Not “Voldemort” but “realize…”

When I was in Las Vegas, I sat down with a filmmaker to go over his script. At one point in our conversation, when I was asking him to tell me his story… he told me about a scene that didn’t make sense to me. I couldn’t figure out how he was going to shoot it, or even what he was hoping to shoot…

And he said the word that must not be spoken. “Realize.”

He said, and I quote: “She realizes that…”

Upon hearing the Dread Word, fire shot from my eyes and I pulled my shining golden sword and plunged it into his laptop, pinning it to the table — totally surprising the shit out of the guy. He was stunned to discover I had a shining golden sword.

Once you say, “realize” you are doomed. The camera can’t see it, so you shouldn’t write it or think it because it’s a sure thing that you can’t shoot it. We can’t look at a character’s face and know what he is realizing. Now, if someone’s shining golden sword has sliced open their cheek, and blood is dripping down their face and they touch it and look at the blood covered fingers, hey, we get that the character “realizes” his cheek has been cut open… But that’s because you showed it to us.

When you tell someone your story, or when you write your story, notice if you utter the Dread Word. If you do, it’s time for a rewrite.



Filed under Rewriting, Writing Process

8 responses to “Not “Voldemort” but “realize…”

  1. Melody Lopez

    I remember being a total novice writer (when I was more so then I am now)…and doing a table read…and telling the much more experienced writer…that her use of realize felt off to me…that I missed how they were realizing what was going on…it is instinctive for me to realize that something about realize felt like cheating… cheating in the writing of the reveal…

    I gotta get me one of those shining golden swords!

  2. That’s a cool observation – I read something similar once, in a screenwriting book or article (I can’t remember where/what) about how the word “decide” in a synopsis or script can indicate similar problems. The author pointed out that a lot of movies from the 40’s had synopses like, “A reclusive millionaire decides to adopt an orphan”. Not exactly the same as your point, but it’s another example of a key word indicator to watch out for.

    • yourscreenplaysucks

      I love the idea of “decide” being a trigger word. Very cool thought. Thank you!

  3. You’re welcome – I wish I could give a citation. Probably someone in Creative Screenwriting or Script magazines – maybe even Dave Trottier.

  4. The fear of this word comes from a lack of trust of the actors. It’s ludicrous to say this “cannot be filmed.” An actor worth his or her weight in talent who sees in the script that they “realize” something will show it just as much as any action can.

    That said, I don’t use the word in my writing, because of the conventional lack of wisdom on the subject among readers.

    • yourscreenplaysucks

      There’s a lot to be said for, in your writing, giving it to the actors to handle. Anything that can be conveyed with a look or shrug or something by the actor, is generally something to seriously consider. “Cut dialogue that is can be handled by the actor with a look” is a good rule of thumb.

      But the “realize” thing makes me nervous because of how much I see it used in a novelistic sense. A good actor can get away with it, but as you said, you are not writing for an actor, you’re writing for a reader.

      You can get away with anything from time to time, of course, but it’s a good idea to not have too many “realizes” floating around, scaring the reader.

  5. I remember being at a stage as a writer when I thought that “realize” made sense, because I was taught as a writer to never direct for the director or act for the actor…and saying a character’s expression changes to show “realization” almost seemed like acting for the actor to me.

    But now I realize (muahaha) the key here is, as you said, we are not writing for the actors but for those who will be interested in making the film. If they don’t know who their actors are yet (and that’s not our responsibility as writers), they don’t know how well they can act “realize,” but if there’s a gesture performed instead, they may instantly picture a certain actor performing that moment.

    I’ve done this myself in much less prestigious positions, so this is how I came to understand the concept myself.

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