Screenwriting

Cardinal Sin of Screenwriting: Fear of Offending

Perhaps the cardinal sin a writer can commit is to mitigate his intention for fear of offending. I always say: if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing extremely.

Photo by Brînzei

“Drama doesn’t like sort of.”

The most benign form of this error is timidity. I have often seen descriptions of characters that pull punches. Make a decision. If your character is greedy, make him very greedy; if arrogant, very arrogant. Drama doesn’t like sort of. There is no such thing as sort of miserly. Or kind of cruel. Own up to your character’s flaws. Let them be extreme.

The more pernicious version of the error is fear of giving offense.

If you are writing a story that includes a racist or a sexist, should you tone down their speech or behavior in order to mollify your reader? I say, emphatically, not. You either convince me that the sexism is warranted, the racism justified, in the context of your story, or change your story.

The surest way to fail at convincing a reader that an extreme political position or a repulsive behavior is justified in your story is if you apologize for it in the writing. If you mitigate your vision and intention. We all have a little censor-demon sitting on our shoulder as we write. He often sits there just making you feel like writing is a waste of time and you should go to law school. But every once in a while you will hear the demon say, “You’ll never get away with that,” or “You’ll get crucified if you write that.” When you hear that voice, it’s time to press harder. That’s precisely the scene that stands a chance at originality.

“If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing extremely.”

I mean it. If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing extremely. Never apologize for your words. Own them. And make sure you have earned them.

Excerpt from Screenwriter’s Compass: Character as True North by Guy Gallo © 2012 Taylor & Francis Group. All Rights Reserved.

Related posts:

0 Comments
Tell us what you think!
*

Latest Tweets

Stay Informed

Click here to register with Focal Press to receive updates.


about MasteringFilm

MasteringFilm, powered by bestselling Routledge authors and industry experts, features tips, advice, articles, video tutorials, interviews, and other resources for aspiring and current filmmakers. No matter what your filmmaking interest is, including directing, screenwriting, postproduction, cinematography, producing, or the film business, MasteringFilm has you covered. You’ll learn from professionals at the forefront of filmmaking, allowing you to take your skills to the next level.