Script consultant and editor Pilar Alessandra took us on a whirlwind hour of screenwriting craft to analyse screenplay and see how our choices, if we used our craft correctly could greatly enhance and improve our work.
Scenes can give us the feeling of an idea and Pilar showed us how, while keeping the pertinent description of a scene intact, we can still colour the expression of the place, different word choices giving hints to different genres depending on what you are writing. Word choice is important and what’s also important is to remember that readers grasp things in context, so you don’t need to dumb down medical, military or other types of language that would be used in the context of who your characters are.
In addition to word choice the placing or separation of descriptive phrases can draw the camera’s eye to images that have significance, to add weight to them. Because at the end of the day, the emotion that comes out of a line of action is the story. How you approach the dialogue or visuals matters.
When it comes to adding subtext, there’s a ‘tell’ in a scene that you can find. Replacing what a character truly might wish to say with a revealing gesture is enough to grasp what’s really going on. Those revealing gestures can also inform an actor the tone of the dialoge. “I’m sorry,” could be delivered in many different ways but if there’s a clenched fist also it’s clearer what kind of delivery by the actor serves the intention best. Focusing on the key tell helps you focus on what your scene is about.
The right word choice can do the job of three different sentences, in particular when it comes to character description where if you capture the essence of a character rather than locking down specific physicality that tells little about their inner state. ‘Beguiling vamp.’ says way more than ‘tall blonde in a bustier’ and leaves casting and costume choices more open. Similarly something like ‘subordinate chic’ can say a lot about a location without tying down a specific look (especially if you might need to do research to know what that look is as with something like Mad Men which is both period and a particular field). Essence plus action can describe a character very well. If your beguiling vamp works in somewhere that’s subordinate chic then she’s going to stand out, a lot!
Going through scripts to edit or re-write Pilar encourages us to find our ‘one liners’. Those memorable bits of dialogue that people will remember.. “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.” that was such a contrast to the hysteria of the scene that it had huge impact. A word choice in the opening can set the tone for an entire scene.
Ultimately your job is to find the story of a scene. What has to be there and what helps or hurts the main beat of your story. When people say edit it’s not so they can read less (although they like to read less) it’s so you can be truer to the story you want to tell.
Pilar is continuing teaching her extremely precise grasp of technique in more sessions at the LSF.