On Passive Voice

To write well is to clearly communicate your thoughts to someone else.  Unless you are writing poetry, in your diary, or some other creative type of writing – your goal should and probably is so that others read and understand it.  The passive voice confuses traditional object/subject classifications.  It can cause readers to become unsure as to who is acting, and who is affected.  This prevents you from achieving the clearest form of communication – which is usually the goal!

Or, to paraphrase Stephen King:  With a hammer he killed Frank = bad. He killed Frank with a hammer = better.

Sports analogies for screenwriters.

In the NBA (the sport I know most about) there’s five players on the court at all time. They fall into archetypes (the five positions). Interestingly, lineups can be mixed, but over time, for whatever reason, the teams tend to regress back to the archetypal five. So it is in writing, where the archetypes and tropes of narrative are often subverted, but eventually returned to.

The tight salary cap of the modern NBA is analogous to the slavish page restrictions in modern screenwriting. There are players like Joe Johnson who is amazing, but not for the amount of money he costs. In the same way, I’ve written scenes and threads that I really liked, but they simply ate up to much page count to be worth it for the team effort of where the script was going, so I “traded” the elements for things that worked less well, but got me under the cap.

Teams are fond of saying that no game plan survives first contact with the enemy (they usually paraphrase related Napoleon or Mike Tyson quotes). So it is with a script – you go in with a plan, it doesn’t always work, but even a plan that you deviate from tends to work better than no plan at all.

The way sports are learned is interesting too. People say “just write a screenplay,” but that’s not how sports are learned- no good team gets that way just by scrimmaging. They learn drills (analogous to exercises) and offensive/defensive schemes (analogous to the underlying asthetic theory that all writers build in their head).

And at the end of the day, when the chips are down, you can always throw a hail mary (play a long shot) or call an audible (wing it). Those are NFL references, so I’m mixing metaphors, but they’re more interesting than the related basketball lingo, so I’m using them.

A quick, useful screenwriting lesson

No line of dialogue or description really ever needs to be longer than four lines (feel free to break this rule 5 times per script, more is just pushing it). Most elements in a first draft are at least one line too long.

BAD: Josh reaches in his desk drawer and pulls out an envelope and slides it across the desk.  Michael picks it up.

BETTER: Josh hands Michael an envelope.