A question on voice

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  • A question on voice

    I've just completed reading the script for Medieval and I am both humbled and inspired in equal measures. It was fantastic. A hoot. And written in the irreverent style that I love. However, as awesome, killer, pithy, eloquent, hilarious and enthralling the voice was, it was sheer, quintessential, archetypical Shane Black.

    I quote:

    "And this, folks, is why..."
    "Yep, he's that good."
    "He's got another quiver strapped to his back. fcuker comes prepared."
    "And the guys are trapped right in the
    fcuking middle."
    "Axe in hand. High fcukng Noon."
    "The mood is...well, how would you feel if you were about to go on a suicide mission? Yea, kinda like that."
    "Now for those of you who missed Chem 101..."
    "Edward's grin should be on the cover of Sh1t Eater's Monthly."


    Now I've reasd over and over, from studio execs to pro writers that Black - along with Tarantino - is arguably the most distinctive and aped writer by newbies. That studios, execs and readers are driven to despair by the cloning and lack of originality. Yet this script, awesome as it is, is welcomed with open arms despite it screaming "I'm a Shane Black imposter!"

    How? What? Why? Any ideas?


    Thx


    PS: I'd like this to stay on topic and not be used by people to vent their disdain, displeasure or general apathy for the script in question.

  • #2
    Re: A question on voice

    Originally posted by 1mper1um View Post
    Yet this script, awesome as it is, is welcomed with open arms despite it screaming "I'm a Shane Black imposter!"

    How? What? Why? Any ideas?
    Yes. The answer is in your question:

    "Awesome as it is."

    I would suggest that, when someone starts reading a script, the first question their subconscious is asking is, "Does this display mastery?"

    If the answer to that question is yes, none of this trivial stuff matters. You don't notice the style you just are aware that you're enjoying reading it. When something does make you hiccup, you trust the writer that there's a reason, and it will all be clear in time.

    If the answer to that question, on the other hand, is no, then every little bump is a roadblock. It feels like artifice, or the kid who's patting himself on the back for being so clever, but isn't anywhere near as clever as he thinks he is. The subconscious of the reader is screaming, "Why did you waste time with all of this superficial junk when you fundamentally don't understand what a screenplay has to be?"

    Now, I've said this before (and I'm sure I'll say it again) but I think aspiring screenwriters are RIGHT to be taught to write lean, avoid camera directions and asides to the reader, etc, etc etc. Because what stripping all that stuff away does is force you to negotiate with your story without artifice. What I think happens is that people who don't yet really truly understand how a screenplay works get distracted by all that surface stuff. They think they've written a funny script because of jokes only the readers will get. They think they've written a "cinematic" scene because they describe the swooping camera move, etc, etc, etc.

    The zen master doesn't talk to you about how he holds his elbow back when he draws the bow, because words are an inadequate description of the right way to hold the elbow back. He just does it. He just draws the bowstring. Don't fixate on the asides ... study the whole form -

    "Awesome as it is."

    Comment


    • #3
      Re: A question on voice

      Originally posted by Ronaldinho View Post
      Yes. The answer is in your question:

      "Awesome as it is."

      I would suggest that, when someone starts reading a script, the first question their subconscious is asking is, "Does this display mastery?"

      If the answer to that question is yes, none of this trivial stuff matters. You don't notice the style you just are aware that you're enjoying reading it. When something does make you hiccup, you trust the writer that there's a reason, and it will all be clear in time.

      If the answer to that question, on the other hand, is no, then every little bump is a roadblock. It feels like artifice, or the kid who's patting himself on the back for being so clever, but isn't anywhere near as clever as he thinks he is. The subconscious of the reader is screaming, "Why did you waste time with all of this superficial junk when you fundamentally don't understand what a screenplay has to be?"

      Now, I've said this before (and I'm sure I'll say it again) but I think aspiring screenwriters are RIGHT to be taught to write lean, avoid camera directions and asides to the reader, etc, etc etc. Because what stripping all that stuff away does is force you to negotiate with your story without artifice. What I think happens is that people who don't yet really truly understand how a screenplay works get distracted by all that surface stuff. They think they've written a funny script because of jokes only the readers will get. They think they've written a "cinematic" scene because they describe the swooping camera move, etc, etc, etc.

      The zen master doesn't talk to you about how he holds his elbow back when he draws the bow, because words are an inadequate description of the right way to hold the elbow back. He just does it. He just draws the bowstring. Don't fixate on the asides ... study the whole form -

      "Awesome as it is."
      And that is the point, awesome can overcome almost any shortcoming or badly handled emulation in a script.

      Moreover, while writers can and do emulate those writers whom they admire they should take care to develop their own unique voices as well and not just become a copycats. That may involve a somewhat fine line, but people in the industry can spot a copycat a mile away, or ten, which makes having your own unique voice all the more important.

      But in any case, developing one's own voice should be a key goal of any writer's efforts, regardless of how much they may emulate others.

      Comment


      • #4
        Re: A question on voice

        The reason they tell you ("you" collective, no one specific) not to emulate Shane Black or Tarantino or anyone else is because you're fvcking bad at it. The end result reads terrible, because the "style" or "voice" is really more of a pastiche.

        Finch and Litvak aren't doing what I think you think they're doing. Their style is similar to Shane Black's (as is many others'), but make no mistake, it's their own style.

        I think it was Scott Frazier that posted the link about how to "steal" well. And that's the trick- as long as you do it well, no one cares.

        Comment


        • #5
          Re: A question on voice

          The thing about voice is that the more you write, the more your writing sounds like... you.

          There are a lot of people here who I wouldn't even have to look to see who wrote it to know who did write it.

          I think going out of your way to "copy" someone's voice would come off sounding forced and fake.

          Put in the time and maybe someday someone will copy you.

          Jeff Shurtleff
          "Some men see things the way they are and say why? I see things that never were and say, why not?"

          http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?...4669871&v=info

          Comment


          • #6
            Re: A question on voice

            Originally posted by Jeff_Shurtleff View Post
            The thing about voice is that the more you write, the more your writing sounds like... you.

            There are a lot of people here who I wouldn't even have to look to see who wrote it to know who did write it.

            I think going out of your way to "copy" someone's voice would come off sounding forced and fake.
            Absolutely!

            But then again, emulating isn't copying.

            Originally posted by Jeff_Shurtleff View Post
            Put in the time and maybe someday someone will copy you.
            We can hope.

            Comment


            • #7
              Re: A question on voice

              Originally posted by Todd Karate View Post
              The reason they tell you ("you" collective, no one specific) not to emulate Shane Black or Tarantino or anyone else is because you're fvcking bad at it. The end result reads terrible, because the "style" or "voice" is really more of a pastiche.

              Finch and Litvak aren't doing what I think you think they're doing. Their style is similar to Shane Black's (as is many others'), but make no mistake, it's their own style.

              I think it was Scott Frazier that posted the link about how to "steal" well. And that's the trick- as long as you do it well, no one cares.
              Yeah, you can't do that sh!t if it doesn't come natural to you. I don't use that style because I can't.

              OP,

              get it out of your head. That's their sh!t. It's derivative but it's done well which is what counts. Kobe Bryant clearly emulates Jordan. So what? His buckets are still worth 2pts.

              Forget about that style if it's not natural to you.

              Comment


              • #8
                Re: A question on voice

                "And this, folks, is why..."
                Damn, and Shane used lines like that all over the Lethal Weapon scripts. Oh well. Obviously the execs couldn't care less.
                One must be fearless and tenacious when pursuing their dreams. If you don't, regret will be your reward.

                The Fiction Story Room

                Comment


                • #9
                  Re: A question on voice

                  Voice is as easy to identify as arms, or the lack there of. While you will get a thousand different answers to the question there is one obvious aspect of 'voice' -- it's on the page -- and it covers everything from narrative style, story choices, craft choices, dialogue etc.

                  My personal opinion . . . voice is deeply rooted in story. A person's unique viewpoint on life and how that manifests itself on the page.

                  DD

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Re: A question on voice

                    Originally posted by darkestbeforedawn View Post
                    Voice is as easy to identify as arms, or the lack there of. While you will get a thousand different answers to the question there is one obvious aspect of 'voice' -- it's on the page -- and it covers everything from narrative style, story choices, craft choices, dialogue etc.

                    My personal opinion . . . voice is deeply rooted in story. A person's unique viewpoint on life and how that manifests itself on the page.

                    DD
                    This...

                    I agree.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Re: A question on voice

                      I have a related question. I believe that "voice- comes across strongest in two ways. One is the Shane Black style as mentioned here, which involves breaking the 4th wall and speaking directly to the reader. When I've tried it on rare occasion, my readers complain that it takes them out of the story by making them suddenly aware that it IS a story. So I avoid doing it these days, even though I enjoy that kind of narration when I read it myself. However, it seems to work best for comedy (or comic action), because it really could interfere with the tense build up of suspense in a thriller.

                      The other way I really notice voice is in the use of voice-over. Here also the author can get away with injecting distinct humor and mode of expression. But the use of voice-over is said to be frowned upon. I personally don't like voice-over unless it's extremely ironic. Not many films have done it well. I would say "Notes From a Scandal- is an example where voice-over was used perfectly and is an essential component of the story.

                      So let's say your story is not a good candidate for voice-over and you don't want to sound like a Shane Black imitator. So without voice-over and without breaking the 4th wall, how do you give your writing a distinct voice? Unless you inject your personality into the description, I don't see how it can be done. And injecting personality kind of involves breaking the 4th wall. Or does it?

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Re: A question on voice

                        Lobster,

                        "Voice" is who you are.

                        If "style" is how you write the story, then "voice" is the story you write. "Voice" is the thousands of choices YOU make that no one else can. "Voice" is so much more than superficial style ticks like smug asides or profanity in a/d lines (although, I'm fvcking guilty as charged there).


                        "Voice" is how you read a great script and feel like you know the writer.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Re: A question on voice

                          Originally posted by Joe Unidos View Post
                          Lobster,

                          "Voice" is who you are.
                          If that's the case, then every script, no matter how bad, has "voice." So when industry folk rave about voice, or a particular script having a "strong" voice, what does that mean?

                          Maybe they mean a consistent voice? Like, in a poorly written screenplay the voice may be all over the place, but in a well-written one, it's focused and reflects a consistent viewpoint?

                          Just trying to figure out what makes industry people jump up and down about voice.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Re: A question on voice

                            No lobster, Voice is not considered a universal thing. Voice is like talent, everybody has some talent, but when someone says a writer has A VOICE, then mean a specific thing. It's not ambiguous.

                            Everybody has arms, well, most of us do, but when someone says 'that guy has an arm', he means he can throw a heater. They don't mean, hey, that guy has an arm.

                            Let's try to be specific here, not drawing straws.

                            DD

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Re: A question on voice

                              Lobster,

                              The key distinction you are missing (IMHO) is uniqueness. To haughtily quote myself:

                              "Voice" is the thousands of choices YOU make that no one else can.

                              Comment

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