Thursday, August 11, 2011

Reader questions: Are all readers writers? How much to establish in action lines? Can I make a character randomly ethnic?

JamiSings asks:

Are all readers hopeful writers, or are there some that just like to read, have good ideas for corrections, but no desire to actually write anything?

Most of the readers I've known have been writers or aspiring writers. There might be a few who fancy themselves future producers or development execs, but if I had to hazard a guess, I'd say a fairly sizable percentage of people who share my job love to write and want to write professionally.

Ben Ritter asks:

Let's say a character in one of my scripts enters a kitchen, talks to her roommate, then later uses the stove. Do I need to mention the stove in the action line after the slug, or can I just say, "She turns on the stove" when she interacts with it?

Let's say instead of turning on a stove, she throws an eggbeater at her roommate. Should I just say, "She throws an eggbeater at her roommate"? Not every kitchen would have an eggbeater, so it seems weird to have one materialize if the reader had been picturing a kitchen without an eggbeater.

In most cases you probably don't need to establish it - if it's common to that environment. No one's going to cry foul if halfway through the scene, your college student character opens up the previously-undiscussed mini-fridge in his dorm room. If he turns around and pets his llama, then you might have a problem.

In your case, an eggbeater is a pretty common thing for a kitchen so you don't HAVE to set it up. If I was writing the scene, I might have the lead character doing some bit of business with the eggbeater just so it's established on screen before being pulled out of nowhere, but as far as the read goes, you're probably safe.

Teddy Pasternak said...

Hi Bitter,

In the comedy I'm working on, I was considering making one of my characters Australian. There's no story reason for him to be Australian per se, the story takes place in the States, and he could be any nationality really, I just pictured him as an Aussie for some reason.

There are a couple of reason I'd like to do this; I have some jokes that would work, and I think it might be a good way of making this particular character stand out. It's a small part but he must be memorable since he plays a pivotable role in the story.

I could make this character unique in other ways, of course, and I don't want it to seem like a gimmick. Is it a bad idea to pick a particular nationality? It feels a bit like a copout. What is your opinion on assigning character traits that doesn't have anything to do with moving the story forward?

I don't see anything wrong with it. If it makes the character more unique, I say go for it. I'd point to the example of Bridesmaids, where the cop whom Kristin Wiig becomes involved with is actually British for no particular reason and it doesn't hurt the film in the least. Wiig's roommates are also randomly British, but again, I doubt few people came out of that film going, "What was up with all the accents?"


  1. "Kristin Wiig becomes involved with is actually British "

    On behalf of Irishmen everywhere can I point out that Chris O'Dowd is a Irishman, with an Irish accent.

  2. Kind of too bad. I enjoy reading and have a job where I'm allowed to read on desk, so if they had a process where they let non-writers read for first corrections/suggestions/"THIS THING SUCKS!" stuff that's something I could do. (Hey, in this craptastic economy any legal way to make extra cash....) But writing - eh. I have good ideas but no writing talent.

    As for Teddy's question - hey, it's America. I was at a meet and greet for a reality show casting company at the Varsity in LA and the bartender was Australian and he informed me his roommates were Australian too. The library where I work, my boss is from England, my supervisor is Lebanese, and a coworker is Polish. Our patrons are African, Indian, Australian, German, English, Irish, Mexican, and a few I haven't heard enough to identify. You pretty much can make anyone in any script have any sort of accent and it wouldn't strain one's ability to suspend disbelief. Now if you had a Vulcan who was raised on Qo'noS (Klingon home world) for no particular reason THAT would be weird beyond belief.

  3. The ethnic thing... bear in mind that each ethnic stereotype represents a shorthand wrt character development, that is reinforced by the accent chosen.

    For instance, if the character were a male Australian, you could choose from the outdoorsman, the beer drinker, the uptight brit wannabe, the aussie surfer dude, etc... Most people would recognize the archetype instantly, just from the broad characterization.

    The point, I guess, is that if you want your character to be, say, a sensitive gay Australian naturalist, you probably don't want him to look, and most importantly sound, like a revamped Crocodile Dundee.

  4. Hmm, though I see what you're getting at, Pliny, couldn't someone take those archetypes and flip them effectively? If most Americans picture Australians looking and acting like Crocodile Dundee, it could add something if the Crocodile Dundee looking character in your script were also a gay naturalist?

    I'd get a chuckle out of that actually.

  5. Thanks Bitter and everyone for your comments. Regarding the ethnic thing, I guess I'm worried that it's more of a casting decision than anything else. I took a quick glance at the Bridesmaids script and I couldn't find any mention of the cop being British or Irish.

    Same thing in Yes Man, Jim Carrey's boss is played by the hilarious Rhys Darby, who's from New Zealand, but there's no mention of any ethnicity in the script. I think he's supposed to be Australian in the film.

    Like you said, when watching a film, I don't think anyone questions the accents, but when reading a spec and there's no real reason for an ethnicity, that's when things get murky. Or maybe I'm over-thinking it... thanks :)

  6. one other thing.... I'm an ex-pat Brit, and I'm constantly being told that my accent has changed, and that I sound American, or South African/Australian, etc..

    But while I do soften and draw out my vowels a little, the biggest difference comes from the fact that I use an American vocabulary in everyday conversation, instead of British words and idioms.

    If you're writing a foreign character, that's something you need to bear in mind, imho.