Monday, January 4, 2010

Lazy writer shorthand

You know what really annoys me when I read a script? Laziness. Every now and then a writer might need to take a shortcut in order to get the story going, but there are limits. I'd explain all this in greater depth, but it would take too much time.

Annnywaaay... one shortcut that almost always earns a script a PASS from me comes in the form of this simple phrase in the description: "They instantly fall in love."

I pause because I hope that 99% of you are able to tell where I'm going with this just by being presented with this evidence. Are you all at least half a rant ahead of me? Good.

For the slower kids in the class (Hi Robotard and Paul Haggis!), the reason this is lazy screenwriting is that it doesn't require any work on the part of the writer to do any of the following:

1) create believable chemistry between the characters.

2) show the growth of a romance through several stages: attraction, infatuation, and so on.

3) develop the characters and their dynamic through that growth.

4) reveal things about the characters through the ways their feelings become known. (i.e. what is it that turns them on initially? Do they try to hide their feelings from the other or do they boldly declare them? Why does this attraction exist? How do they attempt to figure out the other partner is interested in them?)

See all the great things a writer misses out on by typing "They instantly fall in love?" No, check that, see all the great things the audience misses out on through that shortcut?

Try to avoid taking the easy way out - at least when it's as blatant as this bit of corner-cutting is.


  1. I agree, makes sense. For example, just look at the blossoming love between 2 major characters in Avatar, which gave more depth to the story.

  2. Wow. I thought you were going to talk about the kinds of things I want to do when I get tired of writing a first draft, like perhaps shortshrifting on description of a location or secondary character.

    The only time I'd even consider using the phrase above if it were obviously a satirical aside about two people who loathed each other.

  3. Did you actually read that phrase in a script, Bitter Script Reader? (Now I see how the "bitter" got there) If so was that done by a pro writer, or someone just learning the ropes?

    SOMETIMES a story (typically action/adventure) will need to develope a love story sub-plot quickly, and wont spend as much time going through a variation of the courting process as a full-fledged romantic comedy would. Take for instance, "Raiders of the Lost Ark." Clearly Marion and Indy have a "thang" going there, but the action trumps all, and not much time is spent on their romance. It's more of a throw-in or a breather, during or after excillerating action sequences.

    My point is: what one exects in a love story depends on the movie's genre. Still the line, "They instantly fall in love" is so on-the-nose, tell don't show, that it should never be used, and is indeed a tell-tale sign that the writing before you has been done by a hack.

    - E.C. Henry from Bonney Lake, WA

  4. I was shocked to see it in a script too. It happens a lot in slush pile submissions, but I get REALLY ticked when I see it in scripts submitted to agencies by other agencies.

  5. Was the script in question "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"?

    I kid... I kid... But if they would have explained why a six year old girl falls for a deformed dude I would have dug it a lot more.

    (And if the eye of the hurricane would have had a 100 foot fetus terrorizing the town like Godzilla, which was the actual logical conclusion of his disorder, it would've been an instant four stars. But I digress.)

  6. Oh snap. You done called out the Robotard.

  7. I think writers need to utilize visual imagery more. For example, have the male character make kissy faces while his feet flutter and miniature hearts float atop his head. Perhaps he sees the female character and starts panting like a dog before stomping his foot and giving a wolf howl. Or he could simply whip out a series of signs from behind his back, each one part of a sequence of illustrations that begin with a couple kissing and end with the couple and their two children watching television while "home sweet home" plays on a violin in the background.