The Asterisk and a use for it. Research is Good. “Stacks of files.”

When you’re writing, and you come upon a thing you are writing about, but you don’t actually know much about it… don’t stop writing.

Don’t go down to the library (or flip to the Internet) to figure out what that thing is that you don’t know about… stick an * in there and forge ahead. Then, later, when you are pursuing the calm that is a rewrite (as opposed to the white hot splendor of the First Pass), you CTRL F and find every * in there, and then you do the research on whatever it is and fix it.

Simple? Yes. Oddly impossible, also yes.

This will only work if you realize that you don’t know what you’re doing. If you write about something you THINK you know about, but you don’t, the reader is going to be able to tell. For instance.

If you’re writing about businessmen but you are a writer and know nothing about business, here’s how you do it.

Jeff and Davey, high powered businessmen, go through stacks of *files on Jeff’s desk.

That’s how a lot of beginning writers write about Wall Street or real estate agents or hookers, because I see “stacks of files” all the time… Unfortunately, the writer doesn’t put the asterisk in there on their first pass… and so the LAME-O “stacks of files” stays in until they send it out to agents and producers. “Stacks of files” SCREAMS “I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing here, but I don’t give a damn, so pretend these guys really are what I’m telling you they are. Read fast. Pay little attention.”

It pisses me the hell off.

You are asking for tons of money for this thing you are writing. At least LOOK like you know what you’re doing.

“The doctor comes in and presses a lot of buttons on complex looking medical gear.”

Is that in your script? I’m sure it’s not. But, if it’s in your friend’s script, help her out. Tell her to find out what doctors do and make the sentence sound like a doctor wrote it. Your friend’s lack of professionalism and effort will stink to high heaven.

If you are writing something you don’t know about, great. That’s what writing is for, discovery. But do the discovering. Put the * in there and come back after you’ve talked to someone who knows a lot about what you don’t know much about.

Otherwise, you’ll look like a dope.

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7 Comments

Filed under Good Writing, Rewriting, Scenes, Screenwriting

7 responses to “The Asterisk and a use for it. Research is Good. “Stacks of files.”

  1. Carole

    One false note can ruin the experience. Watched the movie Sinister on DVD. A true crime writer moves his family to a house where a family was slaughtered–big news in the community. At school his son learns how the family died.but that they live at the crime scene–nope. It begs credulity.

    • yourscreenplaysucks

      I JUST saw a movie that did this! What was it? Really good actors. Big time advertising campaign. As I was pulling it up On Demand, I asked myself, “Why did I not hear about this movie? Why didn’t I see it?” What was it?

      Oh, yeah. PARKER, with Jason Statham and Jennifer Lopez!

      It had a huge one of these. Whoa. A real story killer.

      He’s a criminal. He hires a real estate agent with no criminal experience to get him close to the bad guys’ house.
      He deposits her off to the side when he goes in there to kill them all.
      But, she, FOR SOME UNKNOWN REASON, decides that he may need her help. Like how? Looking for comps?
      They literally plaster over that hole with a piece of muttered (non synch) dialogue that smacked of OMG last minute rewrite in editing. “Can we get Jennifer in here tomorrow for ADR?!”

      It was so stupid.
      So awful.
      In real life she would NEVER NEVER EVER go near a house filled with a bunch of criminals… but the whole story depended on her having a gun to her head at the end.

      It was sickening.
      Seems they could have come up with some better way to get to the place they needed to get.

      Didn’t any one notice during the writing process?
      Or the rewriting?
      Or prepro?
      Or the first half of shooting?

      Yikes.

      • yourscreenplaysucks

        Anybody else got a story killer moment??? I’d love to hear!

      • Carole

        In a scene from War of the Worlds the machines made the audience laugh. But, it was supposed to be a serious moment. It diminshed the film.
        BTW, I’m a novice and had to google ADR.

      • yourscreenplaysucks

        Good for you for finding out what ADR means! Did they say Automatic Dialogue Replacement, or something else?

        cheers, Will

  2. JEF

    …research is half the fun…

  3. Carole

    Googled ADR FILM TERM, same definition; AKA looping.
    Think I’ll call my rewrites ‘looping’. Nice ring to it.

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