The disappearance of punctuation



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  • #16
    Originally posted by Darthclaw13 View Post

    I appreciate your response, although to just come out and say I am wrong is not the best way to respond. As I said in my post, it is my opinion and I even said I was not trying to shame or hurt anyone's feelings. Plus, I would never just out and out tell someone they are flat wrong, that is rude.
    It was a simple statement of fact and not intended to hurt your feelings or demean you in any way. My apologies if my direct comment caused any hurt feelings. It was a statement that no matter OUR opinions, mine included, there are always others that disagree. Good, or even great writing, is not about how many words are on the page.

    Personally, I think it's a good lesson for any writer to challenge that their perceptions about the industry, because it presents you with an opportunity to better understand how one can be successful in this business. You (generally any writer) has a choice 1) reconsider your approach and adapt to the industry, or 2) continue with the path that you're on.

    Either can be successful.

    There is nothing shameful about being wrong-- it's the cornerstone of how we humans learn. If I'm called out for being wrong at work, I don't blame the other person for my discomfort.

    Yes, Walter Hill did a great job writing Alien with few descriptions, however, he did use punctuation and complete sentences where needed. He would not, did not break a sentence apart in the middle for no reason.
    Okay. So what? Perhaps if you read the script COBWEB you might feel different about the writer's ability to weave a well-told story. No one is saying you have to stop using punctuation. But just because another writer makes a different choice thank you, it doesn't mean he is undeserving of his success.

    Case in point from the example you posted with high praise:
    Now who's being snarky? 😀 Perhaps you were too concerned with the first sentence in my response that you failed to read the final sentence where I corrected the auto format that separated the two lines in two paragraphs? I've corrected it again below for you.

    He ignores it and slowly, cautiously walks to the side of the
    bed where

    His MOTHER sleeps"

    Why is this sentence broken into three parts? There is no reason for this.
    Well, I'll tell you WHY I would do this... it's directing the image on the page. IMO, it might be the writer's intent to imply a med-shot on the boy walking into the room where we do not see his final destination. We hold on him as we follow him in the dark until we do reveal that he's at his mother's bedside. I saw it very clearly as I read it.

    Here is an excerpt from Hill's Alien script:
    FADE IN:

    displays pulse eerily with the technology of the distant future.

    Wherever we are, it seems to be chill, dark, and sterile. Electronic
    machinery chuckles softly to itself.

    Abruptly we hear a BEEPING SIGNAL, and the machinery begins to awaken.
    Circuits close, lights blink on.

    CAMERA ANGLES GRADUALLY WIDEN, revealing more and more of the
    machinery, banks of panels, fluttering gauges, until we reveal:


    A stainless steel room with no windows, the walls packed with
    instrumentation. The lights are dim and the air is frigid.

    Occupying most of the floor space are rows of horizontal FREEZER
    COMPARTMENTS, looking for all the world like meat lockers.

    FOOM! FOOM! FOOM! With explosions of escaping gas, the lids on the
    freezers pop open.

    As you can see he uses full sentences and punctuation, but even when he uses partial sentences they make sense and have meaning. This is what I am talking about.
    Again, so what? And honestly, it's a bit disingenuous to me, because we all admire Walter Hill's style and we've all seen Alien. Your opinion is biased.

    Here is the opening of Alien, different from the excerpt you selected...

    Long, dark.
    Turbos throbbing.
    No other movement.
    Long, empty.
    Distressed ivory walls.
    All instrumentation at rest.
    Black, empty.
    Two space helmets resting on chairs.
    Electrical hum.
    Lights on the helmets begin to signal one another.
    Moments of silence.
    A yellow light goes on.
    Data mind bank in b.g.
    Electronic hum.
    A green light goes on in front of one helmet.
    Electronic pulsing sounds.
    A red light goes on in front of other helmet.
    An electronic conversation ensues.
    Reaches a crescendo.
    Then silence.
    The lights go off, save the yellow.

    It seems you're struggling with is a style that is different from yours. This is a horror script and as such, it's important to convey a sense of suspense and dread in order to build it to a moment of surprise. It's no different than using ellipses or double dashes instead of a period. One way to create a delay or pause is to use the page to expand the story and have it unfold in a a way that would reflect how it might be shot in real time. Let it breathe, so to speak.

    I do agree with you that story matters, however, format matters as well. As far as your opinion that filling the page with writing is the antitheses of screenwriting, that is your opinion but I tend to disagree with you on that. Screenwriters should write, not hint around at what they are trying to convey within the story. When you read Hill's script, you are there. You can feel the cold, you can hear the machinery, etc.
    Well, here is where we disagree-- I don't think format matters. Tarantino as well as others break formatting "rules." Writers do it all the time and besides, there are no real "rules" to formatting other than a slugline, description and dialogue. Format doesn't matter if the story, characters, dialogue and action are well-written. The story matters. The writer's words are there to entertain the reader and engross them in the story. The writer's words are NOT intended to be the end consumption. Now, the way those words appear on the page can have an impact on the reader, for sure, but the screenplay isn't the end result.

    The MOVIE is the end result.

    If you (writers in general) feel so strongly that your words matter more than others in the industry do, perhaps you're better suited to write novels, because novels are the end result of an entertaining literary piece-- that is the end result. In a novel the writer has the FINAL word.

    However, if you want to write screenplays, you should temper your expectations on how others perceive the importance of your words on the page, because a screenplay is the starting point, the beginning of the journey of a movie. It is not intended to be published or read by the consumer. It is intended as a roadmap to making a MOVIE. When you're in production and have to rewrite a scene, they won't give a **** how beautifully evocative you write that the killer crosses the street and bashes a character over the head with a sledgehammer.

    There are many screenwriters who put a lot more into their scripts and there is nothing wrong about this. Quentin Tarantino, whether you like his films or not, is an example. When you read one of his scripts, like Inglorious Basterds, you are there. You feel the sun, you smell the grass on the farm, you feel the palpable tension within the words on the page. Just like story matters, words matter as well for they are the story.
    I have never said there's anything wrong with writers who write more words on the page, so I'm not sure your point.

    But, more words on the page does not mean a story better told. How do you know that this writer won't become famous? One day you may refer to his writing the same way. You seem to have closed your mind to the idea that this is a good script from a tiny example simply because a writer doesn't use periods. That's a very narrow, limiting viewpoint, imo.

    It's interesting that you mention Tarantino, because if you've ever read his screenplays, he is a notoriously poor speller. It's interesting that you don't call that out. It drives me crazy when I read his scripts, but his writing is so compelling I completely overlook it. Tarantino has also written some movies with chapters instead of using traditional structure. That's his style. But a writer drops a period from his sentences and it's too much for you? I find that curious.

    I've actually deliberately eliminated a period at the end of a sentence to avoid a widow. I often write without question marks in dialogue without realizing it. I've forgotten periods often. So you're making a pretty firm stand about a script, I assume, you've never read? Perhaps if you read it, you may feel differently about the writer.

    Either way, it doesn't matter, because the movie sold and it's getting made. That's the bottom line. It's creepy as ****, too. Great ending.

    Plus, as far as me being wrong about managers/agents passing on a script with broken sentences, no punctuation, etc., I know several that will stop reading a script if they get to one typo not to mention formatting/structure issues. But, I am sure that there are some that would be fine repping someone who writes so sparsely they break sentences apart with gaps.
    Well, can you send me a list, I'll do my best to avoid those managers. I break up sentences all the time. I use unique formatting. And when my scripts went out, not a single person EVER made a comment about format. Not once. Not even about the all caps.

    When a manager or agent sends a script to someone in the industry that manager/agent's reputation speaks for the submission. It says... trust me, you wanna read this. Twenty-nine industry professionals voted on this script-- do you have any idea how difficult that is? I mean, seriously it's a big deal.

    And it's incredible to me that you are judging a work that you haven't even read. I'm not mistaken, right? You have not read it? You can bet that every person that turned Jaws away or Star Wars away had serious second thoughts once the films came out. People in the industry can and are wrong all the time.

    In my opinion, comparing a very, very sparsely written script with a Walter Hill script, is like comparing a singer who uses auto-tune to Freddie Mercury. The auto-tune singer may be popular and raking in the money, but take the auto-tune away and you get flat and sharp off-key notes with no artistry. You take away everything else around Freddie and he could still belt it out beautifully.
    Are you serious? Read the excerpt of Alien I provided again. You can't be any more sparse.

    Walter HIll's" sparseness" is still very well rounded and a world that you can almost touch, feel, hear, smell, etc. There is a difference between writing a script with only a few words and writing one using a few well chosen words.

    Each to his own and I always wish for each screenwriter to have their stories told and their characters come to life.
    To quote the Klingons.....Q'aplah!
    No offense intended, but having an opinion is one thing, making a statement about material without the knowledge of having read it isn't an opinion, it's the definition of ignorance. That's a fact, not an opinion.

    "Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist,- Pablo Picasso


    • #17
      When I first started reading screenplays I found it jarring that so many action/description paragraphs began with incomplete sentences, specifically without verbs. I almost let it get to my head and I wondered how desperate some of these writers were to conserve space. It wasn't until I read Goldman's Adventures book and a few more screenplays that I realized that a camera direction is always implied, even though it's apparently discouraged to write them in now.

      For example, from the Alien example given earlier-

      A stainless steel room with no windows, the walls packed with

      is complete if there is a CUT TO: or FADE IN ON: before it. I'm sure most of you already knew this and probably don't care, but I found it interesting. I do think that some writers willfully abuse the rules to stand out though, or perhaps to create a certain type of tone. It mostly comes off as phony imo but if the story is still good then I agree it doesn't really matter.

      I guess plenty of novelists have done stuff like that too. Last Exit to Brooklyn is an absolute mess to look at but it's still a great (and disgusting) book.


      • #18
        I've listened to podcasts where managers specifically say that they are looking for a writer with a unique "voice." Assuming they can yard a good tale at the same time... it seems with some of them, there is a strange requirement about voice. I don't know, I like good writing and good stories, so if you can tell me a great story with one word paragraphs, I'm sold-- but it has to be good.

        And for as long as I can remember, they've been saying "don't direct on the page." It's like huh? It's a movie that's your job as a screenwriter. And if a screenwriter disagrees with that, fine, but you're seriously handicapping yourself if you do, imo. You're writing a movie, until a director signs on, you're it baby. And when a director does sign on and gets all miffed with your "direction" change it if the money people tell you to. Until then, it's your baby. Do what tells the best story.
        "Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist,- Pablo Picasso


        • #19
          I've always thought screenwriting was closer to poetry than prose fiction. Poetry is predominately about creating images.

          As FA4 said, breaking up the sentence about the boy going to the bedside of his sleeping mother directs the reader through the kid's movements. It's a method poets use and it's effective in my opinion.

          Written as a single declarative sentence, it would lose the intentionally drawn-out timing.
          Advice from writer, Kelly Sue DeConnick. "Try this: if you can replace your female character with a sexy lamp and the story still basically works, maybe you need another draft.-


          • #20
            Originally posted by ComicBent View Post

            If I had a script like this in my hands, and I wanted to use it, I would have two options:
            1. Give the script back to him for correction; or
            2. Rewrite the script myself (which I would almost certainly do).
            The fact that a script gets translated to the screen in the form of action and dialogue, without audience knowledge of the script, is no excuse for submitting a spew of words and phrases. Punctuation evolved from a need for clarity and order. It is not the product of some sexually frustrated eighth-grade English teacher with a pencil stuck through her hair bun.
            Hi ComicBent, sorry for the delay. I recommend you read Nightcrawler. The script was incredible in my opinion, but far from traditional - for example, I don't think Dan Gilroy uses any headings.

            But the story was clear. His vision, the scenes, what I was meant to see in my head and what I pictured would be on the screen - absolutely easy to understand.

            Obviously, the story and character need to be great too, and Nightcrawler had that in spades (it got him an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay).


            • #21
              Originally posted by sc111 View Post
              I've always thought screenwriting was closer to poetry than prose fiction. Poetry is predominately about creating images.

              Totally agree.
              "Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist,- Pablo Picasso


              • #22
                Originally posted by finalact4 View Post

                Totally agree.
                I was thinking e.e. cummings is an example of a poet who broke every punctuation rule. And in a google search I found an article listing classic fiction writers who did the same. One example from the article:

                William Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury.

                “My God the cigar what would your mother say if she found a blister on her mantel just in time too look here Quentin we’re about to do something we’ll both regret I like you liked you as soon as I saw you I says he must be …” (The Sound and the Fury, p.105)

                Faulkner’s advice to tackling it? “Read it four times.”

                It's pretty easy to see he was writing it as he wanted the reader to hear it spoken -- someone speaking in a rush much like we all speak at times and then going on tangents. There's a difference between breaking punctuation rules to fulfill the writer's intention and simply sloppy writing.

                Frankly, who would red pen Faulkner. <- Example: this sentence should end with a question mark but it's not my intent to seek an answer.

                After I found this article, my daughter was telling me about a debate she was having with her boyfriend's sister about the long-running feud between rappers Machine Gun Kelly and Eminem. Then she played the videos of each for me. IMO Eminem blew MGK away. Of course, rap (which I consider poetry) doesn't adhere to grammar rules. But then I thought to myself, that Faulkner excerpt above could easily be rapped by Eminem. :-)

                I'm not anti-punctuation (though I abhor the semi-colon) but when it comes creative writing, I strive to give the writer room for their vision.

                Advice from writer, Kelly Sue DeConnick. "Try this: if you can replace your female character with a sexy lamp and the story still basically works, maybe you need another draft.-


                • #23
                  Well, here is where we disagree-- I don't think format matters.
                  This contention is definitely not, or should not be, the hill that you want to die on.

                  It is true that paragraphs can imply a new shot. Nothing wrong with that. It is a clever and effective way to handle visual presentation through a textual medium. But you can only stretch that technique just so far, and after that the technique itself becomes an element, not a method, of the work and interferes with the presentation.

                  And regardless of all that, the lack of terminal punctuation is a detriment when the sentence clearly ends there. Sentences like that stick out and draw attention to themselves.

                  I have known two geniuses in my life. The first one was a man who more than once said, "I have an anti-Messianic complex. I don't believe in trying to save people. I believe in letting them stew in their own juice."

                  I do not think that I have the same anti-Messianic complex that he did, but I have just enough of it to tell people, "If you want to argue and buck the standards, then do whatever you want. And good luck!"

                  "The fact that you have seen professionals write poorly is no reason for you to imitate them." - ComicBent.