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04/04/2008: Another Voice to Master
Have you given any thought to your writing style? Sometimes script writing teachers can give you the impression that a good script is as styleless as a blueprint, purposefully bearing no mark of an author in order to be an impartial conduit of what-the-viewer-will-see-and-hear.
Nonsense! Scripts can have as much style as a novel or short story. Stage directions are nothing less than you, whispering directly into the ear of the reader. That's your voice. You can choose to be dispassionate and precise, to stay out of the way. Or you can be breezy and whimsical and conversational. Or poetic and evocative. You can choose a style that fits the scene, if you want, toning down the joking asides and turning up your inner Poe when a scene is dark.
Now, here's the amazing part. You can even employ style when you're writing for a show that already exists. Even if you're on staff at that show. One of our Battlestar writers has a distinctive straight-from-the-id style that makes his scripts stand out from the rest of ours. Listen:
"The room is so quiet you could hear the sweat trickle." That's from a stage direction. And notice that although it's got whimsy to it, it's also incredibly economical. Stylish stage directions don't have to be long-winded. I could give you a half-dozen examples from the same script with the same degree of conciseness and style. They don't distract, they enhance.
In general, it's usually good to try to write like the show runner, but if you've got a good light hand and a vibrant style, you should experiment with letting it shine through in your scripts. In fact, you may find that that nagging urge to put voice-over in all your spec pilots will go away, if you let the stage directions serve a bit of that need you feel to talk to the audience.
Lunch: hot dogs (no buns), cucumber salad