Too Many Words

Use as few words as possible. Be totally clear.

Here is an email I just sent to one of my students.


Dear Alice,

Going over your homework.
Way way way way way way way way way way way way way way way way way way way way way too much detail, too much stuff that’s obvious.

He holds the phone in his hand.

Too many places I want to write “Duuuh!”

Not from your homework, but you do this, sorta:

He looks out the clear glass see-through window that is totally, completely transparent.

Remember, I hate to work and do not want to read one word I do not have to.

Next scene you write, I want you to write the first draft with a pencil, not a pen and NOT typing it.
See if the agony of pushing the pencil across the page will help you write less. It’s physically more difficult so in theory you will not be so tempted to heap words on the page.


I’m dying to see if that will help her. I wrote one entire screenplay in pencil, typing the scenes into the computer AFTER they’d first been scribbled on paper. A pencil is hard to write with and AUTOMATICALLY causes words to drop out of your prose.

Do not make the reader read stuff they do not have to. A pencil will help. So will reading aloud.

So will sweating blood to get it to an agent and watching them throw it in the trash before they finish page 1.



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11 responses to “Too Many Words

  1. Melody Lopez

    I wanted to write something very eloquent about pencil writing being an organic form of expression like painting- and how the brush and canvas or pencil and paper can produce such incredible results vs. the different demands on the brain required. But it just wasn’t coming out tightly enough because I’m typing this up and trying to hard to make it sound purdy.

    • yourscreenplaysucks

      Writing with a pencil will change the way your brain relates to the page. It may work better, it may not. But it’s always worth a try.
      I have had some students who typed so fast that I finally banned them from doing their first draft on the computer… they typed so fast that as soon as they thought something, all the words hit the page. And it was nearly impossible for them to trim it down. The agony of writing in pencil helped a lot.

  2. Tim Lane

    A poem is as wordless as the flight of birds – Archibald Mcleash

  3. Mustera

    The ability to type fast, doesn’t mean, you can WRITE fast. You still have to shuffle words around, form sentences, play with the structure of these sentences. You have to type, delete, retype. But it is pretty helpful to see the sentence on the screen and to be able to rewrite it in seconds.
    If your little pencil excercise helps your students to ‘honour’ the individual words and sentences more, that’s fine.

    As someone who fights with every sentence, I just don’t see the problem in writing too much. Writing too much is no problem, IF you are able to keep the reader interested AND to cut the stuff, that isn’t interesting/important while rewriting the script.

    If your students are not able to do that, there could be other problems: They just don’t know how much information is really needed and, more importantly, how to put it creativly. Perhaps the shortcomings of the student are, at least partially, just reflection of the teaching.

    Either way, we can’t blame technology for our shortcomings. In the end, every screenwriter depends on computers as writing tools and being able to type fast is, in fact, a very useful skill. Remember to think, before you type.

    • yourscreenplaysucks

      Yes, absolutely!

      Writing too much is not a problem if it’s the first draft and you have the ability to cut it. I have found that some students have trouble winnowing their material down… The pencil exercise is an effort to keep the words off the page in the first place. I have some students who never use a computer to write with, so it’s not just generational.

      It’s not the technology.

      His buddies urged Billy Wilder to get a computer. Told him how great it’d be for his writing. He said, “Yeah, but does it make the gags any funnier?”

  4. Scott

    I have an odd question along similar lines. I’ve read repeatedly about the zenlike, hiaku style writing of Walter Hill and Andrew Stanton. I worked hard to immulate this form, but fear there’s a disconnect between this writing style and standard format. Would a screenplay written in this manner be accepted, in your opinion?

    • yourscreenplaysucks

      If the format is correct, the few number of words doesn’t matter. Walter Hill’s pages look like everyone else’s… with sluglines and correct dialogue margins… he just uses far fewer words than most writers.

      All his margins are the same as any other writer’s. His parentheticals are correctly placed. At first glance, his page looks different, but it’s really not.

    • Melody lopez

      Not everyone can channel Walter HIll. It is so very hard.
      WALL-E read beautifully in that style but few can pull it off.
      Put your arm around the reader and tell them a story. If you try to write in someone else’s voice…how will anyone know what you sound like? I failed at writing ala Walter Hill…a friend rewrote my pages…I learned that some of her revisions were better, some revisions were different but not better and the most important thing. I learned was that the remainder of her revisions were NOT what I MEANT at all…which meant I WAS NOT clear… Keep the reader in the read, engage me with your visuals, sound effects and dramatic or comedic tone…but if you are writing an action movie..there are moments where the Walter Hill style makes sense to use…but be careful…you may be the only person who knows what you were tryng to describe …I am no expert…but I AMA qualified reader…and new writers,if that is what you are, aight to focus on story and structure…your style will improve over time but I don’t recommend you try to copy someone else’s cause I think it will get in the way of you getting it out of your head clearly…which is the only thing that matters…concise and precise…needs to weigh the value of the zmount of words to the intesnity of the message conveyed…

      • yourscreenplaysucks

        You are right on the money. I’ve written two scripts in that terse style, and it’s very difficult.

        Making certain that what you think the words mean… IS what the words mean, is one of the most difficult aspects of writing. Whoa, is it hard!

  5. love your humor…very good stuff kiddo

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