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format Science Fiction Screenplay - A Short Story

Hi There .... I am just completing a short story and need some advice about how to handle alien language and telepathy in terms of formatting it within a screenplay. I have attached what I have so far and any suggestions would be appreciated!
 

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Also, when a character's identity is not revealed until later in the story...do we retain the original characters name as STRANGER in the dialog?
or change it once the identity becomes known? Like in my story ... I have HUMANOID ... but later he is GENERAL

I refer to him as HUMANOID throughout the rest of the story but that seems off
 
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All you have to do to handle ANY foreign language in a screenplay is to use a parenthetical...

HUMANOID​
(in Alien)
You may proceed...

Some scripts handle it like this as well...

HUMANOID​
(Alien; subtitled)
You may proceed...

I've even seen it done like this...

HUMANOID​
(Alien; subtitled)
[You may proceed...]

To me? The first example is best and most simple to understand and truly... That's what counts here because you do NOT want to slow the reading down at all.

I read your pages... In addition to handling foreign dialogue as I outlined above? You've also got some overwriting and passive voice in there. Not a huge deal in a first draft but should be polished and taken care of in your final draft.

Good luck with it!
 
Thanks for the great advice ... I will make the adjustments :) ... Can you give me an example of where i am using overwriting and passive voice? I would like to correct that too ..Also, is using HUMANOID throughout the entire script correct? We only learn that he is a high ranking General humanoid later so does it make sense to stay with HUMANOID the rest of the way? ... Lastly, do i have to use the paranthetical for every comment? or is writing it once suffice? seems to be repetitious but is that the way its done?
 
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You're very welcome...

Okay... Here's your passive sentences:

1) The food tray is overturned violently as he grabs the two hemispheres of his skull.
2) He is wearing a large pod-like helmet, his arms and legs are strapped to the alien gurney.
3) It is identical to the one worn by the humanoid.
4) Space weapons are fired all around.
5) A strange language is heard from behind the door.
6) A weapon is heard melting the lock open from the outside.
7) The general is led inside a fortified military vehicle.
8) Another humanoid soldier is shot dead.
9) The corridor is heavily guarded with soldiers everywhere as the two men enter an elevator (no period ending the sentence)
10) The room goes quiet, all attention is focused on the two humanoids who have just entered (no period ending the sentence)
11) Hands are shaken.
12) The crowd starts to speak randomly, the mood has suddenly turned serious (no period ending the sentence)
13) Guard is running.
14) He is lead towards the conference doors.

As for overwriting? I'm not going to go through each one of them because it'll take me a half hour to do so... But here's a few examples:

1) A panel slides open, revealing a compartment within.

Just say "reveals" a hidden compartment like this:

A panel slides open, reveals a hidden compartment.

--Easier to understand and doesn't slow down the read.

2) The astronaut reaches over and pulls out a meal tray. He removes the aluminum foil and begins to eat (no period ending the sentence)

--In this example? No need to say he "begins" to eat. Just have him eat. In fact? You can get rid of all those instances where you say begins or starts to do something. Just have the character DO IT.

3) A faint glow appears in the distance, sparks begin dancing about. A freak electric storm begins to form replacing the black emptiness of space. The astronaut stops eating.

Here's how it could be done with less real estate:

In the distance, sparks dance about, emitting a faint glow. An electric storm replaces the black emptiness.

Astronaut stops eating.

--This is just how I'd do it. Your mileage may vary. Point being, you're simply using too many words to describe your action. Again, FINE for a first draft and to be honest? If this is HOW you WRITE? Keep doing it because this is how you'll get your first draft OUT of your head and onto the page. All this stuff is easily FIXED in rewrites and polishes.

--Of course eventually? The trick is to be AWARE of this kind of writing so you don't even have to go through it several times to fix it later on. This saves a hell of a lot of time when it comes to rewriting and polishing.

Anyway... This kind of writing is pretty much all the way through what you've written here. It can all be drastically TIGHTENED UP.

Other problems I saw? Placing ACTION in parentheticals. No need to do that. Just use a brief action line. Parentheticals should never be used for action.

Redundancy...

For example...

The astronaut grimaces in pain.

A GRIMACE, by its very own definition is a LOOK one makes because of PAIN. No need to mention "in pain." Just write:

Astronaut grimaces.

Simple. Easy. It FLOWS and reads faster.

And trust me... I know that's just a simple sentence to begin with but when you have these kinds of sentences scattered all throughout the screenplay? Makes for a difficult read for those in the industry. Plus? It can make the write appear to be an amateur and one who's never done the difficult job of rewriting and polishing.

Here's another...

The food tray is overturned violently as he grabs the two hemispheres of his skull

--Not only is this sentence written in passive voice but it's overwritten and no period at the end of it.

Just write something easy like:

The food tray flips over -- Astronaut grabs his head.

The fact that the food tray FLIPS OVER all by itself is enough to depict that it did so violently. Want more violence?

Food tray flips over -- food everywhere. Astronaut grabs his head.

or

Astronaut grabs his head -- food tray flips over -- food flies.

Something along these lines...

Another thing you can do is STENGTHEN you action verbs. Instead of using "looks" or "walks" -- try finding the PERFECT action verb for the VISUAL you want to depict.

Last but not least... A lot of your dialogue is ON-THE-NOSE. I think for the aliens? Fine. Try to get some subtext in there for some of the other instances.

Hope this helps...

*NOTE: Yes... You should use the parenthetical throughout when a character uses a foreign language.
 
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Okay... Reading it now and making notes as I go along.

1)
INT. SPACECRAFT
--Even though your first opening scene takes place inside a spacecraft? You still need to let us know if it's NIGHT or DAY. I'm sure it'll be NIGHT (which simply means it's dark) but you still need to let us know.

2)
ASTRONAUT (35) sits in his space ship.
--This is redundant since you've already told us we're inside the SPACECRAFT. No need to tell us again.

3)
The astronaut reaches for the meal tray. He peels away
the aluminum foil.
--This could be even shorter... No need for "He." Just write something like: Astronaut reaches for the meal tray, peels away the aluminum foil. Or, the way I would personally do it:

Astronaut peels away the aluminum foil.

--Do we really need to see him REACH for it? If I was writing it? Nope. There's no RIGHT answer but I only mention it because it's little things like this that you can EASILY cut and LOSE NOTHING from your story and if you have sentences like these scattered all throughout the script? Might be wise to cut some of the fat.

4)
The astronaut takes a mouthful and chews. A blank look on
his face.

--Again, not really sure how this adds much to the story so since it doesn't FEEL like it does? Again, you could cut it down to something like this:

With a blank face, Astronaut chews his food.

Or

Astronaut chews his food with a blank face.

--Again, just showing you how you can cut this stuff way down to get your story to read much faster. If it's a good story and reads fast? The chances of it getting read ALL THE WAY THROUGH increase dramatically.

5)
In the distance, SPARKS dance about, emitting a faint GLOW.
An electric STORM replaces the black emptiness.
The astronaut stops eating, stupefied by the strange phenomenon.

--Okay... Well again, does your Astronaut need to actually stop eating? If he's stupefied by the strange phenomenon and then mutters to himself, hasn't he already stopped eating? I'll say this as I've said before in other posts/threads... If this is just a short you're writing to make yourself? No worries... Write it any way you want to write it because IN THE END? You obviously KNOW what YOU mean. But what I'm talking about here is more for those of us who write spec scripts. Maybe something like this:

As Astronaut stares into space, an electric storm catches his
attention. Sparks emit a faint glow.

ASTRONAUT​
(muttering)​
What the heck?

--Again, just showing how this can be trimmed down and still achieve what you want to depict.

6)
The lights and controls dim. The astronaut looks around.
Signs of distress evident within the space craft. Mild
shaking, items falling, sparking.

--To me? This paragraph is confusing which takes me out of the story for a moment. Why? For one thing, you've written: The astronaut looks around. Is he a character? Yes he is. So remember to Capitalize the first letter of his character name EVEN if you're now referring to him as just some astronaut because you've already introduced him to us. He's a character. Don't make him somebody else who's not important by now calling him "the astronaut." But that's NOT what I was confused by... Just mentioning it.

--What's confusing me is that you then write:

Signs of distress evident within the space craft. Mild
shaking, items falling, sparking.

--Signs of distress evident? No need to tell us that because NOW? Even though you followed up with "Mild shaking, items falling, sparking." -- You've set it up with signs of distress evident. I'm not an astronaut. I don't know what "signs of distress" actually are although, based on other movies, I could easily guess but that's what you're FORCING me to do here and hence, taking me out of the story for a moment so I can figure out what signs of distress are.

--I'm sure you've heard the old saying... "Show, don't tell." You're telling me first that signs of distress evident. No need for that. Just SHOW us what's going on inside the SPACECRAFT. Show us what's shaking. Show us what items are falling. Show us what's sparking. Make sense? Last but not least? You told us right at the beginning that we are inside a SPACECRAFT, not a space craft. A simple error but I point it out because in the end? Pick one way of spelling it and STICK with it throughout the script.

7)
--I'll mention this again... The Astronaut is your character. You don't have to always keep referring to him as "the astronaut." I assume he's your Protagonist, so you can dispense with the word, "the" and just call him Astronaut OR you could actually give him a better INTRODUCTION along with a NAME so we can identify with him a little more. Make sense?

--Since I'm reading a script and I keep seeing you refer to your Protagonist as "the astronaut," it takes me OUT of the story for an instant every time I see it because I know what I should be seeing is you refer to him as "Astronaut" or at the very least, "the Astronaut" instead of "the astronaut." Let's say you named this astronaut, JACK and then throughout the script, kept referring to him as "the astronaut." Do you see how that could be confusing? You've named this character, ASTRONAUT so when you then call him, "the astronaut," it's like you're now referring to his profession instead of his character. Confusing because it makes me WONDER WHY you're doing that when you should be referring to him by his actual character name. I know this may seem like I'm beating a dead horse but these comments are for EVERYONE, not just you... So I tend use longer explanations. Hope that makes sense.

8)
The cabin goes dark -- warning lights and sounds fill the
space ship. A trickle of blood appears under the astronaut’s
nose.

--I actually like this except for "and sounds." What sounds? When you force us to come up with the sounds? It takes us out of the story for an instant because each one of us has to come up with our own idea of what sounds we might be hearing. This is YOUR WORLD, not ours. So because it's YOUR WORLD? It's up to YOU to show and tell us what sounds are filling the space ship... Or? Do you mean, spacecraft? LOL.

9)
The astronaut screams ... his eyes roll behind his head ...
he collapses and is out cold.

--I've never heard or read "his eyes roll behind his head" before. Are you saying his eyes are rolling back? That, I've heard. That, I've read. I know eyes cannot roll behind someone's head but I still got that visual when I read it and it stopped me cold. I know what YOU MEANT but you can't rely that we will ALL KNOW what you meant.

Astronaut screams. His eyes roll back and he collapses out cold.

--Your use of ellipses in your action sentence is confusing. The ellipsis usually signifies either a short pause or a truncated quote. I know you're not truncating a quote... I would think this is all happening quickly so I don't understand why you used them.

10)
Okay... You started doing the same thing with HUMANOID that you did with ASTRONAUT. You introduce him as HUMANOID, then immediately refer to him as "the humanoid." Same comment as above.

That's all I can do for now... This took over an hour. I'll get back to it when I have the time and continue on.

Good luck with it!
 
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This is so gracious of you ... Thank you so much !!!! I am never seen such sage advice compacted in so few words. As I read through my story now I cringe ... in a good way (if that makes sense)

You, sir, are a true gift to writers on this forum ...
 
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So I just downloaded this so I could see how many pages you've got... I have a little time crunch today but since there were only 2 pages? I went ahead and read it.

I still think you might want to consider naming your Astronaut... Especially, since you named the computer. By having Darla say his name a time or two, I think we'll identify with him even more. Plus? You lowered his age... I know NOTHING about astronauts but it just FEELS like 30 is too young but that's just me.

So far? I'm liking it SO MUCH MORE... Every pass you make thus far? You're giving us more to chew on in the same space and that's always GOOD.

A couple of things stood out to me... AND? This is just ME...

You wrote:

They restore to normal after a moment.

Remember to write like a FLOW CHART. You said they restore to normal and then you say "after a moment."

Try, "After a moment, they restore to normal." Writing it this way? We're not thinking about the moment and we're done with that sentence. When I say to write like a flow chart? Imagine what takes place in each scene and depict it in the actual order you see in your mind's eye.

You wrote:

Astronaut whips his head around and peers out a porthole. A
mix of rock and metal debris float about.

You're REALLY getting it now. This is good... MUCH better than what you had before. KEEP DOING THIS!

You wrote:

DARLA, the ship’s onboard computer activates a display
that’s partially covered by a drawing of a 1950’s pinup
girl.

Good! But you can easily cut "that's" -- it adds nothing to that sentence.

You wrote:

A green waveform appears. It oscillates to Darla’s sultry
voice...

GOOD STUFF! Huge IMPROVEMENT!

Keep doing what you're doing... Keep everything in mind that we've discussed and knock out a first draft! If you keep doing what you're doing? Rewriting and polishing should be minimal.
 
Again, you're very welcome... And once again about the dialogue? There's no TRUE CORRECT WAY. Bottom line? As long as it's CLEAR to your READER what you're doing? It's fine. You can use parentheticals throughout OR make a "reader's aside" as to the language a character is going to speak throughout.

If there's not going to be a lot of foreign language dialogue? I usually go with a parenthetical. If there's a character who's going to speak a LOT of foreign language dialogue? Then a "reader's aside" makes more sense. I would just keep in mind to use as few "reader's asides" as possible.

If you're not sure of what a "reader's aside" looks like? Again, no real rule here... Just make it clear. Something like this:

Dialogue in italics is in Alien.

Dialogue in [brackets] is in Humanoid.

Something along those lines. Hope that makes sense. Good luck!
 
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Not really... I used to blog but when my brother committed suicide about 9 years ago? I eventually stopped blogging. I stopped doing a lot of things.

Having said that? You could go to Archive.org and look up the old blog posts if you're interested:

UnknownScreenwriter.com Archive

ScreenwriterUnknown.com Archive

This should in no way be construed as any kind of promotion. I have NOTHING to sell. LOL. Both these sites are no longer up and running. I was out of the country when the first domain expired. At the time? It had over 300K backlinks pointing to it and getting over a million unique visitors a month at the height of its popularity. I tried to renew it outside the U.S. and for whatever reason, even after using several browsers, I couldn't get the registrar to charge my credit card.

When I got back the U.S.? I was still within my 30 day renewal period so I really wasn't worried but when I did finally get back? I found out my registrar sold my domain to a domain broker and they held it hostage -- wanted $44,000.00 U.S. for it. LOL.

So I immediately registered ScreenwriterUnknown.com but like I said... My brother committed suicide and I lost interest. Not a day goes by however, that I don't get emails or Twitter fans asking me to get back to blogging.

Maybe someday... Who knows. But if you read any of the archives and have any questions? Just ask right here and we'll discuss. That way, everyone learns something. There's also some articles I've written that are on the web... Just search Unknown Screenwriter and you'll find'em.

Good luck!
 
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My heart goes out to you, my friend. I too went through a difficult period a few years ago when my ex re-married and moved our daughter to another city a few hours away.

Long story, but let's just say there was a lot of betrayal and deception on her part and I was caught like a deer in headlights. In the end, the legal system was not on my side and I just gave up fighting due to going almost bankrupt and suffering through terrible anxiety, panic attacks and depression.

To make matters worse, my mother's health went downhill fast around this time and she passed away in less than a year.

When it rains, it pours ...

In the end, I lost myself in work and I found it was the best way to stop thinking about everything else going on around me. I will also add that during this period, I created some of the most amazing work creatively and it did help me to divert my negative thinking without resorting to mind numbing drugs (did that as a young man and it was hell, I swore I would find other ways to cope)

I have since remarried and have a 2 year old son, but still trying to put the pieces back together. There's still a lot of anger and second guessing whether I should have kept fighting my ex, but I know in the end, the toxic environment that was building up around me was not healthy (for me or my daughter) . When I find myself falling back into negative thinking, I turn to writing, programming and other creative work and, at least for me, its made a very positive impact.

I hope you will find it in your heart to follow your passion, whatever that may be and stay positive. Find comfort and strength in your friends and family. Although I do not know you personally, the generosity you offer in sharing your knowledge and the care and compassion in the manner you present that knowledge is truly inspiring.

You sir, are one of the good ones. Never forget that.

God bless
 
Thanks! They say we can tolerate (at most) a couple of bad things happening at once, but when too many problems start to compound, the body literally shuts down. I guess we all have to go through moments like that once or twice in a lifetime. ...What doesn't kill you ...
 
Thanks! They say we can tolerate (at most) a couple of bad things happening at once, but when too many problems start to compound, the body literally shuts down. I guess we all have to go through moments like that once or twice in a lifetime. ...What doesn't kill you ...
I know this is a bit off topic but since you mentioned it? I'm a fairly cool, calm, and collected individual. I hardly ever stress about anything and the ONLY thing in this world that might actually scare me would be something happening to one of my children.

Having said that? My ex did the same thing... I was in California at the time and she made absolutely sure when it was my weekend with my kids? She had them spend the night at a friend's house. Every time -- so I had a paper trail -- I had to call the police and meet them at my old house. The problem with this was that I then lived three hours away from my old house and it was located up in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in very remote country. So all this took a lot of time only to find out that as soon as the police knocked on her door and she opened it? She'd say our kids were spending the weekend with friends.

This was after I had to prove (with my divorce decree) that my kids were supposed to be with ME that weekend. Turns out? Police couldn't do ANYTHING about it.

Went to court and ALWAYS had the exact same family court judge... She would ALWAYS scold my ex and tell her NOT do do that anymore. As soon as we left the courthouse?

RINSE and REPEAT.

Went through this for over three years until one day I just told her... "Send them when they actually want to come." Eventually they did but it took them to grow up a bit.

Had it not been possible for me to DIVE down deep into work? Things could have gone drastically different. LOL. Luckily? It wasn't worth crossing the line for.

And yes... Physically? My hair and beard was dark brown at the beginning of all that. By the end of three years? Completely white. LOL. The stress always seems to get you... One way or the other.
 
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