Writing in your own voice

Marilyn script
“Hmm. Billy’s new script. Men dressing up as women to hide from gangsters? Sounds funny.”

When I’ve done script notes for writing colleagues, no matter what the genre is, I can usually tell who wrote it – because of the way it reads. Each writer has their own particular style, so each of their scripts has its own corresponding “sound”. Or I’ll get notes back on my material which often includes a comment along the lines of “this sounds like something you’d write”.

This isn’t just about dialogue. It’s about a writer’s overall style, or how they tell the story of their script. You don’t just want the reader to read your story; you want them to experience it. Which can be accomplished by adding that extra layer.

Everybody develops their own individual style, and it takes time to find it. The more you write, the more you’ll be able to hone your writing to reflect your own individuality.

Just a few things to think about:

-How does your script read? Is the writing crisp and efficient, or are you wasting valuable page real estate with too many lines of  your loquacious verbosity? Taking it one step further, do you use the same words over and over, or do you relish any opportunity to give your thesaurus a solid workout?

-How is your story set up and how does it play out? Is it simple and straightforward, or complex and full of deliciously tantalizing twists and turns? Are you working that creativeness to show us things we haven’t seen before, or is just page after page of the same ol’, same ol’?

-Is it a story somebody besides you would want to see? Just because you find the subject matter interesting doesn’t mean it has universal appeal. However, there is the counter-argument to that in which you could attempt to have your story include elements that would satisfy fans of the genre while also appealing to newcomers.

-Can’t ignore the population within the pages. Are your characters well-developed and complex, or do they come up lacking? Do we care about them, or what happens to them? Can we relate to them?

-What are your characters saying, or not saying (subtext!)? How are they saying it? Do they sound interesting or dull as dishwater? Very important – do they sound like actual people, or like “characters in a movie”?

Remember – the script is a reflection of you. A solid piece of writing shows you know what you’re doing. Offering up something sloppy is simply just sabotaging yourself.

Who hasn’t heard a variation on the line about a script being a cheap knockoff of a more established writer? While I can understand admiring a pro writer’s style, why would you attempt to copy it? It probably took them a long time to find their own voice, and by trying to write like they do, you’re denying yourself the opportunity to do the same thing for yourself.

Or to put it another way: they didn’t take any shortcuts to become the writer they are today, so why should you?

O comedy gods, we beseech thee

Bonus points if you know the line that came right before this
Bonus points if you know the classic line spoken right before this. If not, shame on you.

Despite a few initial hiccups, the plot of the low-budget comedy is slowly coming together. It ain’t easy, but I’m doing what I can.

First and foremost – making sure the story is solid.

Coming in at a very close second – the way the story takes place has to feel like this is the only way it could happen.

Bringing up the rear, but just as important as the previous two – it has to be funny, which may be the biggest challenge of all.

Comedy is subjective. Tastes vary.

Many’s the time I’ve watched a successful comedy, but didn’t find myself laughing that much. Maybe watching it with an audience in a theatre makes a difference.

My sense of humor might be considered somewhat on the dry side.  To me, jokes conveyed in a subtle, low-key way tend to be funnier – and sometimes have more of an impact. Tell a joke without making it obvious one is being told.

Reading and watching a lot of comedies, it’s becoming more obvious that a lot of writers seem to consider a character making a smartass comment for no apparent reason as funny. I’ll be making a deliberate effort to not do that.

Something else that’s important – making it feel realistic. I absolutely hate when “something wacky” happens that simply wouldn’t in real life.

This is just part of the list. There’s a lot to think about, but I knew this was going to be challenging when the idea first hit me.

The jokes are out there. I just have to find the right ones.

Moose, squirrel, and two guys in drag


rocky & bullwinklesome like it hot

It’s been a very long time since I attempted to write a script that did not involve the phrase “rollercoaster ride” as part of the description.

So while I wait for notes on the western and mystery-comedy, I’m taking my time in figuring out the story of what is shaping up to be a low-budget comedy.

Which also means it has to be funny, yet another mountain to conquer in itself.

Funny is subjective.  Something somebody else considers hilarious might make me shrug and say “I don’t get it.”  But I know what makes me laugh, so that type of humor is what I’ll attempt to incorporate into my story.

For me, a very important part of this is re-educating myself in how the jokes work and how they’re constructed. As I figure out the story, I’ll also be watching and learning from some prime examples of how it’s done.

Among them: episodes of ROCKY & BULLWINKLE and SOME LIKE IT HOT.

Part of what I like about them is how the jokes feel organic AND smart. The humor comes from the situation and how the characters react, rather than feeling forced.

Each also does a great job of gradually setting up punchlines, and not just going for a rapid-fire bombardment of one-liners.

Something else to keep in mind: both are over 50 years old and still hold up – further proof of their durability. The subject matter may be a bit dated, but the jokes still work, and that’s really what matters.

I seek rewatchability

Never gets old. Never.
Never gets old. Never.

It goes without saying that any screenwriter is a movie buff. We have to be. It’s our love of movies that got us into this in the first place.

We’ve all got our favorites. Countless genres are spanned. Writers, directors or performers we can usually rely on for solid, quality work. Who hasn’t claimed to have seen a particular movie “over a hundred times”?

So what is it about them that makes us have no problem with watching them over and over, as opposed to seeing something once and being done with it, or maybe even abandoning ship around the halfway point?

A favorite film motivates repeat viewings. You’re enjoying the whole experience so much that when it’s over, you’re already looking forward to seeing it again.

Consider the films in your home collection. What is it about them that made you go so far as to want to own them?

For as much as I talk about STAR WARS, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK and BACK TO THE FUTURE, all of which I could watch over and over, I’m also perfectly content with something that doesn’t involve special effects, like TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN or SOME LIKE IT HOT.

What do all of these have in common? For me, it all boils down to fantastic storytelling with well-crafted three-dimensional characters, both of which also motivate and inspire me to be a better writer.

Which is what it all comes down to. The writing, which starts with us.

Not only are we striving to create a story, but we want to make them so amazing that they’re practically irresistible not only to the people who make the movies, but the movie-going public.

While working on that latest project, we imagine what the finished product would look like on the big screen and hope the audience is having such a blast watching it that they’ll want to come back for more.

But imagining is one thing. Actually making it compelling and involving is another.

We must continuously write, rewrite, hone and polish each individual piece of work to make it as involving and engaging as possible.

Not sure if yours is? Ask somebody. Writing group, trusted colleague, paid analyst. Doesn’t matter. Always be striving for greatness, my friends.

Our work is definitely cut out for us.  It’s hard enough to write a good script. It’s even harder to write one people want to continuously return to.

Roll, roll! Roll in ze hay!

Chances are you immediately knew what this meant. But just in case…

I read this earlier today, and it reminded me of a deal I made about ten years ago.

I had a co-worker at the time who thought Adam Sandler’s BILLY MADISON and HAPPY GILMORE were the funniest movies she’d ever seen.

“Whaaaaa?”  I have nothing against Adam Sandler.  I just don’t think he’s funny. “Haven’t you ever seen YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN or SOME LIKE IT HOT?”

“No. Are they funny?” OOF! The verbal equivalent of a kick to the balls.

After the impact of that question wore off, we made a deal: she’d watch my two and I’d watch hers.

Jump to the present. I’ve yet to uphold my end of the deal, and she left years ago, and I doubt she’s followed through.  Which is fine by me.

The above quote also reminded me I haven’t watched YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN or SOME LIKE IT HOT in years. The more I think about them, the more I realize how incredibly well-written each one is.  Comedy that’s still fresh and hilarious years later.  Even nicer, it’s smart-funny. Granted, YF can be a bit…bawdy at times, but that’s Mel Brooks for you.

What’s also so impressive is that the jokes are organic. They don’t feel forced. Each one fits the situation perfectly.

“Why would a guy want to marry a guy?” “Security!”

“Igor, will you help with the bags?” “Soitenly. You take the blonde, I’ll take the one in the turban.”

They just keep coming, one after another.  While a lot of dialogue today comes across as plain old snark, it’s the opposite here. And not just funny – double entendres, plays  on words,  etc., etc. Again – smart writing.

Count me among the writers out there who would love to be able write like this.  Believe me – it ain’t easy.

Could movies like those be made today? Hard to say.  If anything, the modern equivalent would be more like the writing on 30 ROCK or the still-missed ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT.

What not-recent comedy do you think still holds up, and why?

-Incidentally, this is blogpost #300. In honor of that, go enjoy a piece of pie. Tell ’em I sent you.