You HAVE to be clear!!!!

Nice quote:

“We should not write so that it is possible for the reader to understand us, but so that it is impossible for him to misunderstand us.”
Marcus Fabius Quintilianus, c. 35-100

The more I work with clients and their screenplays, the more I feel this is one of the toughest things about writing. Not just screenwriting. Writing.

What you think it means may not be what it means. To the reader. What you think it means, doesn’t actually matter. What it means, that matters.

There’ a drawing in my fabulous book, done by me, of a writer on one side of a room, writing. And a reader on the other side of the room, reading. The thought is formed in the writer’s brain, goes down to the page, and then goes up to the reader’s brain. That’s the way it works.


Wish it did.
Life would be a lot easier were that the case.

What you see, crystal clear, floating above your computer as you write, has to go through the scrambler onto the page, and then, through the de-scrambler to the reader, so he (or she!) can see it, crystal clear, floating above the page in living color. Imagine those words were radio waves. Imagine you were transmitting them from Ice Station Zebra on the Polar icecap via a hand-cranked radio to a ham radio operator in the Fiji islands… you’d be very very very careful about your choice of words because your meaning might get lost in the static.

Pretty good analogy for writing, actually. Tickled I thought of it.

What you think it means is not necessarily what it really means.
Tie does not go to the runner.
If the reader creates a different image in her mind from the one you had in mind when you wrote… guess what? It’s not her fault. It’s yours, because you wrote it in such a way that it could be misunderstood.

So don’t do that.

Be clear.
Be very clear.

Easy to say. Excruciatingly difficult to do.

But at least, now, you know it’s possible to be misunderstood so perhaps, now, you’ll take precautions against it happening to you.

I sure hope so.

Good luck.



Filed under Blake Snyder, Details, Rewriting, Screenwriting, Writing Process

2 responses to “You HAVE to be clear!!!!

  1. Melody Lopez

    And I highly recommend any visitor to this blog… that as part of Will Aker’s services in his script consultation…he’s amazing at finding these types of misdemeanors in your writing!

    I had two rockets that were airborn at the same time, one had been shot from a surface to air missile system another from a helicopter. Because I wrote the scene as I saw it in my head (with quick cuts from where the helicopter was hovering and where the bad guy was aiming)– Will pointed out how confusing it could read. But I never noticed it because it was clear in my own head.

    This is just another reason to use Will Akers. Once you see how easy you can mislead yourself into thinking you are clear, you can better identify how to avoid repeating the unintentional error.

    And the best part about using Will- he had me cracking up when going over my unclear writing. His Southern twang and colloquialisms added such color and charm to his commentary. It set me at ease and allowed me to have a hearty laugh and I grew from the experience in a positive and meaningful way.

  2. irscriptwriter

    Yes. Exactly this:
    “We should not write so that it is possible for the reader to understand us, but so that it is impossible for [the reader] to misunderstand us.”
    Of course, that doesn’t need to occur on the first (or even second) draft, but any screenplay eventually needs to be edited with the above quotation in mind.

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