Wednesday, April 5, 2006

Suddenly all hell breaks loose with hilarious cons...

Last year I did a short course about writing arts reviews. I'm not sure review writing is really for me, but I found the course useful in other ways. As with scriptwriting, writing reviews is all about economy, and the course tutor very helpfully made a list of phrases to avoid using, and invited us to add our own pet peeves to the list.

I got thinking about this list today as I was reading scripts and again came across two of my most hated expressions : "All hell breaks loose" and "..With hilarious consequences". The latter is more frequently found in synopses and pitches, which is probably even more damaging than putting it in the script, as it increases the likelihood that the script won't be requested. I've never yet read a script that promised "hilarious consequences" that was actually funny. And I've lost count how many times I've read "all hell breaks lose" in scene directions. It's a lazy turn of phrase that leaves so much open to interpretation. Writers, describe how you imagine all hell breaking loose would look like!

So today I revisited the notes I took in the reviewing class and added "all hell breaks loose" and "with hilarious consequences" to the list of banned phrases. I'm aware that I'm not immune to overusing certain words in my own writing, so I intend to consult this list next time I'm rewriting or editing. "Suddenly" and "however" were also on the 'to avoid' list, and I'm particularly partial to the latter. "In order to" is another good example - what's wrong with just "to"? The extra words are simply a cushion. Scriptwriting is about getting to the point. No room for cushioning!

My usual approach to avoiding lazy phrases is simply to go back through my script with a highlighter pen and mark up phrases I need to rethink, or any persistently repeated words. This may seem pedantic but good scene directions are as important as any other aspect of the script, and it seems that many writers focus their attention on editing or rewriting dialogue and ignore the flow of the scene directions. A few of these tired old phrases on each page will have a huge impact on the overall pacing of the script. And as for dialogue, simply going back and cutting out words like "well" and "look" can make all the difference in injecting some energy into the script. In real life people might use the words and phrases all the time, but in a script they just slow things down.

I'm sure there are plenty more cliched words and phrases we could add to this list, these are just a few that struck me today. Anyone got any other suggestions? What makes you cringe every time you read it? What word or phrase do you find you just keep using in your own writing? I'll attempt to compile a definitive 'to be avoided' list!

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