“Starter Words” are not a good idea.

For some reason, some writers like to get dialogue revved up with words that real people say in dialogue.

Right there at the beginning… (forgive the incorrect formatting)

Yeah, you know what I mean.

Well, I haven’t had a good one yet.

Aloysius, you know how I feel.

Listen, Chloe. I can explain.

Sure, I know what you mean.

Okay. You’re not my type.

Etc. etc. on and on, out to the horizon. This is not real people. It’s characters. And someone is reading it or watching it and you don’t want to bore them.

My thought… cut ’em all. Add in only a tiny few starter words for characterization and a bit of spice.

Or, cut ’em all!



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15 responses to ““Starter Words” are not a good idea.

  1. Clint

    Hmm. Interesting comment. It’s hard to know what to write or how to write character dialogue when trying to put the character into a character.

    Certainly, it can be overdone, as illustrated in the given example. On the other hand, a dish without spice might taste too bland.

    “Moderation in all things,” as the wise man said, may be the optimum course of action.

    • yourscreenplaysucks

      Mostly, don’t use ’em. Just about as often as you use CLOSE UP and DOLLY BACK FROM… i.e., not much…

      • Clint

        Agreed. Directing on paper is not ‘my thing’ at all. I see it all the time on other amateur screenplays, though. I don’t even use “CUT TO:” because as far as I’m concerned, the next slugline or Action description is what the editor would “cut to” to get to the next scene. Same for “MATCH CUT.” I know because I used to edit (pro videotape production) for a living. My philosophy is that I ought to be able to write the correct choice and sequence of words to create no other choice for either Director or Editor (please pardon the capitalizations… they are done out of R-E-S-P-E-C-T.)

        In other news — Once we had a little mini-contest of participating forum members on (an unnamed) screenwriting website. It was derived from the very generic logline that was for a screenwriting contest from (another unnamed) screenwriting website. The original contest’s entry deadline had come and gone, but we decided to have a similar one of our own.

        The rules for our little contest were to write only 15 pages (maximum) using that same generic logline from the original contest, and then we all voted on one another’s material, having submitted anonymously through the contest monitor to a Google Drive where everyone could read one another’s material without knowing ‘who’d writ what,’ so to speak.

        My entry was no better or worse than any other, in my opinion, yet I won the majority of the votes. In 15 pages, none of us got past our stories’ hooks, but in my case I didn’t use any ‘starter’ words or direct on paper, both of which make for a much smoother read, thereby ruffling fewer feathers either consciously or subconsciously.

        ‘Tis always sound advice thou art ever giving away. Prithee, when wouldst thou have ready thy succeeding tome of weighty admonitions for all flowering, budding scriveners of the screen?

  2. Clint

    In other words, “what you said.” 🙂

  3. JR

    So the point being that even though real people talk like this… it’s not useful for writing.

    Seems a bit too paranoid. But I’m still confused on it. First time hearing this.

    • Clint

      The gist of the worthwhile post is that it’s a lot like directing on paper, but instead of calling the Director’s and DP’s shots for them, the Writer is putting ‘characteristic’ words in the characters’ mouths, which from the Actors’ point of view is overbearing.

    • yourscreenplaysucks

      Look at scripts and see how rarely starter words are used. You can use ’em, sure. Just not much.
      Generally, the way people really talk (and there are exceptions to any rule) is not movie dialogue because it takes too much time. Tarantino is Tarantino and most of us are not. His people wander a lot in dialogue, but he’s so adept at it we don’t notice.
      Look at a real wedding, and then a movie wedding. A movie wedding is about five lines and they’re married. Boom, over. A real wedding is an hour. Or more.

      • JR

        I just went over a bunch of scripts that sold recently… and a lot of them use starter words.If you take a look at “The Swimsuit Issue” from the 2014 Blacklist. Starter words are used numerous times. Even in “Mena” which sold for a million dollars last year. Maybe it’s a matter of certain people getting away with it though. I do understand your point though.

        It seems though like writers are getting away with a lot more now and still selling. Take a look at the script the “The Babysitter” by Brain Duffield. Which I liked. He used “WHAT THE F*Ck” in big capital letters and took up a whole page. And it sold.

        @Clint Overbearing how? And at what point does that matter in the early stages.

      • Clint

        “@Clint Overbearing how? And at what point does that matter in the early stages.”

        JR, it’s sometimes considered similar to telling someone how to do their job, when that someone is a consummate professional and already knows how to do their job very well.

        Another word for this is to be “presumptuous,” in this case, on the part of the writer, and also in this case, in the eyes of those who intend to purchase the screenplay, direct it, or act it out.

        For example, I would not dare tell an Oscar-winning actor how to interpret dialogue I’d written, though he or she may be murdering the thrust of it, in which case I would have to blame myself for not choosing the correct words in the correct order so that they could only interpret it one way, the way I had intended.

        Nevertheless, the prescriptive advice from Dr. Akers was to use them sparingly, not to forgo them completely.

        Another trap the novice screenwriter falls into when researching and reading already produced screenplays is that they are often transcripts of the produced movies but in screenplay format.

        In that instance, the novice screenwriter is reading the direct transcription of the actors’ interpretations of dialogue, not (in many cases) precisely what the screenwriter put on the original screenplay’s pages for the shooting script, nor, certainly, precisely what had been written on the spec script.

        It’s rare that anyone seeking to read produced screenplays can get their hands on the truly ‘original’ screenplay, the selling script or spec script. Most are shooting scripts, not spec scripts. Spec scripts that have been sold would be ideal for the novice reader to have for their lessons and instruction, but alas, they are not so easy to come by.

        We screenwriters are, after all, in competition with one another, and must solitarily and repeatedly run the course and all its hurdles around the track until we win just one race. After that, the process starts anew, and we’re off again at the sound of our own starting gun.

  4. JR

    *Brian Duffield


    This is a link to all the scripts from the 2014 Blacklist.

    I would say “Well” and “Yeah” are the most common starter words used.

  5. JR

    I get your point. You can remove words like “So”, “Well”, “Yeah”, and etc. And if your dialogue is strong enough it won’t matter.

    I’m still curious as to what would be classified as acceptable use though. Maybe cutting them all, or close to all is best.

    I wonder if there’re exceptions to comedy as well. Probably not though…

    • Clint

      “I’m still curious as to what would be classified as acceptable use though.” Perhaps when the ’emotion’ (TBD) warrants it!

  6. Gabrielle

    This is interesting because I think this is different in tv writing. I know for sure on screen, Supernatural uses a lot of starter words. I’ve only read the pilot for Supernatural, but I’ve heard starter words used a lot in other series as well. Nevertheless, I agree that they should be used sparingly. Thanks for the reminder. And now, I will go through my script and chop all starter words.

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