Thursday, April 28, 2011

Write for the read - Scream

In preparation for Scream 4, I found myself watching a making-of documentary on the first Scream. In it, writer Kevin Williamson says that he had a specific approach to his style. In his words, "I wrote it for the read."

What this means is: he made sure that it wasn't taxing on the reader. Once they picked the script up, he didn't want to give them an opportunity to put the script down. And sure, it sounds like elementary advice when I just say it like that, but you wouldn't believe how many writers seem to forget this, based on their opening pages. I see a lot of openings that are just bogged down with unnecessary descriptive detail, drowning in exposition and clunky dialogue.

In contrast, Scream has a very clean, very gripping opening. A teenage girl is home alone and she gets a call from a strange man. The first six pages or so are made up of very quick, very sharp dialogue between the two. This makes those early pages into a very easy read. The reader very quickly falls into the pattern of turning pages and then just when they start thinking, "This scene is kind of long," they hit the moment on p. 7 where the Killer says, "YOU LISTEN, YOU LITTLE BITCH. IF YOU HANG UP ON ME AGAIN I'LL GUT YOU LIKE A FISH. UNDERSTAND?"

That gets the reader's attention, and from ten on, the tension ramps up. It takes 17 pages to get through the opening sequence, and it reads like butter. It's a case where something takes up a lot of pages, but it works. Notably, those 17 pages translate to just under 13 minutes of film in the final cut. I think most readers who encountered the script would sense the heightened pace. (For me, I probably wouldn't have to think about it - I'd more likely notice that the script was a smooth easy read.)

Most of the time, I decide if something's a PASS or CONSIDER right after I finish the read and before I write a word of the write-up. It's a "go with the gut" kind of feeling and it comes down to nothing more complicated than "Did I like the script?" An easy read always equals a script in contention for a Consider. It's not like I start tallying points and do some kind of equation to decide, "Ah, yes.... this is a Consider."

An easy read means that the writer is usually doing something right. The flow, the pace, the distribution of information and the arcing of the plots and character arcs are all in harmony. That's what it takes to get a consider - a script that's worthy of presentation at the next level.

A hard read means that something under the hood is broken. Usually I'll devote my coverage to discussing specifically what is broken, but I'll almost never give a CONSIDER to a hard read. Over the years I've seen writers manage easy reads for very complex and complicated stories and premises. If your simple romantic comedy is a chore to get through - that's YOUR problem.

Write for the read.


  1. I completely agree with you. When I was a reader, I would usually leans towards CONSIDER if the script was an easy read. Readability is so important and was something I commented on the most with a lot of the writers.

  2. Loving all the Scream analysis going on. Keep up the review-type posts. And if you're interested in my ridiculously biased review/analysis on Fast Five, check it out!