Friday, November 27, 2009

TODAY'S NUGGET: Not Another "Handsome Man"

This week I got a spec script that had great promise. However, I saw a very common description problem that riled me: "He was a handsome man."

My eyes glaze over such commonplace descriptions as "handsome man" or "beautiful woman."

So the woman is beautiful. Every freakin' woman in spec scripts are described as beautiful. Big deal.

Does "beautiful" give me a hint about her character traits? No.
Does this create action? No.
Does this even tell me what's going on underneath the surface? No.

The problem is that:
1) These are static physical descriptions that don't tell me anything about the person.
2) In a script, economy of words is so important. You've got a minimum amount of space & need to give the most bang for the buck.

We've all heard, "Use active verbs!" because they tell the reader what the character is doing (the present) and the direction they're going (the future).

The same goes for character descriptions. They should be doing double duty: describing the surface (present), but also hinting at something else that makes the reader curious (future).

For example: "He was Clark Gable handsome, which embarrassed him to no end." Ah-ha! Suddenly I have an inkling what this guy is like. He's insecure and could be easily set up in the next scene to be very embarrassed. I want to know what makes him tick.

"She was as pretty as a marizpan figure, and twice as likely to give you a stomach ache." This woman might be pretty, but is someone to be wary about.

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Descriptions need to do double duty.

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