Show. Don’t tell. They tell you this all the time!

Here’s my example, from something of mine.

I looked at his mother. What a pathetic mother she was. Instead of standing up and defending her child against a screeching neighbor, she just sat there holding her Oreo over her glass of milk, not dipping it, frightened like a deer when a car is about to mow it down.

Don’t tell us she’s pathetic. SHOW us that she’s pathetic.

I looked at his mother. [CUT THIS... What a pathetic mother she was.] Instead of standing up and defending her child against a screeching neighbor, she just sat there holding her Oreo over her glass of milk, not dipping it, frightened like a deer when a car is about to mow it down.

So, the readers get to figure out that she’s pathetic. Much more satisfying for them. If they don’t figure it out, it’s your fault.

I looked at his mother. Instead of standing up and defending her child against a screeching neighbor, she just sat there holding her Oreo over her glass of milk, not dipping it, frightened like a deer when a car is about to mow it down.

Do one entire rewrite concentrating only on the Show Don’t Tell problem. Once you start looking, you’ll find it everywhere. Like roaches.

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No One Is More Arrogant Than A Beginner

So sayeth Elizabeth Ashley.

One of my students has gone on to critique scripts. The apple doesn’t fall far… He’s a hell of a writer and gives excellent notes. He sent me this email.

***

I just read one of the worst scripts I have ever encountered. I have a new respect for your suffering.

Let’s see… hm….

1. wrong font… arial all the way
2. dialogue made me want to jab a fork into my eyes
3. how about this: fade up/fade down. Could you hear my shriek?
4. typos
5. naked slug lines… I honestly don’t even think he knows what that means
6. characters just appear in dialogue. I can only assume that they are ghosts since there is no identification on them at all… and this isn’t even a sci fi script
7. interchanging names. What in the hell. If you’re calling him Jeff, why in the hell would you call him Chuckles? That’s annoying and confusing and makes me hate you, dear writer
8. so freaking boring I prayed for a coma
9. spoke to him about getting your and Blake’s books and he said he didn’t need them, that my suggestions were null and void because I’m not a Hollywood producer
10. wants to film in two months, has no money raised and actually called Leonardo Dicaprio’s agent
11. wonders why I refuse to help him at this point

What is wrong with people!?

Again, my respect to you and your reading of material that makes you want to throw yourself into boiling pits of lava.

***

That sounds far, far worse than what I am sent, probably because I require clients to read my book before they send the script. Precisely why I wrote the book, so you can solve problems on your own.

My favorite part, and I have sadly seen this before, is the “You can’t know anything because you’re not in Hollywood.” Well, does one also think, “You can’t write because you’re not in Hollywood.”??? Gosh, I hope not.

What about the idea that ANYbody’s idea that improves your work is a good thing?

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EDGE OF TOMORROW – Tom Cruise & Emily Blunt Can Pick ‘Em!

Go see EDGE OF TOMORROW and read NOTHING about it ahead of time if you can.
I knew nothing of the story whatsoever. Lucky me!

I knew the movie had a good Rotten Tomatoes rating, and that’s all I knew. Well, I knew who was in it.

It is SO fresh, so new, so interesting, so surprising… it will make an ocean of money and the screenwriters are to be congratulated over and over and over because all those who are connected with the film got work, got paid, will profit, etc. All because someone had a VERY COOL IDEA and executed it beautifully.

I’d love to see the first draft or the pitch pages, to see how it worked its way through development.

I have not seen a movie that I enjoyed this much in a long time. Certainly not this year.

It’s been out a while, so it will be leaving the theater soon, but it’s well worth a trip to the theater. Don’t wait for DVD or whatever the hell people wait for these days. Shell out the big bucks and enjoy yourself.

The script is so complex, and so is the movie, but it’s never hard to follow. It must have hurt their heads to write. Hat’s off to them all!

Let me know what you think.

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7 Deadly Sins of Writing

In the first book, there was a list of the Seven Deadly Sins of Screenwriting. 16 of the little pests. I found a few more.

Using Find (Ctrl F or Apple F) in your computer, chase down these words in any form you find them. Losing them or changing them will strengthen your work.

“Find” spaceisspace should find only the word you’re looking for, not every “is” in your screenplay.

is
He is grinning… becomes… He grins.

are
The convicts are singing opera… The convicts sing opera.

the
Nacho hightails it out of the town… Nacho hightails it out of town.

that
Ralph can’t tell that she’s French… Ralph can’t tell she’s French.

then
She laughs. She then looks at Alice… She laughs. She looks at Alice.

walk
Tika walks down the hall… Tika prisses down the hall.

sit
Sitting at the poker table, Doc deals the cards… At the poker table, Doc deals…

stand
The surgeon stands at the operating table and works… At the operating table, the surgeon works…

look
Cheryl is looking at Stephanie… Cheryl studies Stephanie.

just
I am just totally exhausted… I am totally exhausted.

of the
Tom sits by the entrance of the mall… Tom sits by the mall entrance…

begin
The tape begins playing… The tape plays.

start
She starts moving toward the den… She moves toward the den.

really
Betty is really pretty… Betty, hot as a two dollar pistol, struts in.

very
The kids sing a very old song… The kids sing a traditional song. (“very” means the following word is weak…)

turn
She turns and looks at him… She looks at him. (Don’t overdirect the read.)

the phone
Bonnie hangs up the phone… Bonnie hangs up.

some
He pours some coffee… He pours coffee.

still
Kevin, still in paint covered overalls… Kevin, in paint covered overalls.

the room
He puts on a tie before leaving the room… He puts on a tie before leaving.

his face
Nora has an amused expression on her face… Nora is amused.

seems, appears
Tony seems upset… Tony is upset… So, is Tony upset, or just appear to be?

her way
Carol pushes her way inside… Carol pushes inside. (“his, its way” too!)

both
They both stare slackjawed at the comet… They stare slackjawed at the comet.

realize
Jonah realizes Sam is the killer. (A script’s not a novel. Stay out of their minds.)

ly
(as on the end of an adverb!) search for lyspace Also search for ly. and ly, as lyspace will not find an adverb at the end of a sentence, etc. Grade school writers go wild over adverbs. You’re past that now. Use them, um, sparingly. If at all.

Search for and (most of the time) change these words in whatever you write and the results will be tighter and more clear. Okay, so it’s twenty six deadly sins. So sue me.

FYI… “priss” as a verb really threw the person who translated the book into Japanese!

You don’t HAVE to take these words out all the time… duuuh… but you do need to be aware that a lot of the time, you don’t need them.

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“Look” is a Four Letter Word

Working on a screenplay. Thought I’d pass on a little of my own advice, which I took myself. Came in handy.
What are you doing? I hope, lying on a beach with an umbrella drink and someone you like.

Looked at my own list of “7 Deadly Sins of Writing” t’other day. One of them is “look.”

Did a search for “look” through the whole script. AMAZING. So many of them! So many times I tried to over-control the read. I’ve been doing this a long, long time, and still am making bush league mistakes. This writing, it’s not easy.

Changed a lot of “looks” to other things. I was kinda stunned how many there were. Embarrassing that I don’t even follow my own rules. Goes to show, that writing is a lot about “fixing it later,” rewriting.

*

3 lines
Joe won’t leave. She eases him up. Points down the long hall. A dead man walking, he shuffles away. Looking back, so worried.

2 lines
Joe won’t leave. She eases him toward the long hall. A dead man walking, he shuffles away, so worried.

*

Everywhere Joe looks, he sees happy FATHERS with many happy CHILDREN. A FRIENDLY WIFE leaves her FAMILY, goes to Joe.

Joe sees happy FATHERS with many happy CHILDREN. A FRIENDLY WIFE leaves her FAMILY, goes to Joe.

*

Kirschenbaum turns away. Frightened. Joe grabs his face. Looks in his eyes. Stacked Blonde breathes a little faster.

Kirschenbaum turns away, frightened. Joe grabs his face. Stacked Blonde breathes a little faster.

*

Joe looks up to see THREE COPS and the hard ass POLICE CHIEF, (Henry J. Garvin), 60s. Stacked Blonde vanishes like smoke.

THREE COPS and hard ass POLICE CHIEF, (Henry J. Garvin), 60s, arrive. Stacked Blonde vanishes like smoke.

*

And on and on and on and ON!

If you look at “look” in your script, please let me know what you discover…

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6 Pages To A Page

Final Draft has a cool feature that comes in handy from time to time.

Press PRINT
Then (on my version) in a little pulldown bar: Final Draft.
Layout
Pages Per Sheet
6

Print your whole script, 6 pages of script per page of paper. You can still read it, even though it’s pretty small. The whole script on 20 pages!

This is useful when looking at big sweeping arcs through the story. Mark up, say, the B story, with one color… and you can lay out the pages and see your whole story with that one highlighted. You can learn all kinds of things when you see the whole movie laid out on 20 pages. Literally, laid out on the dining room table.

I just did it, which is why it’s on my mind.

Found a lot of stuff that needed massaging, so it’s worth it. Kill a few trees, but make your script better!

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Working on the Sequel!

Well, boys and girls… I have emerged from five days at my house in the woods after working on Your Screenplay STILL Sucks!.

Went with my buddy Kelley Baker, author of The Angry Filmmaker series of guides to filmmaking. Why would I want to spend five days in the woods with an Angry Filmmaker? Because he’s really fun to be around and can cook a mean steak.

A few years back, we did this. Each of us sat at an end of my giant dining room table and worked on our books. This time, the sequels!

I have got 80,000 words, which is the length of the first book. Of course, they’re not the right words, but at least it’s a start. One thing I did this time, which was not a stupid move, was spend a LOT more time with the Table of Contents before I started any writing. The first book, which I dictated into a micro cassette recorder, was a higgledy piggledy mess when it first was put together. Yuk. Took forever to get it in decent shape.

I hope this one will be better.

What I find amazing is that I still have so much to say on the subject of writing.

A whole book’s worth. Kinda blows my tiny pea brain mind.

Hope you’ve made some progress on your work. I sure have on mine.

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