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  • Reader's comment

    I just received readers' comments from one of the biggest screenplay competitions. One of TV drama pilots got to the second round; others got some encouraging comments:

    "The writer has created a humorous and entertaining world here that needs only minor revision to succeed.-

    "Most of the time, the dialogue worked and moved the story forward. Just a little tightening would take it to the next level. Overall, it was an easy read.-

    "This is a strong pilot. I am hard pressed to think of a scene that does not advance the plot or reveal character.-

    So, this tightening (I am not from USA, have my limitations when it comes to Hollywood jargon) Do they mean to cut out something. I stayed with my TV pilots between 55-60 pages.

    Another thing is my English. My writing style is my own, developed through the last couple of years. These comments mention twice grammatical mistakes:

    "Another round of proofreading would be useful in fixing up a lot of typos, especially late in the script, where they were numerous enough to distract from the dialogue.-

    And this one, which is more specific:

    "It also might help to have a copy editor give this a quick look, because some of the articles ("a" and "the") are missing throughout (e.g., "Call ambulance!").

    This one is from a sitcom and even more important from dialogue. Somehow, I always believed that dialogue should be punchy, original, short, and most importantly nothing like 100% correct grammatics.

    People usually do not speak in full sentences, so cutting into them while leaving their meaning untouched seemed logical to me.

    In this scene a police chief has just been battered to the ground by a kangaroo, right after the mayor crashed his car for which his wife will most probably castrate him (the police chief, not the kangaroo).

    So, the chief is on the ground, winces in pain, one of his officers asks him "Should I arrest him?- - Meaning the kangaroo. What would be the appropriate response from a man who lies in pain on the ground:

    "Oh, yeah, please do. And since you're here, would you call me an ambulance?-

    Or simply: "Screw him. Call ambulance!-

    This same script in a much worse condition managed to get into the second round in 2015 in another big screenplay competition.

    Are these "a, an, the- really so important in dialogue? I leave them in if the dialogue does not sound logical to me without them, and cut them out if it sounds sharper, faster, punchier without them - and save a line or two on the page by that.

  • #2
    Re: Reader's comment

    If your Police Chief is on the ground in pain just having lost to a kangaroo, then I would go for:

    OFFICER
    Should I arrest him?

    CHIEF
    Call... ambulance...

    That way you have a sense of timing and also choppiness to go along with his physical state. By the way, the "Screw him" is in my opinion redundant as it's already implied in the example above.

    As far as the notes you got, I can completely relate. I used to be in that same boat. All I can say is that while the idea is to make the writing punchy as you say, it should not be at the expense of grammar and basic clarity.

    Speakers of a language have specific patterns in which they understand it and communicate it. This includes which words one can skip and which ones not. So if you deviate from any of these social conventions then your word choice will stand out and become distracting. "Call ambulance" is not common enough in real life, so to a native speaker it might begin to sound a bit too caveman-like.
    Last edited by manfredlopez; 12-11-2016, 03:47 AM.
    Manfred Lopez Grem
    Writer - Director

    REEL - IMDB

    Comment


    • #3
      Re: Reader's comment

      Originally posted by slopnik View Post
      What would be the appropriate response from a man who lies in pain on the ground:

      "Oh, yeah, please do. And since you're here, would you call me an ambulance?-

      Or simply: "Screw him. Call ambulance!-

      This same script in a much worse condition managed to get into the second round in 2015 in another big screenplay competition.

      Are these "a, an, the- really so important in dialogue? I leave them in if the dialogue does not sound logical to me without them, and cut them out if it sounds sharper, faster, punchier without them - and save a line or two on the page by that.
      I agree with the post above, if he is really in pain and can only muster a couple of words, then "Call... ambulance" OR just "Ambulance" as a reply work fine.

      However, if he is in pain, but can still speak enough to say "Screw him" first, then it would follow he would not shorten the next thing he says from the pain. "Screw him. Call ambulance" sounds forced or wrong.

      That said, if it's dialogue and that's how your character speaks then, so be it. Stick to it. But I gather from the bit of information you gave me that you probably made the same mistakes outside of the dialogue through your script, and perhaps that was just an easy example for the reader to point out.

      Either way, congrats, sounds like you have a great one in your hands. Just make it better, take the feedback that makes sense to you, and ignore the feedback that doesn't.
      "We're going to be rich!" - 1/2 hr COMEDY written/directed/edited by me, I also act in it.
      SUBTITLED
      Episode 1 (Beef pills)
      Episode 2 (African commercial)
      Episode 3 (Brenda's rescue)

      Comment


      • #4
        Re: Reader's comment

        Originally posted by manfredlopez View Post
        All I can say is that while the idea is to make the writing punchy as you say, it should not be at the expense of grammar and basic clarity.
        And I thought this was one of "worth to listen- advices I got from other writers' sites, namely to play with dialogue; make it different and so.

        Well, I will have to go through another correction of my screenplays.

        Any advice about, which is the best grammar checker for someone who is a couple of 1000 miles away from the USA?
        I use the Word spell checker and Ginger online. I know, they are not perfect, but together with me, they do at least a half-decent job.

        Comment


        • #5
          Re: Reader's comment

          Originally posted by Mpimentel View Post
          But I gather from the bit of information you gave me that you probably made the same mistakes outside of the dialogue through your script, and perhaps that was just an easy example for the reader to point out.
          About that. Somehow, I believe both comments from script readers aimed mostly at the dialogue.

          I use the Word spell checker and Ginger and I freely admit that I have ignored countless warnings for "a, an, the..." from both of them, but only in dialogue, because I found on different articles on internet that dialogue is one's own creation.

          The fact that four readers had no complaints or comments about the dialogue or grammar makes the whole thing even more complicated.
          I use the same approach when I correct my finished work on all my projects - Word - Ginger - and an extra check on the finished PDF.

          I guess I will have to make another run with spell checkers through my screenplays, this time applying all the suggested corrections.

          Any suggestions what is the best spell checker for someone on the other side of the ocean?
          Your next First Lady (we sincerely apologize for all the stupidities she did and definitely will do in the upcoming years) and I are both from the same country.

          Comment


          • #6
            Re: Reader's comment

            So you're asking us to do something here which is kind of unfair: you're asking us to comment on his notes without reading the full notes in context or reading the script he made those notes on.

            While it is possible there's a situation where someone would say "Call ambulance," that's just simply not how people generally talk. Your example with the chief on the ground in pain doesn't read to me like the exception.

            Are those articles so important in dialog? Often, yes. Again, the challenge here is that you're trying to write colloquially in a language that isn't your first, and that's really hard, but yes, there's a way people speak, in dialog, and they usually use articles.

            That the other people didn't comment on this doesn't mean it wasn't a problem for them. It just means that they chose other things to talk about. Sometimes you have lots and lots of stuff you could talk about, as a note-giver, and you have to pick your battles.

            I will say, yes, get somebody who is a native speaker to look over this for you. English articles are challenging, and I actually think that, for some reason, they're particularly challenging for people from your part of the world. (I wrote a script set there, and one of the best ways to make the characters sound like English was their second language was the judicious inappropriate dropping of an article or two.)

            As far as "tightening" - that usually means that your scenes have a little fluff - you spend more time on most scenes than it deserves. So it doesn't usually mean remove sub-plots or scene, it means make everything happen faster. And this is why talking about your page count isn't relevant - a script feels tight relative to its content. If you have 45 pages of story and 50 pages of script, then you're not going to feel tight, even if it's a pilot and most pilots run 55+ pages.

            Comment


            • #7
              Re: Reader's comment

              Originally posted by Ronaldinho View Post
              English articles are challenging, and I actually think that, for some reason, they're particularly challenging for people from your part of the world. (I wrote a script set there, and one of the best ways to make the characters sound like English was their second language was the judicious inappropriate dropping of an article or two.)
              I absolutely agree with that, for the simple reason that we do not use articles in most circumstances at all.

              While you would write, "He picked a chair, moved it to the left,- we simply say, and write "He picked chair, moved it right and,- it might sound ridiculous but it works in our language.

              I have started to re-apply this rule to my rewriting and came across another situation that I often use in dialogue.

              Is it wrong to cut out, or into a sentence as some suggest?

              MIKE
              Where do you get them?

              SIMONE
              What? You mean these days? On Facebook. A simple ad and you'll get fifty of them in no time.

              Or the cut version:

              SIMONE
              These days? Facebook. An ad and you'll get them in dozens.

              ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------

              PETE
              Did you see him anywhere?

              Shorter:

              PETE
              You seen him anywhere?
              ------------------------------------------------------------------
              IVY
              Do you know him?

              IVY
              You know him?

              The reader comments for TV drama and sitcom pilots, if you are interested:

              "Comments: The series has a different take on how zombies came into existence. The base of the story is good. There is also a full series worth of content. There is even opportunity for more stories. However, it could use a bit of tightening to take it to the next level. As I found myself wanting to know more about the USB on Zoe, I feel that some of the supporting characters could use some more depth. There are some areas that you could infuse a bit of subtext with the dialogue to convey what
              the character is feeling / thinking. Most of the time, the dialogue worked and moved the story forward. Just a little tightening would take it to the next level. Overall, it was an easy read.-

              "Comments: This is a very entertaining script that could use some polishing throughout. The world created by the narrative is enticing and would benefit from further exploration in order to make it a more tangible place. The concept is fresh and lends itself to a full series worth of content. Though the protagonists are thoroughly described, some of the supporting characters could use an increase in the depth of their identities. The writer has created a humorous and entertaining world here that needs only minor revision to succeed.-

              "Comments: This is a unique script with a multitude of humorous moments that suffer only to self-imposed limitations. In writing a script so absurd in nature-- featuring a crude, all-knowing, talking parrot and a sex-crazed, talking orangutan--the jokes must embody that sharpness and originality. The protagonist is entertaining, but further explanation of her goals and motivations would help to sustain viewer interest. The dialogue is integral in creating the comedic tone of the narrative and underscores the personalities of each of the characters. It also might help to have a copy editor give this a quick look, because some of the articles ("a" and "the") are missing throughout (e.g., "Call ambulance!").,-

              Comment


              • #8
                Re: Reader's comment

                In all three of those cases I probably like the shorter version in a void, but it's hard to say in abstract, because, of course, it also depends on the specific characters and situations.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Re: Reader's comment

                  If you're worried about brevity, why not "Call 911!"

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Re: Reader's comment

                    In general, the most important thing with dialogue is that it suits the character, not the writer. I think you may be misunderstanding something you've read, in that sense. Different characters will make different choices about shortening sentences, dropping words, etc., and each choice you make will communicate something different about who they are.

                    Is there a way you can partner with a native English speaker? It sounds like you'll keep running into these issues in dialogue without someone to help you understand what sounds right and what doesn't. Colloquial English has some odd rules around word order and articles that are very difficult to state concretely - you sort of know them intuitively when you hear them. I don't know of a free resource that gets into that level of linguistic depth.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Re: Reader's comment

                      Originally posted by omjs View Post
                      In general, the most important thing with dialogue is that it suits the character, not the writer. I think you may be misunderstanding something you've read, in that sense. Different characters will make different choices about shortening sentences, dropping words, etc., and each choice you make will communicate something different about who they are.
                      I'll +1 and also bring this up.

                      I did a short script once (for a contest in these forums actually), where one character was Russian and had a heavy accent. For that character I actually would spell words how they sounded from him. "We vant it all" instead of "We want it all," and it worked! However, the rest of the characters spoke without the accent so I wrote them normally.

                      YODA speaks backwards, and that works too. But again, most of the other characters speak in a way we think "normal."

                      My point is, if all your characters speak with the same language mishaps, then at that point either you are creating a new world with a new language or you are misusing the language altogether. If all your characters drop the "an, and, a, the" then it become apparent that it's not a style, rather a lack of grasp on the correct use of the language. You need to show that you can actually do it right first, in order to then break those rules somewhere else.
                      "We're going to be rich!" - 1/2 hr COMEDY written/directed/edited by me, I also act in it.
                      SUBTITLED
                      Episode 1 (Beef pills)
                      Episode 2 (African commercial)
                      Episode 3 (Brenda's rescue)

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Re: Reader's comment

                        If you want to get somewhere as a writer, you really can't rely on programs like spellcheck. As you've discovered, using those programs has put you in a position where you still have multiple readers complaining about your command of English. "Half-decent," isn't gonna win you much in a competition.

                        Maybe if you come up with some brilliant concept, people will overlook the poor grammar, buy your script and have you rewritten. It sounds more like you're trying to start a career though, instead of making one big sale, so you'll need to figure out a permanent solution.

                        Personally? If I pick up some script that's a run-of-the-mill concept full of characters who are supposed to be native English speakers saying things like, "call ambulance," I'd be likely to put the script back down.

                        You should find a person to proofread for you.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Re: Reader's comment

                          Originally posted by Ronaldinho View Post
                          In all three of those cases I probably like the shorter version in a void
                          Thanks. You just made my day, probably the whole next year.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Re: Reader's comment

                            Originally posted by omjs View Post
                            Is there a way you can partner with a native English speaker?
                            In my country? Almost no chance.
                            Our basic English knowledge starts and ends with 150 words, they teach us in ground school, "How do you do? Do you how - how?-

                            You have probably already noticed that on your next First Lady; I mean, every time she appears she speaks (and looks) as if she just did a blowjob gone wrong on King Kong (not meaning Trump by that).

                            Getting someone oversea to go through all my work is a whole new game for me, since, you have no idea with whom you deal with or what are his or her goals, expertise...
                            And expecting that someone would waste his precious time to read my work and getting nothing from me (I seriously doubt that someone would be interested in my comments).

                            For now, it is simpler for me to post a question here and there on Done Deal, and get the rest of my knowledge from books of the masters of the industry and internet.

                            On one side, one of my scripts in 2016 Nichols got two positive scores. It was not enough for a third read, but still, it is an improvement from to 2015 results.

                            The TV pilot that got into the second round in Austin Festival also got good comments from the second reader. Correcting the "mistakes,- he mentioned is something I will deal in upcoming week or so. I will post the reader's comment to another post in here, if you are interested in it.

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Re: Reader's comment

                              Originally posted by Mpimentel View Post
                              You need to show that you can actually do it right first, in order to then break those rules somewhere else.
                              Could not agree more with that.

                              I dropped the "an, and, a, the" from the dialogue only on occasions when my European style was pleased with it, and yes, it was obviously too much.

                              The readers' comments for the TV pilot that made it in this year's Austin to the second round show that even with all my limitations, I am doing at least something right.

                              I would dare to disagree with the second round reader about the missing main protagonist. To me at least that is the mother/scientist whose daughter is the first sign that the upgrade is not 100% effective. She has the highest motivation and goal to make their upgrade work.

                              "Concept: Yes this is seems fresh and different from other takes on worldwide contagions. With the idea of a virus acting like a computer virus and hacking the brains of children and the US coming up with an "upgrade" cure that they do not share and has unexpected side effects.

                              Plot: The world is full of tensions on several flavors. The tension created when a parent loses a child, the tension of what a parent would do to save a child, the tension of what other countries would do to acquire the upgrade cure. Efficient imagery you empathize very strongly with the characters.
                              Structure: This one has a clear beginning, middle and end. There is a very sttrong premise and inciting incident. Pacing draws you through the story effective. Clear critical decisions to kick of act two and three.

                              Characters: Characters are believable. You feel the pain of each and every parent referenced. There is nice development evident in Vivian and various other main character. Like the little sort of Firestarter/Village of the Damned nod at the end with little Bette.

                              Dialogue: Dialogue work well. there is not a lot of extended narration, the story is told by the actions of the characters. If you took away the names you would still be able to tell which of the main characters are speaking. Since many of the characters are children the dialogue indicates the age of the character

                              Overall: This is a strong pilot. There are an ample number of story lines to drive a fullseries. There is a strong premise that will be relate-able to every parent or parent to be out there. It has strong protagonists and antagonists. There are directions of character development established early that are interesting. I am hard pressed to think of a scene that does not advance the plot or reveal character. It is easy to see how this would be successful given the history of shows like Helix, Adromeda Strain, the last Ship and Znation.-

                              "(Second Round reader)

                              Concept: Given the popularity of contagion films and TV shows - CW just started CONTAINMENT - this script provides an intriguing idea. It also presents a different twist on the regular epidemic story. Here, a computer virus infects the brains of children, and the US has an upgrade it's not quite willing to share. The pilot opens up so many possibilities and leaves open several story threads down the road.

                              Plot: In a world where terrorists are able to hack into children's brains to spread a virus, the United States has an upgrade other nations desperately want. As exciting as the premise is, the plot could be so much more than it is. Though modernizing an virus-epidemic story with ISIL makes it topical. The writer, however, needs to establish a clear protagonist. You can have many characters, and this script throws many out there, but someone needs to be the protagonist, even in an epidemic story. Some scenes should be trimmed - i.e. the Kai-Luca training scene which does not move the story forward. Nice reveal re. Malik's daughter (p. 54).

                              Structure: Clear beginning, middle and end. Good teaser that pulls us into the world. The act breaks could be stronger. The pacing is mostly good. The story, for some reason, slows down during the Kai-Luca scenes. Those need to be punched up.

                              Characters: While Adrian, Roscoe, Destiny, Vivian, Malik et al make for interesting characters, the writer throws out so many characters in the pilot, it can be a bit overwhelming. By p. 18, at least 17 characters had been introduced. That's way too many. The main characters are distinct. But the lack of a clear protagonist, a result ofway too many characters, works against this story. Even stories such as this - OUTBREAK, CONTAGION, CONTAINMENT, THE WALKING DEAD - always have a clear protagonist.

                              Dialogue: Dialogue works. Even though it's a foreign world to us, the writer does well to explain the situation quickly and in understandable ways. (S)he rightly relies more on action than dialogue to propel the story. Dialogue reflects the characters and moves the story forward.

                              Overall: A truly intriguing premise. Given the popularity of epidemic movies and TV shows, this could prove to be attractive. However, you need to make clear who the protagonist is. Stories such as this -OUTBREAK, CONTAGION, THE WALKING DEAD, CONTAINMENT, THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN, THE LAST SHIP - all have protagonists who are distinct; we know who they are. There are way too many characters introduced in the pilot; by p. 18, at least 17 characters had been introduced. The pacing seems to slow down during the Kai-Luca scenes. Not sure the training scene does anything for this story. Nice reveal about Malik's daughter (p. 54). Good luck with the rewrite.-

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