No personal blog crapola.
Just one guy's quest to unlock the mysterious art of storytelling on screen.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Murderous Grammar

Murdered Minister's Wife Confesses to the Crime

... was the headline that caught my eye and had me clicking through to shortnews.com.

I really wanted to know how the deceased wife of a minister managed to confess to murdering herself. It sounded like some kind of delicious time-travel scenario, or perhaps a ghostly confession from the spirit world. I mean, are we talking about a cryptic suicide? Did she have multiple personalities and go through a sudden and awful Jekyll-Hide struggle while chopping carrots for the evening meal?

No.

The wife is safe and well. And headed for jail. You guessed it: she was the one doing the murdering and her minister husband was the one doing the expiring. But that's not what the title says.

The title is horribly ambiguous. Both readings are valid: that the victim was the minister or that the victim was his wife.

Now, ambiguity is a wonderful tool for writing comedies. Audiences love to be fooled by clever use of language (so long as you don't make them feel foolish). But apart from that, you should strive to remove all ambiguity from your writing.

If the author of the quoted news article had stopped to think about what he/she had written, perhaps we would have read this title instead:

Wife of Murdered Minister Confesses to the Crime

I'll leave it to you to determine which of the three basic attributes of good writing the original title violates. Those attributes are variously summed up as the ABCs of writing:

  • accurate
  • brief
  • clear
or the three Cs of writing:
  • correct
  • concise
  • clear

[end]

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Morton's "great structure" versus Mazin's "foofera"

Just a quick note about an interesting confluence of blogging about structure. Inevitably this type of thing comes and goes, especially with such a lively topic of debate as screenwriting structure.

First, Craig Mazan at The Artful Writer threw down the glove with his article Q: How Strict Should I Be With Act Breaks? A: Not Very. Two days later, Phil Morton of ScreenwriterBones fame picked up the glove, dusted it off, and torched it with an arc welder. Phil's article is called On Structure.

Polite as they are, you could not get two more opposing opinions.

Clearly I'm in the Morton camp, as evidenced by my 4-Act Story Diamond post, and I'm glad to see Phil stand up to Craig's hogwash (albeit coincidentally) on this issue. Craig is a dedicated writer, and a passionate Guild rep, but telling novice writers this (about Act breaks) is misleading at best and downright professional sabotage at worst:

Hooey. Baloney. Argle-bargle. Go ahead…fill in your own Montgomery Burnsian exclamation of disgust. It’s all foofera.


Uh-huh. I have one thing to say about that: pacing [definition, music: the speed at which a composition is played]. Act breaks are the key to how you pace your screenplay. Sure, there's no hard and fast screenwriting rule about how many breaks go in and where, but ignore them and you are ignoring the speed at which your story plays out. Act breaks are a (the) fundamental feature of story structure. Nothing gives your story a sense of progress and a sense of excitement like a well made Act break.

I'll throw back to Philip for the last word:

... screenplays live or die on their structure, I believe, And I’ve read scripts that have sold, that I didn’t think had great writing, but they all had one thing in common: GREAT structure. My scripts that have sold? Great structure.


UPDATE: Read how Phil wrote a cable movie in three-and-a-half weeks.

Without a defining blueprint, you'll go 100 miles an hour into every tree in the road... But because of the outline, that only happened twice in 110 pages, so that taught me a lesson about the outline.