View Full Version : Sarcasm and Character Perception
01-28-2001, 12:14 AM
I was just writing and had a little fun with a description. However, it got me wondering.
Here's the line:
"The woman makes does eyes at the deeply spiritual Mack."
Mack is anything BUT deeply spiritual. However, the woman perceives Mack as being spiritual. So the action description is both sarcastic/playful (in line with the light tone I want) and underlines the perception that the woman has.
What are your thoughts? Over the line? I'll probably end up rewriting the line anyway. However, I was interested on opinions about sarcasm and making a statement about another character based on his/her wrong perception to underscore the difference between perception and reality.
Thank you for your time.
01-28-2001, 12:25 AM
I believe it would throw me off as a reader unless the context made it perfectly clear that sarcasm was involved.
01-28-2001, 12:49 AM
same here. I'd probably say something like "The woman makes doe eyes at Mack. She thinks he's deeply spiritual."
I also read "does" as a conjugation of to do (he does, she does). Maybe that's just me but it made it extra confusing. Thought it was a typo. I think it should be either doe or doe's.
01-28-2001, 12:53 AM
Mixed feelings about this Slayer. One of the questions I always ask myself about any of my writer "asides" is: "will this help the reader/filmmakers/actors,etc. visualize the moment/character better? Will this help them to 'see' it?" You want every line to serve your screenplay, and anything that even whispers "cutesy" should be considered suspect at best...
You know your screenplay better than anyone, and even with your description of Mack's character it's still hard to critique that line when taken out of the context of the "whole", as the tone of your script may dictate it; but my advice would be to ask yourself the aforementioned quesitons, because, essentially, if you can't SEE it, it probably shouldn't be in the screenplay. However, that is not to suggest that every line should be a "technical" description of the visuals... Sometimes one line describing a character's personality can give you a "visual" of that character -- their physical nuances, their persona, the way they carry themselves, etc. -- that sticks with you throughout your reading of the script.
The same goes for a location... I think it was BARFLY that had the description of a bar as: "your typical shitty bar" or "a shitty bar"... something to that effect. While that isn't technically a "visual description", it sure as heck allows me to visualize the bar.
So the major things are to avoid being too "cutesy", relative to the tone of your script, and to make sure that whatever's in your action/description lines can be visualized or will show up on the screen in some manner (as in recurring character personality/physical traits)... because, truly, as Terry Rossio writes in "Points For Style": "at best the reading experience should mimic the experience of seeing the movie". If what you're writing isn't going to "show up" on screen, then you've got to find other ways of getting it across.
One of the BEST ways to get any subtle subtext across in your screenplay, imo, is to do it through visuals, conflict and drama...
Just my take,
01-28-2001, 01:26 AM
Yes, it was a typo. Oops.
Thanks. Yeah, it might cause confusion. I guess I'll have to rein in them doggies. I was having a little too much fun.
I almost added the rest of the line, which was "...as lightning cracks in the sky." See, I did have some visual imagery to go along with it. <grins> The line does aid in visualizing the overall feel of the proceeding scene and dialogue. However, I think your comment on "cutesy" is probably accurate. <grins> Oh well, it's a first draft and it's late at night and it's fun and and andandand. Okay, I hear you. Thanks for the azimuth check.
I appreciate your time.
01-28-2001, 01:40 AM
All this "stick to what you can shoot with a camera and only what you can shoot with a camera" stuff sounds fine and oh so professional but leaves something out and that is tone.
Tone comes from the way you tell a story. Not just bare bones dry description of what things and people look like or who punches whom. But the way you tell a story, which includes the language you use to tell your story and your attitude during the telling. For example, you might not say "@#%$" a lot if you were writing the Little Mermaid. "That mermaid looks like one great @#%$" is just not the language of The Little Mermaid. But Barfly? It could definitely be part of the vocabulary you would tell the story with. Because that is the tone of Barfly. A dark hard story about dark hard people in dark hard places where people don't always use Sunday expressions. And I would in a second if I was writing an in your face sarcastic comedy use the example given. Because it sets story tone.
There are a lot of different ways to say one thing. How you choose ultimately to say something comes down to the story you are telling. Not just telling someone what to point a camera at. But does this serve character and does this serve plot and does this serve tone?, because those matter to.
01-28-2001, 01:42 AM
well it all depends on what you're writing or at least the tone, because what it does affect is your tone.
if, say, for example, your character was hanging out in some retreat and disguised himself as a monk (even though in real life he is a bartender) and spewed off a line that was SO CLEARLY bull to us, and she was smitten because she bought it hook, line and sinker, then sure, your line is appropriate and funny.
then the sarcasm comes clear. or consider using):
She makes eyes at the "deeply spiritual" Mack.
01-28-2001, 01:54 AM
Yes, the line supports the tone (definetly) and character development (from a certain point of view).
Yes, the preceding scene has lines that are clearly BS.
I didn't want to get into a debate about defending one particular line, though.
Thanks for everyone's comments on: Is sarcasm okay? and the discussion on tone.
01-28-2001, 01:56 AM
My major point is that asides are okay, heck even good, if they serve the story...
What you don't want the reader to visualize as he/she's reading your script is some phantom impression of "you" staring at them from inside of the script and winking "get it?" every once in a while... You don't want them to feel as if you're talking directly to them... you want them to feel as if the script is talking directly to them; the writer is absent. It's a fine line.
Which one of these character descriptions do you like the best (if any)? Least?: (just out of curiosity)
"A snake in lawyer's clothing"
"rugged, blue-collar academic"
"... had seemingly forgotten that his 'fifteen minutes' had long ago expired..."
"Jake is drunk. Well, A drunk rather..."
"Picture a simple, boring bowl of peas. Now take away any remaining personality."
All of these have been in my scripts at some point (some were very short lived... didn't make it past one re-read of the page they were on)...
01-28-2001, 02:06 AM
Yeah, that tone thing is what I was trying to get at earlier that's missing from technical physical descriptions. Thanks Gig. There is an overall "feel" to a screenplay that you want to get across in your descriptions that may not actually be what you technically "see" in that particular scene, but will be a recurring motif/feeling/tone throughout the script... Check out the Chinatown screenplay at some point if you ever get the chance. Every page practically screams film noir (to me at least). The FEEL of the script. That's partially what I was so ineloquently describing as "visualizing" in my earlier post...
And I'm warming up to your line... especially after reading Strange Mind's take with the quotation marks around deeply spiritual.
01-28-2001, 02:13 AM
Okay I am going to disagree with Wolf here. Writers are not supposed to be invisible. Writers are supposed to tell a story. And. When I write. I think (I hope) people hear a story and see a story because of how I tell it. And know right off a writer is taking them on a journey. I am right there the whole time. And they know it. I know that because people tell me so. And they see it. I know that because people tell me so. And that is my goal. Hear it see it know it because I take you there.
If your goal is to be invisible, you will be invisible. And so will your story. Do not be invisible. Stand out. If you do not, how will your story?
01-28-2001, 02:21 AM
Can a writer be TOO present in the writing? So much so that the story is muffled by the writer's voice...
From what I've read of yours, you are definitely "there" guiding me... BUT it's subtle, it's like you and the script are one and the line between the two of you is blurred rather than you speaking directly to me at the expense of the script itself... So, in essense you are both there and are absent (okay, I stopped making sense long ago)
Of course, you're damned good at what you do, too. A lesser writer may not be able to pull it off (Heck, honestly I don't think Shane Black pulls it off as well as you do)
01-28-2001, 02:32 AM
Okay I can die happy. I have been compared to William Goldman AND Shane Black.
01-28-2001, 12:21 PM
I agree with GG completely. When you eliminate an aside you better be eliminating only because it's inappropriate. When you take it out for reasons like "don't write what you can't see" you take something away from the personality/soul of the scene/script which in itself is a reflection of the writer. Methinks that some writers are always thinking about who they're writing FOR,the intended market etc instead of writing for themselves first and foremost.
So all you guys running around censoring yourselves, trying to economise every damn line are effectively cramping the style/tone of scene X. Who you are as a person and how YOU view the world you are writing about comes out in your writing. Your judgement call as a writer is deciding on whether what you are writing is appropriate - ie. does it achieve the desired effect?
I remember John Carpenter saying "movies make mental things physical" - the example DS gave us might be impossible to visualise on screen but it's clear that the writer is looking for a specific effect something that cold description CANNOT achieve. He's saying it's like this with a twist. I believe that when a writer sticks in an aside he is looking for a very specific effect appropriated to the world he is writing about.
Incidentally I read the line in that it was loaded with sarcasm, the words "doe eyes" are what alters the effect of the line. If she looks at him with a glare is Mack still as spiritual? and is she seeing through his supposed spirituality etc?
"I would never write anything I wouldn't want to read"
01-28-2001, 02:46 PM
I am starting to feel like GiG's evil twin of screenwriting philosophy....
Nonetheless, to forward the debate, It is my belief that it is the writer's job to get out of the way of the story/read as opposed to be a presence inside the story/read. I am not saying a good script can't be written using them, I'm just saying that the writers = movies I like rarely use them. For example, I'm sitting with the script of "Raising Arizona". Let's look at the introduction of Hi, the main character. There are a thousand ways to introduce this character. The intrusive,
"cutesy" way would be:
This is Hi. Bedhead. Could probably tie his shoes if he could just find them. He's cheerful today, and why not? He's headed back to where he loves to be: prison.
Or the way the Coen's describe him:
A disheveled young man in a gaily colored Hawaiian shirt is launched into frame. He holds a printed paddle that reads "No 4168-6 NOV 29 79.
I just like the second version better. Call it a matter of taste. The first gives me the image of a clever "writer" congratulating themselves on a witty comment they've just made at a cocktail party. The second uses the tools of the medium: what we can see and what we can hear, to communicate the same information without shortcuts, retaining mystery about the character, and with the dispassionate presentation that is the building block of real comedy.
Cutesy asides smacks of being "in the game" - screenwriters writing for stupid executives who don't have the capacity to imagine a film.
The irony of this, GiG, is that if we traded scripts, we'd probably both say, "oh, THAT, well THAT's okay, THAT's not what I'm complaining about" - who knows. I'm game if you are.
01-28-2001, 03:04 PM
Wow you want to read one of my scripts? Probably you would bat me around like a ninja I do all that stuff you do not like and probably things you do not even yet know to say you do not like. (wink)
01-28-2001, 03:20 PM
I am confused about the definition of aside as being used in this discussion. Some seem to be talking about putting in something that is not "don't use anything that cannot be shown on film" -- when it sounds like they are talking about character description and action lines that add insight to the character or situation or tone but cannot actually be shown on film, unless it is something that can be interpreted by the actors.
Others seem to be talking about when a writer says something, makes a cute remark or a comment that has little to do with the script or story.
Of course, there are also actor's asides, said to someone else or even to the audience.
This could be quite confusing to those who are interested in the subject. Somehow, I'm not sure everyone is on the same page here.
01-28-2001, 04:00 PM
There are actually several issues/ topics buried within this thread.
One topic is the use of writer's voice or asides.
Another topic is the use of description that can't be filmed.
Another topic is the use of description that can't be filmed, but does add to tone, character, or plot.
The last is the use of sarcasm.
Personally, I was interested in the use of sarcasm and thoughts on that. The discussion about tone was very interesting, but might be confusing as Lil mentioned.
01-28-2001, 04:13 PM
*the dry Mameteer practices his ninja moves.....
01-28-2001, 04:27 PM
Okay, I want to clarify my position on this a bit as I was a little too tired and a wee bit too inebriated last night to communicate in the clearest, simplest manner what was going on in my noodle...
I say put it in the screenplay if it serves the story. If it doesn't serve the story and smacks of the self-referential cleverness that Tao was talking about then don't put it in.
That's my position. OF COURSE I believe that a writer should have a unique style that is all their own and speaks to the reader, and allows the reader to not only see and hear the story, but to also FEEL the story. OF COURSE your screenplays should stand out from the pack of "drawn by the numbers" scripts that newbies write because they're afraid to develop an individual "style". OF COURSE the best writers in any medium have their own voices and you can feel their presence while you're reading their stuff... BUT their voice, their presence doesn't get in the way of the novel/article/philosophical musing/screenplay, etc... It enhances it!!! This is definitely crucial to good screenwriting with a "voice" (ala Gig, Goldman, Schraeder, Bass (occasionally), Minghella, Towne, Black (though I couldn't dig into The Long Kiss...), Walker, Uhls, David Peoples, Rossio and Elliot, etc., etc...)
Also, of course a screenplay written within a certain genre or trying to convey a certain tone should carry the language of that genre/tone and is often enhanced by having an ON THE PAGE look that actually helps the reader to see the story and feel the rhythm of the story... Like I said CHINATOWN (the script) screams Film Noir, THe ENGLISH PATIENT screams literary epic, FIGHT CLUB the screenplay has the feel of watching the movie and moves at the pace of the film. This jumps off of the page when you read these scripts, but the writer him or herself is never intrusive and never gets in the way of the story...
That's what I meant...
Lil, I was talking about asides that don't help the reader to "experience" the film (whether through sight, sound or feel). I was not suggesting that everything in the script should SHOW UP onscreen exactly as written. Though I do believe that information embedded within descriptions that is key to plot or character should be in the action or dialogue at some point...
These are bad examples off the top of my head, but bear with me:
"Johnny turns, faces the MAN IN BLUE... knows he's the killer" - is okay in my book because it helps me to visualize the expression on Johnny's face IF the the Man in Blue has been set up earlier in the script as the killer and we've seen Johnny sift through countless clues until he's finally found one that strikes him and it points, however subtly, to the Man in Blue, then I think this line works. If we haven't been privy to all of that other stuff, then I think it's a cop-out, personally.
Even, "Say hello to BILL... the blacksheep of the family. That same brand of jackass, low-life that every family has hidden somewhere in their closet that they never tell anyone about..." also works (hopefully I'm not being too presumptuous) because it gives an idea of the "character" of Bill (unless of course the reader's family is squeaky clean, or the reader is easily offended...). It speaks to us in the voice of the character. It gives us the tone of the script. The reader is (hopefully) going to be thinking, "okay, this script is going to be raw... probably a wild ride that pulls no punches".
Even, "GERALD HALL. A man of depth. Writes heartbreaking poetry while the rest of us make small-talk about the weather" works for me if this isn't overused in the script.
However, "This is JENNY. Tall, sophisticated... and boy look at the legs on her. Woohoo! I dream about a chick with legs like that. But don't tell my wife, okay?" doesn't work for me. And I've read screenplays that come pretty close to that.
Like I said, bad examples and even some of the ones that work for me won't necessarily work for others (Tao?)...
01-28-2001, 04:36 PM
i'm not a fan of writing prose that you never see on screen. but i'm not a fan of mechanical "see jack run, see jack hide" writing either. i think voice is important, because voice creates tone. and tone is major for me.
a line here or there to create or elicit a certain response in the reader is just fine -- it's great. also what i posted in response to the ron bass dialogue thread. an aside that clues us in and makes clear the context is fine by me. but a whole paragraph of cute prose you will never see and can't see? then i tend to go with tao's remark about "cocktail party" lines.
i don't think voice gets in the way of a story. bad writing does. if gig, goldman and black do what they do well, then they should do what they do. but if someone is foregoes trying to find their own voice by thinking: "oh, i will try to write like gig or goldman or black", then they should know soon that they will never be as good as writing like gig or goldman or black as gig or goldman or black.
01-28-2001, 04:40 PM
Well ninja guy if you really want to do this you have to give me an email address and also that hamstring looks a little tight you had better stretch some.
01-28-2001, 04:43 PM
Gig I suggest you read Mr. Martell's script "Ninja Busters", then you will have the secret to busting ninjas and Tao will have no chance.
01-28-2001, 04:59 PM
i know you directed your question sort of at tao, but i'm just going to jump in here.
imho, you pushed it big time with bill, and gerald's description went way overboard.
but also, i know these are just quick and dirty examples.
however, i once voiced a strong opinion on that kind of writing before, namely what i read in goldman's book "which lie did i tell", in the screenplay called "pantheon", that was included as an exercise for 5 other writers to take apart.
wc martell, in the ron bass dialogue thread, seems to share the same opinion, and you can check it out. might be helpful to hear another perspective on the matter.
01-28-2001, 05:08 PM
"The woman makes doe's eyes at the deeply spiritual Mack."
If this was an Ally Mcbeal episode, the woman in question could literally be shown with a hook stretching her cheek, with Mack holding the rod. Or CGI would be used to exagerate her longing leer. But I hope you don't resort to such reality breaking zaniness.
The suggestion of using quotes to show sarcasm, while retaining flow of the narrative action is the best advice given, in my opionion.
"The woman makes doe eyes at Mack. She thinks he's deeply spiritual."
To dedicate an entire sentence to what she is thinking, however, would be distracting to a reader and impossible to realize on the screen...
Which brings me to:
"Writers are not supposed to be invisible." Yes they are!
Lonewolf was on the money with his first post. His/her position seemed to change over the course of the topic, though.
If a writer were to litter a play with character insight, clever character/location description, and tone structuring narritive action, which does not help a filmmaker to realize the play on the screen, then it is nothing but a waste of valuable page space. Is it not possible to use imagery to bring those points across? No? Then find another way! Because that's the only option with which a director will be stuck.
To be fair, I don't think this topic can be approached objectively. It is my opinion that screenplays are not meant to be read, but realized on celluloid(or digital transmission nowdays). Show, dont tell. Otherwise, the writer becomes a character in their own play.
"The best musical scores are those that do not distract from what happens on screen. The same can be said of a screenplay."
01-28-2001, 05:15 PM
Okay, let's assume William Goldman is a professional screenwriter. He was also a professor before his screenwriting career. Don't you think that William Goldman is aware that his screenwriting career depends a lot on the credibility of his writing? So, why would he publish a book with what is obviously a bad example of a screenplay? It damages his credibility. Other writers tore his work apart. Why would he subject himself to their criticism? Not just private criticism nor even a quote in a news article, but he put their criticism in a book that nearly every screenwriter was going to read. It was way out in the public. Why would he do that? I don't think William Goldman is a fool. I'm sure he was aware of all the possible effects mentioned above.
Well, Mr. Goldman was and is a teacher. He gave a bad example so it could be torn apart. He wanted it torn apart. He wanted other writers to see that there are many different ways to tell the same story. He wanted to show differences in style. If the screenplay had been more obviously "good", then the other writers might have been more intimidated in offering criticism. Remember, most of the writers that criticized him in his novel grew up studying the legendary works of William Goldman. So, what did he do? He gave them a bad... not just bad... but crappy script. It was a teaching tool and nothing more.
BTW You're not wrong. It was a bad script.
DS2 (Who gives some credit to the intelligence of William Goldman)
01-28-2001, 05:17 PM
I understand actors' asides.
I understand writers' asides.
To me, applying it to all that other stuff is misleading and incorrect.
Sarcasm, of course use it -- if it works. I wouldn't dare presume on the basis of one sentence.
Any of it -- use it if it works. How do we know if it works or not. Hmm ... Well ... I guess we either know or we don't. We may be right. We may be wrong. Opinions may vary on whether we are or aren't.
But how is anyone ever going to find out, if they rigidly follow the rules of those "rule-makers." Or even pattern their work after someone elses. I think the "rules" come from trying to explain to those new to screenwriting how to avoid being totally off the mark. For anyone with other writing experience, well, they have to learn basic formatting but some of that other stuff, especially the bossy stuff, can be detrimental.
I have never understood why anyone tells anyone exactly how to do something creative. Basics, techniques, materials etc, that's another thing entirely. You have to do it yourself.
Sometimes you have it or you don't, nothing is going to help that problem.
I guess it's all part of "finding your own voice." Part of learning to write is writing. Studying every theory and opinion in the world ain't gonna help if you don't actually do it.
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