Just a quick one today to remind you there’s no RIGHT way to write your spec screenplay or novel, but there *are* plenty of WRONG ways. In fact, there’s so many mini-pitfalls, pet peeves and writing mistakes out there, they soon add up to form a big fat REJECTION for your work if you’re not careful.
But as I always bang on on B2W (arf) you can avoid this avalanche of writing kryptonite by paying attention to the little things. Since writers LOVE dialogue, I thought I’d draw attention to two KILLER phrases that are so stinky they immediately make script readers SWOON (and not in a good way):
1) “This isn’t the movies, you know!”
Holy crapballs! Seriously?? But seriously … this one just won’t go away. Sometimes in unpublished novels ‘movies’ is substituted for ‘books’ (though not often). Other variants may include ‘You’ve been watching too many [movies that are like this story]‘; also, ‘You think you’re James Bond’ (occasionally a superhero’s name or Arnold Schwarzenegger and once I saw ‘Harry Potter’, though it was a fantasy novel).
The issue with this is, it reminds me THIS IS A STORY. That’s not a good idea. You want the reader to suspend his or her disbelief. That’s the point of storytelling. Drawing attention to the fact it’s essentially fake is simply bonkers.
But look, I get it – it seems like it could be ironic. And maybe it was, once upon a time in a galaxy far away. But in this one? I read this ‘joke’ probably 5-6 times a month, MINIMUM. And as we all know, good writing is also about standing out. Le duh.
Needless to say, this is especially bad in a spec feature screenplay (it literally is a movie, FFS!), but even in shorts or TV pilots or an unpublished novel it is stinkier than 4000 year old Gorgonzola. STOP. FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, STOP!!
2) “This doesn’t make sense!”
This may also pop up as dialogue from characters such as ‘No one would ever believe that!’ or ‘This is really boring’, etc. In other words, the characters are mouthpieces for the writer’s subconscious alarm at the way the story is going, also known as a ‘signal from Fred’.
Many writers – both screenwriter and novelist – believe ‘signals from Fred’ do not exist. To back up their assertions, they will point to produced and published works where characters will literally say these things and be justified for it.
But those writers are forgetting CONTEXT. Of course, justified use of these phrases are fine. If characters are supposed to be confused, but the plotting works, then great.
But in spec work, I’ve found over the years it’s really intriguing just how few instances of ‘This doesn’t make sense’ (or similar) are NOT justified … because the plotting LITERALLY doesn’t make sense. Now THAT’S irony for ya. This can even lead to the dreaded plot hole.
What Writers Can Do
In the case of number 1, in case you didn’t understand in the section?? KILL IT WITH FIRE. You don’t need it. Seriously.
In the case of number 2, think about whether your use of it is ‘real’ or a SIGNAL FROM FRED. I bet you a million squid, plus tentacles, it’s the latter – especially if it’s an early draft.
BTW – it’s nothing to be ashamed of, it’s actually a handy marker … I discovered I had three myself in an early version of The Other Twin. Being aware of this ‘Signals From Fred’ helped me identify where I was getting tied up in knots in my mystery. How? Well, I discovered where my protagonist Poppy had the most confusion with her investigation, were the chapters that needed the most work. Furrealz.
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