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Home » Archives » March 2006 » A Little Off the Top
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03/21/2006: A Little Off the Top

Suppose you walked into a room and found me in the middle of a conversation with someone else. You didn't hear what he just said, but you heard my reply. You heard me say:

What? He fired you? When?
Well, I think you're the one who's cheap!
I'm not going to steal for you even if we are still married!
Mom said I could have some!
I don't know what you have, but that's not a mosquito bite.

In each case, you have a very good idea of what the other person in the room just said. You know something about both characters and the nature of their interaction, with one line. A scene that starts with a line like these -- a reaction line -- catches your interest fast and plunks you down in the middle of the relationship. Sure, you could start the scene with "I think I have a mosquito bite." Or you could get all the same info in half the time.

I use this all the time. All the time. I don't even think about it and wasn't consciously aware of it until I started looking for it. Here's one from a recent script. The scene starts with this line:

I promised you a half-ton of frozen fish. That’s a half-ton of frozen fish.

When we hear that, we know that the previous line was some kind of protest about whether or not Shady Guy met his end of the bargain. We've established the attitude of both characters by the end of line.

As you look through your own writing, you may very well discover that you've been doing this automatically, too. If not, try knocking off a few opening lines, see if it doesn't jump-start the scene!

Lunch: Leftover Thai food. Garlic noodles are better the second day.


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