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I knew a girl in high school by the name of Shannon. We weren't necessarily friends, but knew of one another's existence (at least I knew who she was, can't speak for her). And I had a boss for several years while working in Beverly Hills, also named Shannon. But this tradition (to be discussed below) all started up long before I met Beverly Hills Shannon.
Beginning with my very first screenplay, a zombie spec called, Sid's Apple, I've tried to have a character in each of my pieces, with the name "Shannon". It didn't start out as a "thing", it just naturally progressed.
You see -- in Sid's Apple, Shannon was a nosy neighbor of my lead character, Sid. Thing is, she was also a zombie. So, an undead nosy neighbor.
And my second script (another zombie tale), Me & Simon Baker -- well, I needed a neighbor of my main character to turn into a zombie, and I thought, "Wouldn't that be a hoot? To have this character be basically the same person? Aren't I clever?"
Those original instances were at least organic, and now it's sorta stuck with me and become a tradition.
Shannon -- never again the same character as those original zombie neighbors -- but she (haven't had a dude yet) still shows up, in name only. I just thought it'd be a fun exercise to call out her many memorable appearances.
Sid's Apple: An undead and annoying neighbor.
Me & Simon Baker: A soon to be undead and annoying neighbor.
A. Family Portrait: A precocious 8-year old girl.
Silver Spoon: The nerdy and heroic girlfriend of almost-hero and super-fan Roach.
Furnish: An assistant manager in an upscale, Beverly Hills furniture store.
Spider Eaters: An Australian cattle dog.
The Costume People: A no-nonsense theatre stage manager.
Mom Died: A funeral home director.
Trip: A waitress at a down-home burger place.
Also, in one of my first novels (currently in the works), a secondary character was christened "Shannon".
Thought I'd share. Do you all have any habits or traditions you follow in your writing?
And I'll just close with this: LONG LIVE SHANNON!
Murray Hamilton portrayed Mayor Vaughn in two films of the Jaws franchise. And when Quint (Robert Shaw) shows up to a town hall meeting, to offer his unique fishing abilities to the desperate townsfolk of Amity, Vaughn replies with a tepid, "We'll take it under advisement."
As mentioned in a previous post, I've been reading/studying The Hollywood Standard.
And, as mentioned before, there are some formatting and content rules mentioned in the book, with which I don't wholeheartedly agree. Certainly, there are absolute must-follow tricks, but some -- well, I believe they can be fudged, just a little bit, to suit my personal preferences.
But as I work on a rewrite of one of my scripts (being co-penned with my friend Motown Maurice), I have discovered what might end up being a never-before-used, but now will be in constant rotation, trick from The Hollywood Standard.
In the parenthetical piece of the screenplay document, I've always reserved that space for when a character is addressing a specific other character, and that needs to be clear.
For instance: BOB (to Shirley). Bob is addressing a line to Shirley, rather than Doris, who is also in the scene.
And if a character is yelling, or pauses or if a line MUST be read with a particular inflection.
For instance: BOB (sarcastically). Meaning, Bob's line of dialogue could be delivered "regularly", but in this case, it's gotta be sarcastic. Many times, such bits of information are unnecessary, as the tone may be present in the context of the scene. But if it's not...
But based on one of the lessons learned in "The Hollywood Standard", I now know how to use the parenthetical for another purpose, and it is something which will cut back on total line/page count. (I'm always a big fan of cutting back on page count!)
Per the book, you CAN put the tiniest bit of action/description in the parenthetical.
So instead of writing a separate action/description line of "Bob turns to Shirley, before speaking", you can put something like this:
I don't know for certain.
(turns to Shirley)
But I think I love you.
If it's the speaking character's movement (not someone or something else), this is acceptable. And while yes, the parenthetical takes up another line, it's not THREE lines (the action/description and two spaces -- above and below).
Every day, I try to better myself in the craft, and little things like this, which I was either against (because of prior knowledge or coaching), or was completely unaware of -- keep me learning and only serve to improve my work.
So while I am not taking EVERYTHING from The Hollywood Standard as the end-all, be-all law of the land, there are certainly some lessons offered up in the book, which will be "taken under advisement" and perhaps adopted for all future scripts.
There's an episode of American Dad, where Roger the alien sells off his dive bar (the one he operates out of the Smith home's attic). And he eventually becomes part of the business franchise, as its pitch-man, repeating the catch-phrase "Dive on in!", in a heavy Australian accent.
I was reminded of this when I was working on one of my latest feature specs.
I had the initial inspiration - an idea, some characters, but not really any deep understanding of what the story or the plot might be.
But that didn't stop me. Certainly, each writer has their own way of working, and over the years, it's become clear to me that I won't generally wait for a fully-realized concept before getting in there and digging for some goodies. It could be an image, a line of dialogue or a skeletal character idea, and I'll take it and run with it.
Such is the case on my script "Trip". I'm already 39 pages into a first draft, and I don't quite know where it's headed. But I'm sure having fun figuring that out. Writing scenes, I'm beginning to understand the characters, their histories and trajectories. And eventually, these discoveries will lead me in the direction necessary, to formulate a plot and an all-encompassing story. Structure.
I've said this in pitch meetings and to friends. "I let the characters tell me where they're gonna go and what they're gonna do."
And yes, that sounds very "writerly" and a somewhat douchy thing to say, but I've found it to be accurate. Once you "get" your characters, things will naturally begin to materialize in your story.
So to go back to this entry's title and inspiration (thanks American Dad), I've always found it more fun to simply "dive on in" with any tiny nugget of an idea or exciting image which your imagination throws at you. I mean, if it doesn't pan out into a fully realized story or script, you were still writing, right? Chalk it up to "writing exercises". And perhaps these scratchings can be used in later projects.
And if you are more a planner, I salute you. Goodness knows my way of writing (train of thought process) makes for additional structural work down the road, since it was never mapped out properly in the beginning. But that's how I get my writing ya-yas and indeed, it's my process.
[Side note: I've done treatments for several projects, so I know that a process of "planning" is still in my wheelhouse, but those were "for hire" gigs. When working for myself, letting the fates decide is always preferable.]
I also will point out that some of my most brilliant (in my mind, of course) discoveries were found by just getting into a scene and doing it - with no idea of where it was going.
I implore you to try this type of writing if you don't already. I find it freeing to "dive on in" and see where the day, the characters and your unstructured, uninhibited imagination might take you.
Someone said something about it being a new year AND a new decade? And that this new year is 2020? Perhaps you've heard whispers of such things. Well, anyway, to celebrate those nice, round numbers, we're offering 20% off EVERYTHING SITEWIDE! Working on a feature screenplay, a short screenplay or want some help with some good ol' fashioned brainstorming to get your gears moving? Take advantage now, as the sale will only last until January 15th, 2020! (There are those numbers again, hmmm...)
"The Hollywood Standard" was an early Christmas gift from my other half. Ever since my personal script editor/story consultant (the amazing Jonna Jackson) told me she was a convert to Mr. Riley's ways (using the lessons of his books while editing my screenplays), I have coveted a copy.
So here's a review of sorts, and a few things which have now been brought to my attention. (Just an FYI, I found a few typos in the book - about proper formatting, and with a section on typos). It's a quick read, and I'm not trying to sound cocky by saying this, but I would venture a guess that I am pretty firm on about 80% of the lessons provided here. There is plenty of information on television script formatting, production script formatting, so I basically glossed over those, as they don't apply to my usual spec script writing. Obviously, should the time come for me to tackle a television program, I'll refer back to those particular chapters/sections.
I plan to go back through the book again, more slowly, highlighting sections and particular notes, putting post-its here and there, and focusing on the items which I know will be of use to me as I move into my next screenplays.
There are some things which I don't agree with -- namely the overuse of camera directions in descriptions or scene headings. I've never agreed with this, and while Mr. Riley suggests using such things infrequently, doing the director's job has never appealed to me, in my own screenwriting.
Smaller things will also not be adopted. When I move the action from an Exterior scene, directly into an Interior scene (as an example), I will put CONTINUOUS, while Mr. Riley says it should be termed CONTINUOUS ACTION. A small difference to be sure, but I'll stick w/ my usual ways.
I have been educated on many punctuation faux pas, and will certainly work to incorporate these new lessons into my writing from here on out. And there are a few other, minute formatting changes I'll make in areas outside of punctuation.
I am also going to take to heart the fact that Mr. Riley gives the "thumbs up" for having small direction/action bits within the parenthetical (between the character name and character dialogue). Something I never would have done before, may now save some space on the page.
But overall, after having read the book, it gives me a modicum of pleasure to see that as I've developed my own screenwriting tricks and traditions, that the vast majority of the lessons laid out in this book -- well, that I'm already in on those particular secrets. :)
Again, not to sound cocky, but to acknowledge that I am (and have been) on the right track as far as proper screenplay formatting -- definite relief! Can I get a "whew!"?
And this new nit-picky knowledge will also benefit you -- my potential clients!
For a limited time only! EVERYTHING on the site is 20% off! It's officially 2 months since KSC's launch, and so you'll get the anniversary gifts! Need some help on your feature or short screenplay, or wanna do some good old-fashioned brainstorming? Now's the time. HURRY! This milestone deal ends at midnight PST on August 20th, 2019! So let's get to work!
It's a weird habit I have in my own screenwriting. While I don't see it in everyone else's scripts (only occasionally) -- it's something I'll always call out to be fixed. And again -- when I see it in my own scripts, it drives me crazy bonkers!
While it still shows up every once in a while, I've broken my own habit to about the 95% mark.
And of course, there are times when it is absolutely appropriate.
Let's examine an example:
"Susan begins to walk up the street."
What's wrong w/ that, you say? Well, why can't Susan just do it? Why does she need to "begin to walk"? If indeed, there is an abrupt interruption of her walk ahead -- then "begin to" makes sense (always an exception). But what if Susan is going to walk the entire distance, unobstructed? So perhaps this would be better:
"Susan walks up the street." Nifty.
And as is always the case in my own scripts, as well as those I edit -- trimming is key. Imagine that you removed -- let's say -- FIFTEEN of these "begins to" instances in your script. That could mean the trimming of a good three lines or so of total description.
Well, that's not much! It could mean cutting the end of your script to move onto the previous page -- going from 101 pages to 100. And with all of the other trims you'll do in the course of your editing, these cuts begin to (haha!) add up, right?
Another tip (i.e. personal pet peeve) from Klugula Screenplay Consulting!
Now let's get to work!
After working through the screenwriting process for more than 15 years, and developing my own set of tricks and shortcuts and must-haves -- I've found that less is more. We're not writing a novel, so description/action sequences should be minimal. Get your point across, but don't overdo it. I once had a development exec. tell me, "Don't do the work of the other craftsmen." In other words, describe what you need to, if it's integral to the plot/character. But there's no need to talk of the intricate details in the home or surroundings of your main character (unless there's something like Tippi Hedren's aversion to the color red in Hitchcock's Marnie -- as an example). Let the production designer and artisans have their creative say.
And one of the favorites I've moved into regular rotation in my own descriptions -- as an example -- if there's a fight on-screen, simply say, "There is a struggle." Unless someone needs to break an arm, or get a bruise (important later in the script), there's no need to overdo it. The fight choreographer has to earn his/her paycheck too. "There is a struggle." And leave it at that.
And beyond all of that, smaller descriptions will keep your page count down, which is always a giant plus!
Less is more.
Thrilled to announce that my 10th feature spec script, "Mom Died" has been named an "Official Selection" for the 6th Annual FilmQuest!