Saturday, May 26, 2012

Screenwriting Mistake #59: "Sort of"

I’ve heard hundreds, maybe thousands, of screenplay pitches and I can probably count on one hand the number of pitches that didn’t include the words “sort of, “kind of” or “basically.” For example, people frequently say things like:

“Tony sort of starts trying to develop a better relationship with his father.”
“Patricia kind of begins working on her dance routine.”
“Wesley basically works on his anger problems so he can get along better with people.”

There are two problems with this kind of language in a pitch:

1.     It’s too vague. You need to make specific statements, such as, “Tony takes his father bowling every Friday night,” or, “Patricia joins the best dance troupe in New York and works her butt off for ten hours every day with the Bolshoi’s former Prima Ballerina,” or, “Wesley’s boss suspends him and requires him to complete 40 hours of anger management classes in order to come back to his job.” Specific is always better than vague.

2.     It shows that you aren’t sure of exactly what function that part of your script will be performing. You should know exactly why you put every single element of your script in your story and should be able to justify why that is the best possible element to perform that function. For example, if your protagonist is a country boy who wants to become a professional baseball pitcher and his dad is a dairy farmer, then a great way for him to train could be for his dad to set up milk bottles on a crate for his son to knock over. It highly specific and very justifiable, which is exactly what you want.

When you practice your pitches, pay attention for phrases like “sort of,” “kind of” and “basically,” and replace them with something more specific. Your pitch and your screenplay will be better for it.

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