Narration I

Friday, October 1, 2010

I have been reading last night, a script for a 10-minute-short written by one of my mentees, Varadhan, which actually provoked me to write about format of and narration in screenplays.

Though the idea and substance of your screenplay may be exquisite, but when you falter in format and narration, you can’t maintain the readability of your screenplay.

One thing I find common in young writers is the confusion of using FADE IN and FADE OUT. I found the same error in Varadhan’s script too, last night. In a feature film format, one doesn’t write the title at the top of the page (though some writers prefer to do it). The first thing that you write on the first page of your screenplay is FADE IN: in the top left hand corner. FADE OUT.  is written in place of THE END in the bottom right-hand corner of the last page of your screenplay. Please note that FADE IN is always followed by  : (colon) and FADE OUT always followed by . (period) and written in upper caps. Most of the novice writers confuse Fade In and Fade Out with DISSOLVE. Please be assured that FADE IN and FADE OUT come only once in your screenplay.

We all know that a movie is a story told in pictures and sound. The narrative – also called ‘narration,’ ‘business, ‘blackstuff’’ or ‘description’ – is where a screenwriter writes those pictures and sounds (other than dialogues). And to keep the story moving, in literal terms, requires brevity, clarity, and pace. Also the screenwriter has to bear in mind that with the business and dialogues that he/she writes, in the style of format, one page should roughly meet one minute of screen time. I’ll suggest a few things which experienced writers always adhere to:

No paragraph in a screenplay should be longer than four or five lines – short, uncomplicated sentences. Long paragraphs of narration give the reader a burden to look at and difficulty to read. It is better to break up the paragraphs to units of action or ideas.

The narrative describes the action and imagery with economy, so simple sentences (subject, verb and object) should dominate the text. Complex grammar will only slow the read and lessen the impact.

All narrative is written in SIMPLE PRESENT TENSE. Everything is written as if it were happening now, in front of our eyes, just as the film will be.

Narrative should also be written in ACTIVE VOICE. Active voice is easier to understand and more immediate than passive voice.

The environment should have an effect on the reader. You want the reader to see and experience it, and lose in it. The best way to do this is to use picture-making words. It’s very important for the upcoming screenwriters to have a strong grip on picture making words, to gain brevity at the same capture the senses of the reader. The function of metaphor and simile can well be made to use to evoke visual images and emotions in the reader. Then, the metaphor or simile must first be original. Clich├ęs don’t stir up emotions.

15,000 Useful Phrases: A Practical Handbook Of Pertinent Expressions, Striking Similes, Literary, Commercial, Conversational, And Oratorical Terms, For The Embellishment Of Speech And Literature, And The Improvement Of The Vocabulary Of Those Persons Who Read, Write, And Speak English."

I find this as a very useful tool for aspiring screenwriters, because when one gets mastery over condensed phrases, one gets more confidence in brief pictorial narration. "A good phrase may outweigh a poor library," as Thomas W. Higginson once wrote.

One of the screenwriters I personally adore, M T VASUDEVAN NAIR, wrote once described the one of the characters in his screenplay as ‘emotional door-mat’. What a portrayal! Brief, deep and imaginative!

A useful link for FREE Download Template: http://www.films.com.br/introi.htm

And before I conclude, let me caution: poor spelling, improper punctuations, and bad grammar will sink a script. 

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