script written by one of the Meetup members, and at the meeting, we all gave feedback. I won’t go into the script here, other than to say that it contained exclamation points! A lot of them! Almost every other line of dialogue had them! YAY!
They got pretty distracting. So, in re-reading my comic book spec this week (and my post-Apocalyptic one last night), I was on the lookout for those dreaded little buggers. I’ll admit, I had more of them in the dialogue than I would have thought. Of course, I tried to rationalize that, these being action scripts, they could allow for a lot of exclamation points. Even I didn’t buy that all the time. I wound up cutting most of them, but it brings up an interesting point. Have you heard of any rules for when to use exclamation points? When do you use them?
Next, I had to tackle CONTINUOUS and the ever meddling MOMENTS LATER. These guys (or gals) can be a real problem. I can’t remember where, but I recently heard someone say that a writer should hardly ever try to use continuous as all action is inherently so, and putting that in the slugg line is redundant. I tend to agree, but the habit I picked up in school of having to include some time after the location for each slugg line is a hard one to break. moments later can serve a purpose, but can almost always be cut just as easily as continuous, I believe. I found I was using those phrases when cutting between multiple scenes all obviously taking place at the same time. My first reaction was to swap them out for SIMULTANEOUS, an egregious error I soon remedied.
The conclusion I came to was that using CONTINUOUS and MOMENTS LATER, just like the dreaded Exclamation Point (!) can be unnecessary and, when done too often, make a script look amateurish. Don’t rely on keywords or punctuation to strike a chord or let the reader know what’s happening. Effective dialogue and concise, descriptive action should do this on its own.