Monday, September 20, 2010

The Writing Week (Vol. 3) part 142 - How to Use Slugg Lines

I really can't tell you how great it feels to be working on something new after so much time dedicated to my post-Apocalyptic spec. Not that I disliked working on that script - in fact, the complete opposite is true. I loved writing (and re-writing) it. After a while, though, my "new script" muscles were beginning to atrophy, so a change to an unexplored project was a welcome one. 

While I was writing this week (almost to page 50 of an intended 90), I got to thinking a lot about slugg lines and the way that they're best utilized. I'm pretty content with the way I handle them, but considering this blog is primarily intended to share our experiences and discoveries with other aspiring writers, I figured it couldn't hurt to talk about them a bit this week. After all, we all use them every day in our writing, and I certainly have a number of them in my week's pages, so why not.

To recap quickly in case you're not 100% sure what I'm talking about, the slugg line is the heading that appears before each scene, usually formatted like this:  INT. HOSPITAL ROOM -- DAY (or something very similar). The "INT." or "EXT." offer the environment (i.e. inside or outside). "HOSPITAL ROOM" is the specific location, with "DAY" being the time of day the scene is set. It's generally understood that the time of day be written either as day or night, with few exceptions leaning either way between or outside those general markers (afternoon, morning, evening). You can also use "LATER" or "MOMENTS LATER" or "CONTINUOUS" in place of day or night. For more on Continuous, check out this earlier post.

The reason that Day and Night are the most typical time indicators is that, for the most part, there are other people who will go through your script and prep it for production, a task that involves determining the shooting schedule. Unless it is absolutely imperative that a particular scene occur in the wee hours of the morning or at sundown, unnecessarily adding anything other than day or night makes planning the shooting schedule that much more difficult. The last thing you want to do as a new (or any) writer is make other people's jobs more difficult. Sticking with those two should not hinder your writing in most cases. 

As for Later, Moments Later, and Continuous, these are a bit different. In theory, all action is "continuous" (the movie doesn't just stop between scenes), so you do not need to use it all the time. If things are happening at the same time, you can do it - or "SIMULTANEOUS" if you want. For Later and Moments Later, I like to use them as such: both are used to denote a scene that takes place on the same day as the previous one. For example, something occurs during the day, and the following scene is still during the day, only a bit later on, I would use Later. If it is within the same 24 hours but now it's dark out, go with Night. If something happens during the day, and the following scene is a continuation of it that we have jumped to (perhaps set up to fifteen minutes later) but the locale, characters, and beat are the same, instead of writing in JUMP CUT TO, I go with Moments Later. There can even be a change of location here. If action is the next day (i.e. two "day" scenes back to back with 24 hours between them), I would use Day again in the slugg line, but specify "The next day" at the beginning of the description/action.

Your last option - and one that I like a lot - is to use Secondary Headings, especially in cases where action continues in the same location. Basically, these are modified slugg lines, which contain neither the interior/exterior designation, nor information about the time of day. You don't have to bog down the page with extra text to describe a scene set in a house, for example, in which the characters go from room to room. Rather than constantly typing INT. BILL'S HOUSE, [SPECIFIC] ROOM -- CONTINUOUS for each subsequent room, start with an overview - INT. BILL'S HOUSE -- DAY - and then follow the characters into the... DINING ROOM and then into the... LIVING ROOM and so on and so forth. "DINING ROOM" stands alone on the slugg line, followed by the action or dialogue, and then LIVING ROOM taking us into the next chunk. It reads quicker and looks cleaner. Some writers even use secondary headings almost exclusively. I like them quite a bit myself.

Remember, slugg lines are malleable. They involve words that you still have to type out, and therefore, you can change them as need be. However, there's also an accepted format to them, which you would do well to work within for the most part.