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action If it can't show on screen, it shouldn't be in your script

I still don't know what is and isn't allowed

It's not so much a question of being allowed as one of good practice. To my mind, a screenplay is not so much a work of literature as a technical document. Sure, you can add in words, phrases and complete sentences that are tangential to the action, but they will only reduce the usefulness of the document. And remember a screenplay will primarily be delivered to a producer/director (or agent reading on their behalf)

In Jkds' example:
the audience is meant to form one opinion of what is going on, only to discover at the end they were mistaken. It's a deliberate misdirection in other words. All I'm trying to get across in this scene is that she is mildly confused about how it is so late. Yes, I know I could say something as simple as "X looks at the clock, it is 10am, she is mildly confused". But that doesn't necessarily convey the exact reaction I want
they're trying to (a) manipulate the audience ; (b) tell the director how unimportant this scene is; (c) tell the actor how to do their job; and (d) invest a huge amount of time, energy and words into a trying to elicit an "exact reaction" that is, in Jkds' own words "mildly confused." We don't have any more information about this particular scene, but if you were sitting in the room with this woman, how would you know that she was "mildly confused" by the time on the clock? Was she expecting it to be 9:55 or 7:55? Does she have to rush her morning routine because of sleeping late? Did it have an effect on the rest of her day? If the action doesn't even warrant an explicit "Huh?" addressed to the clock, or another character quipping "Someone slept well!" and yet the whole misdirection rests on this one "mildly confused" reaction, then there are far more serious problems with the script.

If an emotion is important to the character, and their involvement in the plot, then yes, their emotions should be described, and phrases such as "threw it away angrily" or "look of disbelief" are perfectly valid - an actor can translate those into action.
 
they're trying to (a) manipulate the audience ; (b) tell the director how unimportant this scene is; (c) tell the actor how to do their job; and (d) invest a huge amount of time, energy and words into a trying to elicit an "exact reaction" that is, in Jkds' own words "mildly confused." We don't have any more information about this particular scene, but if you were sitting in the room with this woman, how would you know that she was "mildly confused" by the time on the clock? Was she expecting it to be 9:55 or 7:55? Does she have to rush her morning routine because of sleeping late? Did it have an effect on the rest of her day? If the action doesn't even warrant an explicit "Huh?" addressed to the clock, or another character quipping "Someone slept well!" and yet the whole misdirection rests on this one "mildly confused" reaction, then there are far more serious problems with the script.
Sounds like I've caused some misunderstanding here. The misdirection aspect has nothing to do with my query. I was just responding to a different question someone asked concerning the character's world. It just so happens that there is twist in this story involving what we perceive to be going on in the character's world that hasn't been revealed at this stage (a bit like in Shutter Island for example), that is all I was trying to explain. It doesn’t actually have any bearing or constraint on the reaction I was trying to elicit in this particular scene though, so that's my bad if it has come across that way. The reason she is confused becomes immediately obvious in the very next scene.

Stripping it back, all I was basically asking is, what is a good way to visually decribe someone going "huh?" without having them actually say it out loud or adding actions or other information to make it obvious that's the reaction called for. It's a universally recognisable gesture, but semingly not one that's particularly easy to describe. I was asking it is acceptable to use a thought such as "that's odd" to illustrate it? It would appear that it's probably not, which is fine, and I therefore won't use it. I was just explaining my rationale as to why it seemed, at least to me, to work.

If an emotion is important to the character, and their involvement in the plot, then yes, their emotions should be described, and phrases such as "threw it away angrily" or "look of disbelief" are perfectly valid - an actor can translate those into action.
And this is sort of what I was getting at in terms of the consitency of the rule. I know those examples are entirely permissible to write, even though they involve things going on in the character's mind like anger and disbelief. You say they are permissible on the basis the actor "can translate that into an action" which I agree with. But by the same token, an actor can easily translate a specific "thought" such as "that's strange" into a reaction as well. To me, it feels quite intuitive what reaction it calls for. But it would seem, based on the feedback here, it's pushing the limit in terms of correct writing ettiquette and should be avoided, at least for a novice anywyay.
 

indietalk

IndieTalk Founder
Staff Member
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Late to the party as usual... Pretty sure we've discussed this before but to reiterate @mlesemann's thoughts... You shouldn't be writing too much (if any) thoughts and emotions. I am NOT a script consultant but I've mentored a lot of screenwriters over the years. To be honest? I don't really mind seeing emotion and thought in a first draft. To me? They can easily serve as PLACECARDS when you do passes on subsequent drafts. When you get to these placecards? You should instinctively know that these "thoughts" and "emotions" (for the most part) need to be rewritten. It may even turn out that you don't need them at all.

That happens ALL THE TIME on subsequent drafts. To me? It's just like first draft dialogue. Just have the characters say it ON THE NOSE if that's your writing level at the time. It is for most beginning screenwriters that I've seen. As you mature in the CRAFT, these things eventually STICK out like a sore thumb, BEGGING you to fix it.

In other words... As long as YOU, the screenwriter KNOW that stuff like crappy intros, thoughts, emotions, dialogue, etc., need to be tweaked and HONED into a more visual language, it's fine when it comes to the first draft.

But that's the trick... Knowing what needs to be tweaked and fixed.

However... If you're truly on the track or journey of becoming a professional screenwriter, you'll NEVER stop trying to LEARN. Sure, you can read screenplays but I have to DISAGREE with most screenwriters who tell beginners, "All you gotta do is read screenplays to learn how to write screenplays." LOL.

If it were that easy? As they say... EVERYONE WOULD BE DOING IT.

Even today, I can't watch a movie... NEW or OLD without having a notepad next to me. Part of the enjoyment of watching movies (for me), is to write down a nice bit of dialogue WHEN I HEAR IT. When one hits me that's full of subtext? I STOP everything and write it down. I must have thousands of these lines of dialogue sitting in a shit ton of notebooks.

The same goes for emotion and thought... I specifically WATCH for it when I watch movies. When I see it AMAZINGLY HANDLED, I pull out yet another notebook and describe what I saw. Sometimes, I'll even use a digital recorder to record what I thought I saw and how it was handled. Writing it down, really helps cement it in my brain. I simply create my own resources when I think I have a problem with a scene. When I see something handled extremely well? That's a screenplay I certainly want to read. Unfortunately, nine times out of ten? It wasn't in the script...

Which is WHY I turned to writing these nuggets down for my own use.

So yeah... Don't do it if you don't have to. If you feel like you MUST? Then do so JUDICIOUSLY. Don't sweat doing it in a first draft... I'm a huge believer in getting that STORY out of your head and onto the page as fast as possible. Don't worry about trying to write an Oscar winning screenplay on your first pass.

Writing is REWRITING. Always has been... Always will be but the good news? As you LEARN and get better? Novice screenwriter mistakes fall to the wayside more and more as long as YOU KEEP WRITING. Till eventually, your first drafts are extremely visual and won't take nearly as many rewrites as they used to. As you learn the rules? You learn how to not only abide by them but how to break them and LOOK like you're still abiding by them at the same time.

Here's some stuff to read that should help anyone out who's trying to figure out how to write thought and emotion...

Screenplay Action and Description – How to Write it Like A Badass
Screenplay Description: Only Sight and Sound
7 Ways To Evoke Emotions In Your Screenplay
How to Write Emotions in Screenplays
Can you include emotion or other “unshootable” elements in your screenplay?
Writing what can’t be shot
The 4 Emotions In Screenplay Writing
How to Describe Your Character's Emotions (Free Download)
How to write Action Description
Visual Storytelling: What Does it REALLY Mean, in Screenwriting terms?

I won't sit here and tell you I absolutely AGREE with EVERYTHING mentioned in the above articles... Most of it is good information. You'll have to decide for yourself what to soak up and what to leave behind. Having said that? There's ENOUGH information in the above articles to give a novice or beginning screenwriter a DIRECTION.

Once you move in that direction? Do yourself a favor and keep learning. If you DO? Bad habits eventually fall to the wayside.
 
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