Don’t use “thought” verbs

I love Chuck Palahniuk’s advice to writers:

From this point forward – at least for the next half year – you may not use “thought” verbs. These include: Thinks, Knows, Understands, Realizes, Believes, Wants, Remembers, Imagines, Desires, and a hundred others you love to use.

Palahniuk argues that every time you use one of these verbs, you’re robbing yourself of the chance to describe something fully — to show rather than tell.

For example: Waiting for the bus, Mark started to worry about how long the trip would take..”

A better break-down might be: “The schedule said the bus would come by at noon, but Mark’s watch said it was already 11:57. You could see all the way down the road, as far as the Mall, and not see a bus. No doubt, the driver was parked at the turn-around, the far end of the line, taking a nap. The driver was kicked back, asleep, and Mark was going to be late. Or worse, the driver was drinking, and he’d pull up drunk and charge Mark seventy-five cents for death in a fiery traffic accident…”

In screenwriting, we’re already forced to do a lot of this self-restriction, since we can’t directly state characters’ inner lives. And Palahniuk’s absolutism isn’t always suited for screenplays; there will be times when a parenthetical (realizing) is exactly what you need.

Still: it’s great advice.


Cutting Pages and Fixing Holes

Scriptnotes: Ep. 177
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It’s a clip show! John and Craig discuss cutting pages from your script, fixing plot holes, and what we’d do if we ran a studio. We’ll be back with all new episodes in 2015, the year of post-outrage rationality.

Links:

You can download the episode here: AAC | mp3.


Advice to a First-Time Director

Scriptnotes: Ep. 176
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John and Craig offer advice to a director taking the plunge, with guidance on both getting the work done and getting the performances you want. From there, we segue into a discussion of the Perfect Director, the next installment of our Perfect series.

We also pay a visit to the Logic Police, whose notes are often frustrating but sometimes correct.

But we couldn’t not talk about the messed-up situation with The Interview and North Korea. It’s a terrible precedent, but the mistake is putting the blame on any one studio. Without coordinated group action, it’s only going to get worse.

Links:

You can download the episode here: AAC | mp3.

UPDATE 12-29-14: The transcript of this episode can be found here.


Left or Right

This link has been sitting in my queue for months, but it’s still worth sharing. Tony Zhou looks at how character choice is framed as going left or right.

You see this technique in movies going back to the dawn of cinema, but no recent movie has used it as fully as Snowpiercer, in which the entire film moves on a linear track.

On the page, you’ll rarely call out “right” or “left.” But that sense of forcing characters to choose between two visual possibilities is a fundamental and frequently-useful paradigm.


Twelve Days of Scriptnotes

Scriptnotes: Ep. 175
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Craig and John welcome special guests Aline Brosh McKenna, Rachel Bloom, B.J. Novak, Jane Espenson and Derek Haas to talk about writing books, movies and especially television.

Aline and Rachel just finished shooting a pilot called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. We discuss the genesis of the project, and how sexism is just stupid.

B.J. tells us about the joy of reading Inglorious Basterds, and how the key to success is apparently editing your high school newspaper.

Jane and Derek teach us what really goes on in the writers room, from secret lingo to codes of silence.

Plus there are songs!

Recorded with a live audience at LA Film School as a benefit for the Writers Guild Foundation. Huge thanks to everyone who came and supported the show.

Links:

You can download the episode here: AAC | mp3.

UPDATE 12-19-14: The transcript of this episode can be found here.