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05/31/2006: Like a Stealth Weapon for your Spec Script
There is a small white dog who lives with an old lady in my building. The dog's name is Precious. I think she might be an old lady herself. She never begs for attention -- doesn't want to offend by taking up your personal space -- but given the smallest encouragement, she's all over you. She's like a respectful but ultimately eager red-carpet correspondent at the Oscars.
Ha! Analogy! I've talked before about using analogy in dialog. But a quick search of my own scripts reveals I do it even more in stage directions. It can be a quick and evocative way of conveying exactly the effect you want.
Some of you may have been instructed to avoid flowery and figurative language in stage directions. But even the sparest stage directions have room for analogy.
In produced scripts, these can serve as helpful guidelines to actors and directors about what you're looking for, like this one from a Buffy episode:
"Dawn concentrates, and very slowly, she lifts one foot... And falls face forward like toppling timber, landing out of frame."
Or it might be an instruction to an effects person. This fragment is part of a description of a ghostly figure attacking Buffy:
"…two thin arms forming to crush her like a coiling snake"
Or perhaps to an animator. This one is from Animated Buffy:
"Cordy freezes, looks around, like a shark smelling blood."
But since you're writing spec scripts, all of your analogies are instructions to a *reader*, helping them quickly and easily picture what you had in mind. The fact that they also color the read with emotion is a bonus. A huge bonus. One that the ultimate viewer of an episode would never know about, but that a reader gets the full effect of. It can be a spec writer's secret assistant.
"He sits astride her, hunched like a vulture," does more than accurately describe a posture. It sets a tone for the interaction. "Angel hovers over and behind Griff like a storm cloud," tells you not just that Angel has snuck up behind someone, but that something big and dark and dangerous is about to happen. In a script I read recently, there was a description of people "eaten away by disease like gypsy moths." Wow. Talk about setting a tone… tattered, sad, inevitable, unclean, passive, gray… it's all in there. Accomplished in seven little words.
Don't overload your script with these, of course. It'll start to read like a parody of that noir style -- "She sashayed into my office like a trolley car with a drunken conductor" -- Fun, but not right for your spec Grey's Anatomy.
Find those non-verbal moments in which you're going for a specific look or feel, and see if an analogy doesn't serve you well.
Lunch: Chicken wings from Koo Koo Roo.