Sarcasm and Character Perception



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  • Sarcasm and Character Perception

    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.


  • #2
    I believe it would throw me off as a reader unless the context made it perfectly clear that sarcasm was involved.


    • #3
      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.


      • #4

        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,



        • #5
          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 " 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.



          • #6
            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.


            • #7
              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.


              • #8
                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.



                • #9

                  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)...

                  Lone Wolf


                  • #10
                    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.

                    Lone Wolf


                    • #11
                      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?


                      • #12

                        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)

                        Lone Wolf


                        • #13
                          Okay I can die happy. I have been compared to William Goldman AND Shane Black.

                          Holy cats!

                          Thank you.



                          • #14
                            GG keeps hitting those nails right on the head...

                            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"


                            • #15
                              Re: GG keeps hitting those nails right on the head

                              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.