Avoid clichés

How do you avoid clichés?

– Yirssi

A good place to start is this website, which lists some of the most egregious offenders.

Beyond that, I try to look at every scene and ask myself whether it feels movie-like in the bad way. That is, does it feel like the kind of moment that often happens in movies, and only happens in movies? If so, here are some suggestions if you find yourself staring down a cliché:

  1. Invert expectations. Instead of a gruff police captain, make him well-read and witty. Or prone to crying jags. Or pregnant.
  2. Change locations. If you’re staging a car chase in San Francisco, you’re naturally going to run into the jumping-car syndrome. So why not put the action in Napa vineyards, or omit the car chase altogether?
  3. Call it out. You can sometimes take the sting off a cliché (and get a laugh) by letting a character acknowledge it. But tread lightly; too much self-awareness can destroy any reality within the movie.

New photos up

Charlie RiverCourtesy FilmForce, there are new photos up for two projects. Click on each for a larger version.

The first is from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, showing most of the principal cast in the Chocolate Room.

From left to right, the characters in the photo are Charlie Bucket, Veruca Salt, Grampa Joe (Charlie’s grandfather), Mrs. Gloop, Mr. Salt, Violet Beauregarde, Ms. Beauregarde, Willy Wonka, Mr. Teavee and Mike Teavee. Not pictured is Augustus Gloop. Anyone who’s read the book can probably figure out why.

Charlie RiverThe second photo is from Corpse Bride, and shows Victor Van Dort practicing his wedding vows, while nervous bride-to-be Victoria looks on. The film is in production in London.

Are four scripts better than one?

questionmarkI have finished penning a dramatic quadrilogy (four scripts that interlock) and now that I’m finished, I fear that there isn’t enough action to make this a serious contender for production and that it would not find an audience.

Do you have any advice for making works a little more commerically viable to today’s market?

– Christopher Bishop

First problem: “dramatic quadrilogy.”

I applaud your ambition, but the concept of four interlocking scripts feels better suited to European arthouses, rather than mainstream Hollywood. If the latter is your intention, I’d recommend figuring out which of your four scripts is the strongest, and focussing all your efforts on that one, even if it means ripping stuff out of your other scripts.

You’re much better off with one good screenplay than four noble intentions.

Dialogue versus exposition

What is a good way to distiguish good dialogue from exposition?
— Josh Hatfield



Let’s say we try to keep the dysfunction indoors, huh?



Thompson was a down-on-his-luck bookie who thought he could swindle Ackland out of the ticket profits. He wasn’t counting on Rickman having the same idea.

Always ask yourself: Would the character actually say this, or is he only saying it because you need the audience to know some fact or detail? If the answer is the latter, you’re writing exposition and not dialogue.

That’s not good.

At its worst, you risk “M Syndrome,” named for the James Bond boss whose sole function seems to be telling 007 all the backstory so he knows who to shoot. (This was parodied in the Austin Powers movies by Michael York’s character, Basil Exposition.)

Honestly, there are times when you really do need to have a character say something that’s purely plot. In certain genres, like police procedurals, exposition is pretty much par for the course. But to the degree possible, try to avoid situations where characters are spouting information.

Wherever possible:

  1. Show the information, rather than having a character say it.
  2. Try to follow a natural line of thought: A to B to C.
  3. Simplify. The reader may not need to know everything.
  4. Keep your hero active in learning the information, rather than passively listening.
  5. Balance natural speech patterns with efficiency. People rarely say things as concisely as they could.

Avoiding exposition is hard, especially in plot-dependent stories. But it’s one of the first things a reader notices, so spend the time to deal with it.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory teaser up

The teaser for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is now up at Yahoo!, for those who are interested. It should be attached to movies beginning this weekend.

One good thing about a movie like this is that you don’t have to worry about the trailer spoiling the movie, because the story is already familiar to most people. If you go through the teaser frame by frame, you can match up pretty much everything with events from Roald Dahl’s book. That’s not to say there aren’t some surprises in the movie, though.

Thanks to reader Steve for pointing out the link.