Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is full of laconic one-liners that crisply capture the essence of the characters.
Who can forget the Sundance Kid’s film-defining line: “I’ll do anything you want me to but I won’t watch you die.”
Hollywood has a notoriously short attention span. Readers have to wade through dozens of new screenplays daily, and their tolerance for poorly worded stories is short.
Of course, Hollywood is not the only place to peddle your screenplay, but if you’re looking to play the Lotto, there’s nowhere better.
Let’s look at two aspects of tight, vivid writing in screenplays: the use of verbs that capture the essence of character in the action block, and the use of metaphor in character descriptions.
Here are three examples of weak verbs:
1. Benjamin looks at the girl standing opposite him.
How does he look at the girl? Does he frown, gaze, leer, glance, squint, or peer at her?
2. Claire enters the room.
This is inadequate. How does Claire enter the room? Does she stride, limp, march, slink, flow, or pad in?
3. Olivia stands waiting.
How does she stand? Is she slouching, leaning, erect?
Never miss the opportunity to have a verb convey the personality and attitude of your character. Not only do you void the need for adverbs, you make your sentences crispier and more vibrant.
Character descriptions in screenplays, too, should be brief but impactful. Because they influence how we view the character, they should be crafted with care.
Brevity, clarity, simplicity at work
Consider this character description from one of my stories:
I started with: “SAMUEL is big and muscular, but with a surprisingly light gait that belies his enormous size.”
…but ended up with: “SAMUEL is built like an earthmoving truck, but can turn on a dime.”
“A well-dressed John Flyn pads into the room. He is strong and graceful, with a feline quality that suggests a strength and agility that comes from years of training.” Too wordy.
“John Flyin pads into the room, a panther in an Armani suit.” Better.
Appropriate metaphors enliven character description and eliminate unnecessary words.
Use brevity, clarity, simplicity in describing your subject. Where appropriate, use metaphors to capture your character’s essence.
The lecturer may have been wrong to do so outright, Gerhard. A sparse use of metaphors in the action-block of a screenplay can capture the essence of a character, and can impress a script reader, if used adroitly.
Metaphors are important . They paint pictures . But there is a difference between writing metaphors for screenplays and writing metaphors for novels. I will never forget learning about writing screenplays in my first year. I took a scene from my own novel and copied it word for word to a screenplay. The lecture complement the use of language but panned the script for unnecessary words of description.
For the next article I would be interested in reading about adapting novels ( big epics – Lord Of the rings or small adventures – Diary entries by Anne Frank) for screen.