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03/30/2002 - Tell It Like It Is
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The best screenplays have a way of communicating the plot and character motivations enough so that the reader understands what's going on without hitting him over the head with superfluous information. This is a difficult balance to strike, for most writers are understandably worried about patronizing the reader or leaving him with too little information. How much information is too much?

I've noticed that in the desire to curtail on-the-nose dialogue many screenwriters have opted for elusive character speech, conversations that aim for naturalism by only alluding to plot points, character backstories, and unfolding events. First let me congratulate these writers for trying to avoid idiotic dialogue. Secondly, though, may I suggest that sometimes these vagaries, when added up scene after scene, actually take up more space on the page and more patience in the reader? Audiences ultimately need crystic moments from which a plot can concisely develop.

Not only is it necessary to hit the nail artfully on the head sometimes, it's important to actually repeat information throughout your script. I recently read a newspaper editorial that repeated its central theme no less than five times throughout the article. On a second read, the hammering home of the point seemed excessive, but this technique pops up often in the work of many professional writers.

There's a script in development at our company that follows a lead character through an emotional scene, pointedly describing the character as "sad", "saddened", "deeply saddened", over and over. I only noticed this excessive repetition when I had to transcribe the script into a new screenplay software format. But I didn't notice it when I read the script. The writer is one of the top scribes in the industry, and has obviously learned how to hold an image or thought in his reader's mind.

The dictionary describes redundancy several ways, the most common being, "Superfluous information". Another connotation lies in the field of electronics: "Repetition of parts or all of a message to circumvent transmission errors."

In your screenplay you must include redundancies to make sure that your audience "gets it", especially when your audience is a company reader or executive reading your work as fast as possible. You can't always rely on one line of dialogue or a subtle action line to transmit definitive information to your audience. Instead you may need to echo the details in the scene or sequence.

How much is too much is a question that you have to answer yourself as you review your work. You probably will get notes from others that can help you strengthen a point or remove unnecessary emphasis. The instinct for this balance defines a writer as good, bad, or so-so, but if you're starting out you may need to develop this instinct with great determination.

Everybody loves a good idea, but being concise and selling your information is one of the more valued skills in a writer. There are a lot of great ideas and Idea Men out there, but a story depends on its storyteller.

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