Monday, April 04, 2011

The Writing Week (Vol. 4) part 170 - Never Say Hello

I can't say I did a ton of writing this week, unfortunately. I did, however, spend a lot of time working out some more of my protagonist's back story for the medieval spec I'm working on. That will prove itself successful depending on how quickly the rest of the outline comes into being. A strong protagonist will inevitably lead to an organic and plausible story. Onyx helped me hash out some of the details, both by providing actual thoughts and suggestions, as well as just a sounding board to bounce ideas off of. If you don't have someone you can toss ideas around with, find one. It's really proven quite essential.

I also spent a lot of time this week talking to other up and coming filmmakers about their projects. I played host to a friend of a friend who has had work show in festivals, which gave me a great opportunity to talk to someone about making their own films (as opposed to writing a script for someone else to make). The projects I'm writing now do not lend themselves to independent productions as readily as some others would, nor do I think that I have any chance in securing directing rights to my post-Apocalyptic spec. There's just no way, what with the scope and scale of the project. But to speak to people who have and who hope to expand from shorts to features is really fascinating.

The other conversation I had this week reminded me a lot of some advice I got during my thesis crit panel my final semester of college (I probably got it before then, but it was hearing it in the thesis meeting that cemented it in my brain). Onyx and I are part of a group of four guys that meet up periodically (the other two are non-Leaguers) to talk movies and, once every so often, each others' pages. In prep for a meeting last Wednesday, I read one of our buddies' scripts. It's a long draft, but that's how he writes (which is truly awesome for him, since I sometimes worry about even making 90 pages these days). Of course, with that approach to writing, there will inevitably be things to cut. And our friend knows this. But reading it reminded me of that sage advice I got from two professors: "cut every hi, howdy, and hello."

Basically, they mean do not have a character say hello in a script, since that probably means your scene is starting way too early. Consider the following, set in a cemetery after a funeral (in which we watched our protag's wife die):

PROTAG is standing aimlessly by the grave, staring into nothingness. The sky is grey above him. His friend approaches.



How are you doing?

Been better.

Can I do anything?

Not unless you can bring her back.

Friend stands silently, not knowing what he can offer. Finally, he takes note of the impending storm.

At least the rain held off.

OK - so a short example. But hopefully you can see where I'm coming from when I say that we don't need the pleasantries at the beginning. Especially since this scene is likely following the funeral service, it stands to reason that the characters have already said hello to one another. More so, though, we as an audience don't need them to say hello. Start the scene right at the end of it - the friend not knowing what to say to his grieving buddy, and finally, after a long pause, simply says, "At least the rain held off."

This will hopefully be much more powerful. It will get to the meat of your scene that much more quickly, and will spare your reader or producer of having to read the words "hey, how's it going" over and over. 

Of course, this isn't to say that you can never have a character say some variant of "hi" in your screenplay. Sometimes, a hello moment - as during a long-awaited reunion between a father and son - can be quite poignant. But if the hello is not the crucial bit (and I would wager more often than not that it isn't), take a look at every instance of a greeting in your script, and see if you can nix it. You might just be surprised by how much faster your script flows after that.