Another lesson learned on Zoetrope



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  • Another lesson learned on Zoetrope

    This is a post on why mechanics matter.

    On message boards like this one and the zoetrope forum, you can find two schools of thought on the mechanics of screenwriting. One says "You must have everything perfect, or your script will wind up in the trash." The other says "If you write a kick-a$$ story, a few misplaced wrylies won't kill your chances."

    I was of the latter school, until I posted my first screenplay over at zoe. Now, I took my direction on formatting and mechanics straight from J. Michael Straczynski's "The Complete Book of Scriptwriting." That book is getting a little long in the tooth these days apparently, but it does recommend the use of (beat) and (parenthetical) as needed to tell the story. My screenplay has lots of them, and even includes the dreaded "we see," as Straczynski's examples frequently do.

    Now I have three reviews in, and all of the reviewers have gone into detail about how my use of parenthetical elements has to be eliminated. The consensus appears to be that writers MUST not do ANYTHING that could be perceived as directing on the page, including telling the reader what he's supposed to be seeing.

    Apparently this is the direction the zeitgeist is going. More tellingly, my screenplay is really about characters, ideas, and the protagonist's growth over time...yet only one of my reviewers even touched on the matter of my characters, and none of them mentioned any of the storytelling aspects of the script. They didn't see those things, because they were focused on what they saw as mechanical problems.

    The lesson, boys and girls, is that if you don't get the mechanics right, the reader will never see your awesome story. Assuming the story's there, your task as a rewriter is to remove all the obstacles that prevent the reader from seeing it...including those heinous parentheticals.

    So out they come.

  • #2
    Re: Another lesson learned on Zoetrope

    While I agree mechanics affect how your work will be received by some of the readers you'll encounter, those were lopsided reviews. Someone who is really skilled in story would have had more to say about your story and characters.

    You may have been reviewed by newbies who do not know a lot about story or character, but who find security in the guidelines they've read about "we see." Learning what's in and what's out in formatting and mechanical issues makes us feel we know a lot about screenwriting before we really do. That's apparently the only knowledge your particular readers were able to impart to you.

    You might as well follow the current rules, because you're right, your work will sometimes be dismissed by readers who wouldn't know a good story if it hit them in the face; all they know is not to use "we see," and what pages your plotpoints are supposed to fall on. So it's wise to tell a good story and not freak them out by doing something horribly "wrong" in their eyes. But believe me, if Michael J. still writes crowd-pleasing movies and series using the out-of-style format in that book of his, his "we sees" aren't going to matter a damn.


    • #3
      Re: Another lesson learned on Zoetrope

      Yes, I agree, the wrylies shouldn't matter, and I suspect that the great majority of producers agree with me. But I've got to get the thing past a reader; and I really don't see a downside to a script with few or no parentheticals, beats, or "we see"s.

      I should make it clear that I'm pulling them not because the reviewers told me to, but because they appear to be the only things that the reviewers saw.


      • #4
        Re: Another lesson learned on Zoetrope

        You gotta be really careful about those wrylies. Use them sparingly. Someone suggested to me a rule of three. You get three wrylies per script- use them well.

        But, in all honesty, the emotion should come from the dialogue and not the overt suggestion by you.


        • #5
          Re: Another lesson learned on Zoetrope

          Hi, AaronB,

          I read that thread on Zoe. Someone, who I think read you script, said you had over 300 of them. Is that true?

          "Now I have three reviews in, and all of the reviewers have gone into detail about how my use of parenthetical ..."

          If one makes a comment you may not have a problem. If three ... well ... I'd start buffing the delete key.
          "I am the story itself; its source, its voice, its music."
          - Clive Barker, Galilee


          • #6
            Re: Another lesson learned on Zoetrope

            Well, I have concluded that not having them is better, on the whole.

            My original reason for putting them in was that I thought was my job to unequivocally communicate my vision for any given scene to a potential tell exactly what I wanted the scene to be, and then let the director and actors change it as they see fit. At least I would have passed along my version of things one time.

            I'm rethinking that approach.


            • #7
              Re: Another lesson learned on Zoetrope

              It wouldn't suprise me if there were 300, though I didn't count them.

              What I didn't like was getting reviews that were only about that.


              • #8
                Re: Another lesson learned on Zoetrope

                I have read and reviewed, and have tried unsuccessfully to read, a good many scripts on Zoetrope.

                Don't ignore what people say on Zoetrope, but don't take it as gospel truth, either. Remember that these are amateurs. In many cases they are not even experienced amateurs.

                You will never resolve the "we see" issue. There are basically two big, opposing camps on this matter: those who hate it and those who like it. Unfortunately, both camps are fanatical. Those who hate it do not want anybody to use it; and those who like it are not content just to use it themselves but in addition want the other side to acknowledge that it is all right. The friction never ends.

                Finally there is the minority that I belong to, which says, "Go ahead and use it if you want to. I don't care. It's really an aesthetic issue. The people who look at scripts from a financial perspective don't give a damn whether you use it or not. Again, it's your script. Make your own decision."

                Parentheticals are definitely overused. Don't use them unless you need them. Most parentheticals are not needed; they are just there because the writer gets an irresistible itch to direct the actors. I understand the impulse to put these directions in; I feel the same desire. But step back and ask yourself, "Is this needed or not?"

                The worst parentheticals of all — I mean the worst! — are those that say the character smiles or chuckles or some crap like that. You do not have to make your characters into robots whose every action and facial expression and tone of voice has to be programmed into the script.
                Last edited by ComicBent; 07-14-2011, 11:59 AM. Reason: To remove bizarre characters inserted when the post was moved from the old board.

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


                • #9
                  Re: Another lesson learned on Zoetrope

                  I concur with CE. The way the people in the industry read your script is really very different from the way we're taught by other aspiring writers.

                  And I'm definitely in the second class that you talked about - I have been known to argue vehemently against "rules".

                  However, having said that I can tell you that wrylies are very seldom required - really.

                  For instance. In The Breakfast Club, when Claire asks Bender if he was truly grossed out by her lipstick trick, it could be written like this:


                  The wrylie at this point, is necessary. It adds to the scene what we wouldn't know otherwise.

                  Generally, how a line is delivered is pretty easy to figure out from the actual line itself.

                  If you have

                  You cheated on me?!

                  We kinda already got it. This is where you trust your reader. I think, of all the years I've been writing screenplays, that is the most important thing I learned. You don't need to toss too many bricks at your audience to get your point across.

                  300 wrylies in a - what? - 100 page script? That's a lotta bricks, man.
                  "So I guess big parts of our youth are supposed to suck. Otherwise we'd get too attached and wake up one day trapped on a hamster wheel that used to look like a merri-go-round." - Hal Sparks


                  • #10
                    Re: Another lesson learned on Zoetrope

                    Hey Aaron, don't know if you have already, but I would suggest posting a few pages here. I got excellent feedback. For example my main character's name, is the same as an already existing character in a movie I've never seen! Also learned that my opening was not all that interesting and somewhat unclear. This kind of critique is definitely something I can learn from. I intend to try Zoetrope someday also, but you should give it a shot here too.

                    How were the scripts that you've read over there?


                    • #11
                      Re: Another lesson learned on Zoetrope

                      "300 wrylies in a - what? - 100 page script? That's a lotta bricks, man."

                      Yep. And I'm swinging my sledgehammer 'til I've smashed the last one.


                      • #12
                        Re: Another lesson learned on Zoetrope


                        I've got a lot to think about, I see.


                        • #13
                          Re: Another lesson learned on Zoetrope

                          Don't think much of the title.


                          • #14
                            Re: Another lesson learned on Zoetrope

                            If you look at CE's list, you'll see that very few of those are actually wrylys.

                            Wryly describes how the dialogue is performed/spoken.

                            Most of what he posted is action that happens to be in a parenthetical.

                            Frequently, the story and pace are better served by imbedding brief action in parenthesis.

                            Note: Action used this way must be brief, and worth the space it's written on. This isn't a way to just tuck action in -- it's a way of conveying tone or pace.

                            Of course I read all every word of every script that lands on my desk.
                            (cuts a look at the recorder)
                            Turn this thing off and I'll give you the real skinny....

                            That's actually a longer than typical parenthetical, but I think it kind of demonstrates the point.
                            my webpage
                            my blog


                            • #15
                              Re: Another lesson learned on Zoetrope

                              Hey, Aaron. I decided to glance over your script on Zoe just so I wouldn't be talking out of my ass giving you bad advice.

                              I'm on page 8 and I've only seen one wrylie you've needed. I'll give you a more in depth review a bit later on, but keep that sledgehammer going.

                              Unlike what CE was saying, these wrylies do not enhance the reading experience.

                              It's not one of the seven deadlies to use them, it's certainly not a deal breaker, but I truly believe your writing would be stronger without them.

                              My 2 cents.
                              "So I guess big parts of our youth are supposed to suck. Otherwise we'd get too attached and wake up one day trapped on a hamster wheel that used to look like a merri-go-round." - Hal Sparks