Hardy Boys, in outline form

Rebecca Onion looks at the typed outline for a Hardy Boys novel:

In this two-page outline for the 1927 Hardy Boys’ mystery The House on the Cliff, Edward Stratemeyer directed writer Leslie Macfarlane in the construction of the plot of the second book in the franchise’s original series. The book was officially published as the work of Franklin W. Dixon, a fictional author whose name appears on all of the Hardy Boys books.  

It’s fascinating to look at something so old yet so familiar. Most modern televison writing goes through an outline stage, at which point the studio and network sign off on the story — or send it back with notes.

TV outlines aren’t this rough, but they are similarly straightforward in their just-what-happens style. I find them hard to write, because my instinct is always to be fancy and clever. That’s not what outlines are for.

Based on what I read in Marvin Heiferman and Carole Kismaric’s The Mysterious Case of Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, Macfarlane would have had a month to turn this outline into a book, for which he would be paid $100.

Rude Awakenings

As longtime readers know, I love me a supercut. This one by Roman Holiday explores the trope of characters sitting up in bed after a nightmare:

I love how the camera circles from left to right. I love that we don’t hear the screams. Stripped of context, it becomes clear what an artificial cinematic construct the wake-scream (or the sweaty wake-gasp) really is. Most people will never experience this kind of event in real life.

And yet: Movies are about extraordinary circumstances. Movies involve heroes taking a journey they’ll take exactly once. So on some level, the wake-scream is less a cliché than a signifier that yup, we’re in a movie, and we are headed on a specific kind of ride. That’s probably why we see them in the first act and not the third.

The Coyote Could Stop Any Time

Scriptnotes: Ep. 187

John and Craig take a look at the self-imposed rules behind the Road Runner cartoons, and how limiting one’s choices is different than following dogma.

Then it’s time for three new entrants in the Three Page Challenge, each presenting a range of issues to discuss.

Also this week, the dismal diversity numbers that don’t need exaggerative charts and how even produced screenwriters often live with precarious finances.


You can download the episode here: AAC | mp3.

UPDATE 3-13-15: The transcript of this episode can be found here.

The Rules (or, the Paradox of the Outlier)

Scriptnotes: Ep. 186

John and Craig discuss this year’s screenplay Oscar winners, including the success of Birdman’s outside-the-box approach and Graham Moore’s speech.

Craig asked Reddit’s r/screenwriting sub to collect a list of the so-called rules budding screenwriters are told to follow. From the rules of the page to the rules of the industry, John and Craig look at these commonly-cited rules one-by-one, discussing which ones have merit and which ones are better ignored.

All this, plus follow-up on Tess Gerritsen’s Gravity lawsuit.

Also, John has a new app in the App Store called Assembler. Find out more in the links below.


You can download the episode here: AAC | mp3.

UPDATE 3-10-15: The transcript of this episode can be found here.

Malcolm Spellman, a Study in Heat

Scriptnotes: Ep. 185

Screenwriter Malcolm Spellman joins Craig and John to talk about his big break, blown opportunities, and getting momentum back. Now part of the smash hit Empire, he talks about the changes and challenges African-American writers face both on the small screen and the big screen.

Also this episode, we look at a review that credits the director with the screenwriter’s work and the role trailers play in shaping audience expectation. Plus the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, the Three Investigators, SNL and literally losing your voice.

Trivia: “A Study in Heat” was the name of the sandwich Malcolm ate after recording this episode.


You can download the episode here: AAC | mp3.

UPDATE 2-25-15: The transcript of this episode can be found here.

Is automatic (cont’d) a bug or a feature?

We got a question in the Highland support queue this morning that is less technical than philosophical:

I started using Highland to finish a script I started in Final Draft.

In Final Draft when a character speaks, then stops to do something physical, spots something, etc, then speaks again, a (CONT’D) is automatically added.

When I finished writing the script in Highland I noticed that Highland does not add the (CONT’D) so I had half a script with (CONT’D) and half without it.

In short I am curious is the (CONT’D) needed? Should I add it to what I wrote in Highland, or do I go back and remove it?

I am going to submit this script to the Black List website, and am still an aspiring screenwriter. I personally think the (CONT’D) just takes up space, and understand why Highland doesn’t automatically add it, but wanted to get your opinion first.

Many thanks. I love using Highland, and won’t be going back to Final Draft ever.

What he’s describing is automatic dialogue continuity,1 which is a source of no small amount of consternation to screenwriters. I wrote about it back in 2010, and that advice still holds true.

But my opinions have clearly influenced the direction of Highland, so it’s worth revisiting.

In some cases, you’ll absolutely want to use (cont’d) to indicate a character is still speaking. It’s a signal to the reader (and the actor) that the character is continuing the same thought, regardless of the intervening action.

An example:


(looking at his phone)

According to Dark Sky, a storm is coming in four minutes.

A tornado suddenly touches down, flipping over cars. Tom is oblivious.


We should probably go inside.

In other cases, it’s much less clear whether dialogue continuity makes sense. If a bunch of action has occurred between the last time the character spoke, is it really correct or helpful to have that (cont’d)?

Consider Sandra Bullock’s character in Gravity. Minutes may elapse between her spoken dialogue, but Final Draft will default to adding the (cont’d) since no other character has spoken in the interim. You can delete the (cont’d), but it’s a hassle, and it will come right back if you reformat text around it.

With Highland, we made the decision not to do add the (cont’d) automatically. The screenwriter is always the best judge of whether the dialogue is continuous, so you can just type it yourself.

That’s sort of the philosophy of Highland and Fountain: your script is exactly what you type, nothing more, nothing less. If you want a (cont’d) there, it’s deliberate.

In recent editions of Highland, we’ve given users the option to have Highland automatically add (more) and (cont’d) at page breaks.

Again, I think that’s consistent with the Highland philosophy. The app is doing behind-the-scenes work to make the page look great, with algorithms to break dialogue at the period where possible, and squeeze in an extra line if necessary. This kind of (cont’d) only shows up if you really need it, so there’s no reason to bake it into the text itself.

On the subject of Highland, we have a new release in the Mac App Store today. It fixes a bug that was preventing .fdx export.

  1. “Continued” can be noted as (CONT’D) or (cont’d). Both are fine. Pick one and stick with it.