I’ve gotten a few questions from readers who’ve gone through the scripts in the Downloads section, many of them asking about my use of “we,” as in…
We hear SCRAPING as something behind the door moves closer.
Who is “we?”
I use this “we” all the time, and I’ve never really thought about it much. I guess it means either “you and I” (the reader and the writer) or “we the audience.” But which one?
Sort of both. The example above feels like it’s from the audience’s point-of-view. But in many cases, I’m using it more as the creator, such as…
As the pickup ROARS away, we reveal...
TWO BURNING SCARECROWS.
I love “we.” To me, it helps include the reader, giving the sensation of watching a movie, rather than just reading words on a page. But you should know that a fair number of screenwriters loathe this use of “we,” arguing that it’s always possible to write the same moment without it…
The pickup ROARS away, revealing...
TWO BURNING SCARECROWS.
In the end, there is no right or wrong. It’s just a matter of preference.
This got me thinking back to college, when I first had to take a Myers-Briggs personality type test. If you haven’t taken one, it’s definitely worth the twenty minutes, because it has an interesting way of breaking down personality along four basic axes. (Note: plural of “axis,” not synonym of “hatchets.”)
Even with different sets of questions, I come out pretty reliably — if not always strongly — as an ENTJ. It’s worth pointing out that Myers-Briggs-style assessments aren’t trying to say “who you are” as much as what your preferences tend to be.
I think the same characteristics can be found in screenwriting style. Different screenwriters have different preferences, some more strongly rooted than others.
The following is pretty top-of-my-head, so please chime in if you can think of better descriptors for what I’m talking about.
→ Literalist versus Impressionist
The Literalist believes that screenplays should only include what can be seen or heard, since that’s the only information which makes it up on the screen. The Impressionist is willing to bend or break the audio-visual barrier. He may write about things which cannot be filmed, or which reference things outside the world of the movie. (Such as, “Mendoza’s Ferrari is almost as hot as the one I’m going to buy when I sell this script for a million fucking dollars.”)
Personally, I’m pretty much a Literalist, although I’ll generally allow myself one sentence of unshootable information upon introducing a new character.
→ Completer versus Fragmenter
The Completer writes in complete sentences, like this one, with a subject and a verb. The Fragmenter? Nope. Won’t. Not his thing.
I’m a Completer. While you’ll occasionally find a fragment in my action sequences, I’m generally not a fan of rapid-fire word shrapnel. My aversion to fragments makes it very hard to do surgical rewrites of certain screenwriters’ work. I either have to adapt to their style — or more likely — rewrite every sentence of action.
→ Filmist versus Readerist
The Filmist writes screenplays that are intended for filmmakers, using specific film terminology (such as camera movement) and a minimum of fluff. The Filmist makes no concession to the non-professional. The Readerist writes for a more general audience, attempting to convey the feeling of cinematic devices without explicitly mentioning them, sometimes abstracting them to a literary “we see” and “we hear.”
I’m clearly a Readerist. I avoid mentioning the camera, and will even throw a “we” before a “CUT TO:” just so it reads a little better. But it’s worth noting that the classic screenplays, the ones that became the movies you loved, are almost all Filmist.
→ Show-er versus Teller
The Show-er attempts to include every important action in the story, while the Teller would rather forego some detail to convey the overall gist of a scene or sequence. Taken to the extreme, the Show-er would list every punch in a fight, while the Teller would leave it as: “They fight. Maddox wins.”
I’m a Show-er. For me, an action sequence is collection of a dozen smaller moments, and to breeze over them with a sentence or two is disrespectful. With a script, I’m trying evoke the feeling of having watched a movie, and that includes the action.
However, many of the top writers do compress action sequences, arguing that the only thing more boring than writing a long action sequence is reading one.
So, by my own system, I’d come out an
LCPS LCRS. You?
Without their scripts in front of me, I’d put James Cameron down as an LCFS. Shane Black is probably an IFRT, but it’s been a while since I’ve read his stuff.
And again, this is all very work-in-progress. (I’ve already changed terms, messing up acronyms.) If you can think of better criteria for looking at screenwriting style (other than “good” and “hack”), please share.