How important is voice in screenwriting?

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  • How important is voice in screenwriting?

    Not exactly sure where this question goes. I was just wondering, because when you're writing a story, I see that there's a lot of emphasis put on the voice of the narrative. I can't tell you how many times I've read from critiques and book reviews, 'The voice is good,' 'I was drawn in by the voice,' 'The voice fits the...' So, does screenwriting follow a similar standard? How distinct and unique does the prose have to be? Sorry if this is a ridiculous question, but it's something I've been curious about. Thanks.

  • #2
    Re: How important is voice in screenwriting?

    It is difficult to answer this, because voice is an elusive idea. What, after all, do we mean when we speak of a writer's voice? I think it is the whole ball of wax: style, word choice, subject matter, themes, preferential use of drama or comedy, types of characters (professional class, blue-collar class), and - importantly! - behind all of these an image of the author that we form in response to all the signals that come from his writing.

    I do not think that voice plays the same role in screenwriting that it does in a novel. I would say that voice is usually more complex in a novel. But it would be wrong to say that voice has no role, ever, in a screenplay. It obviously depends on the screenplay. A script with people chasing one another and with cars crashing and with big explosions probably has a very simple voice. It does not take much critical analysis to define what the movie is. On the other hand, those "thought-provoking" films that pop up now and then have a more complex voice.

    The answer to your question, I think, depends entirely on what you mean by voice.

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

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    • #3
      Re: How important is voice in screenwriting?

      Voice isn't something you can manufacture. It's something that has to come naturally. I think someone mentioned in another thread here that voice is just "confidence." It's knowing you know how to write and then just writing.
      STANDARD DISCLAIMER: I'm a wannabe, take whatever I write with a huge grain of salt.

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      • #4
        Re: How important is voice in screenwriting?

        Okay, a lot of this make sense. I guess what I meant by voice was the way someone writes their narrative, like how everyone has their own distinct way of speaking/personality, you can feel a distinct personality shining through a particular narrative. This was a bit confusing to me when it came to screenwriting, because when I look up certain screenplays for movies, some of the writing seems very basic with little in the way of "prose" or personality, but they have a fantastic plot. Meanwhile, there are other screenplays I read that have a certain flare to them, and the writer is using a lot of colorful words to help carry the script, ie, they have a lot of "voice." Guess I was just wondering if the latter was a better way to do things.

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        • #5
          Re: How important is voice in screenwriting?

          In screenwriting you just naturally develop your voice by being the person you are with the particular taste you have and themes and genres that call out to you. You can't really force it. You are who you are, and it should show in your writing along with your mastery of your craft and ease (or perceived ease) of expressing yourself.

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          • #6
            Re: How important is voice in screenwriting?

            Originally posted by BrickFlare View Post
            Okay, a lot of this make sense. I guess what I meant by voice was the way someone writes their narrative, like how everyone has their own distinct way of speaking/personality, you can feel a distinct personality shining through a particular narrative. This was a bit confusing to me when it came to screenwriting, because when I look up certain screenplays for movies, some of the writing seems very basic with little in the way of "prose" or personality, but they have a fantastic plot. Meanwhile, there are other screenplays I read that have a certain flare to them, and the writer is using a lot of colorful words to help carry the script, ie, they have a lot of "voice." Guess I was just wondering if the latter was a better way to do things.
            I'm guessing some of those that seem "very basic" where written by the director and are (more or less) outlines, something used as a placeholder for the dialogue, scenes and camera directions. But I suppose a great plot could overcome clunky (step-by-step) writing.

            Regardless, voice is kind of a Catch-22 thing. If you're worried about your "voice" you're not going to develop one.
            Last edited by Centos; 05-04-2018, 03:03 PM.
            STANDARD DISCLAIMER: I'm a wannabe, take whatever I write with a huge grain of salt.

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            • #7
              Re: How important is voice in screenwriting?

              Centos: [Slightly edited] If you worry about your "voice," you are not going to develop one.
              That is a wonderful quote.

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

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              • #8
                Re: How important is voice in screenwriting?

                Originally posted by BrickFlare View Post
                When I look up certain screenplays for movies, some of the writing seems very basic with little in the way of "prose" or personality, but they have a fantastic plot.

                Meanwhile, there are other screenplays I read that have a certain flare to them, and the writer is using a lot of colorful words to help carry the script, ie, they have a lot of "voice."

                Guess I was just wondering if the latter was a better way to do things.
                I think a good “writer’s voice” is very important during the reading of the screenplay. A good voice helps the reader enjoy the read. But a good voice won’t overcome a poor plot, poor dialogue, or other story problems.

                So I think both story and voice are import. A good voice is definitely a plus.

                The director and others involved in the finished movie bring plot and other story elements, and their own voices into the movie. I don’t know how much of the writer’s voice, no matter how good it is, remains in the finished product. But even if your writer's voice is lost in the production process, it has served its purpose.

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                • #9
                  Re: How important is voice in screenwriting?

                  In a screenplay voice is the what/how the writer feels. And the style is way the writer presents their voice on the page.

                  The more truthful the writer is to oneself the more passion will make it into the story. And the clearer the message will be.

                  The voice doesn't have to be good to be a good voice. The voice just has to be true to the writer. If the vilest, most bigoted, most horrible writer does an accurate job at presenting his feelings, he has a good voice.
                  "I am the story itself; its source, its voice, its music."
                  - Clive Barker, Galilee

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                  • #10
                    Re: How important is voice in screenwriting?

                    I think the greatest threat to voice is listening to all the bullshit rules about not using certain types of verbs or words or describing action in a certain way or what you can and can't include... If you're worried about putting in a song or ending a word with "ing" or saying "we see," you're already drowning out your voice.

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                    • #11
                      Re: How important is voice in screenwriting?

                      Originally posted by JeffLowell View Post
                      I think the greatest threat to voice is listening to all the bullshit rules about not using certain types of verbs or words or describing action in a certain way or what you can and can't include... If you're worried about putting in a song or ending a word with "ing" or saying "we see," you're already drowning out your voice.
                      But I believe you've just identified 95 percent of the minutiae that front-line readers use to eliminate submitted spec scripts, not to mention 95 percent of the lists of "not-to-do's" in most on-line consultants' pages.

                      However, I agree with you. In time, most writers who persist come around to this conclusion and it is utterly liberating because it allows us more to think about what story we're putting on the page as opposed to how to get it there.

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                      • #12
                        Re: How important is voice in screenwriting?

                        Originally posted by catcon View Post
                        But I believe you've just identified 95 percent of the minutiae that front-line readers use to eliminate submitted spec scripts
                        This is the myth that gurus spout to get people to pay them.

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                        • #13
                          Re: How important is voice in screenwriting?

                          I don't think it is entirely unreasonable for you to successfully utilize different voices in different screenplays.

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                          • #14
                            Re: How important is voice in screenwriting?

                            I thought of a possibly good illustration of voice, which seems like such a slippery thing to nail down.

                            There's a documentary called "The Aristocrats," named after an old joke. The joke is the same, yet every comic who tells it tells a completely different version, with the details demonstrating the comedian's voice.

                            If you're wondering what voice is, and aren't easily offended, it's worth checking out.

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                            • #15
                              Re: How important is voice in screenwriting?

                              Jeff's "The Aristocrats" example of demonstrating voice is a good one. Also, a good example would be Charlie Kaufman with his weird and off beat writing.

                              Jeff and other DD members have a strong opinion on Gurus, but I believe Gurus’ advice on the minutia i. e., “ing” (when used with the “to be” verbs “is” and “are”) “we see,” “camera directions,” etc. is sound advice.

                              What I don’t like is when some, not all, Gurus say, “NEVER use this all that, or you’ll look like an amateur.” “Your script will be thrown in the trash.” This isn’t sound advice when given to a creative person. This will stifle their voice, growth and imagination.

                              Jeff Lowell says this advice would hurt a writer’s voice. This is true if a writer took this advice as an absolute truth and not just a guideline.

                              A writer could use a “we see” in front of every visual in his script and though this may make for a tedious read, and in my opinion adds nothing to demonstrate a unique voice, it won’t, contrary to what –- some -- Gurus say, be the cause for your script to be sold or rejected.

                              The phrase “we see” is a simple tool for a writer to use when he wants to direct the reader’s eye to something. I suggest to use “we see” effectively and purposely.

                              Example from a non-pro writer’s script:

                              “Lucy runs through the door and bumps into a MAN. She looks up. To his face. And this is when we see him properly for the first time… THE ZODIAC KILLER!”

                              In a past thread called “Are Screenwriting Gurus Muddying the Waters,” I gave an example of using a Gurus' DO NOTs list in the narrative, and then without:

                              Example “A” with the DO NOTs:

                              We see Mary is sitting on the bed. Bob is pacing back and forth in front of her. He goes to the window and opens the curtain.

                              BOB’S POV:

                              The strong wind and rain is pelting the window.

                              We hear a faint sound of a woman screaming. Bob quickly walks toward the door and listens. A chilling silence has replaced the screams.

                              Bob quickly opens the door and starts to walk out of the room.

                              Example “B” without the DON’T DO’s:

                              Mary sits on the bed. Bob paces back and forth in front of her. He goes to the window and opens the curtain. Bob watches the strong wind and rain pelt the window.

                              A faint sound of a woman screaming.

                              Bob hurries toward the door and listens. A chilling silence replaces the screams.

                              Bob whips open the door and rushes out of the room.

                              Example “A” was a tedious read, lacking energy. Example “B” has a good pace and energy.

                              Did example “B” take away some of the voice in example “A,” sure, but just cause a writer’s voice remains in tack doesn’t mean it was a great, unique voice, though this opinion is subjective. Someone might find example “A” to be great writing.

                              There’s more to voice than style and word choices. There’s the writer’s attitudes and personality being put down on the page, his world view, etc.
                              Last edited by JoeNYC; 05-08-2018, 07:39 PM.

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