Words About Screenwriting

I’m exhausted. For the past two weeks I’ve been working day and night on the last stretch of a screenplay — and it is killing me. My main character, a female counter-terrorist agent says things like: “I will have justice and I do not care how many I have to kill to get it.”

And I wonder: where the heck did that come from?

Here’s the thing: At a certain point, in a really good script, you must let a character do what the character wants to do. And then you have to go back, and reimpose order on the chaos that this character has strewn about like Atilla the Hun. But out of this chaos, if you’re good, and if your character is really unique, there will be gold.

I’m hollowed out. I’ve been writing I don’t know how many hours a day. I’ve been distant and abrupt with Karen. Horrible. I get up in the middle of the night, sit on the couch in the master bedroom and go over every scene in the script, analyze it from every possible angle. In the morning, I tear the script apart and restructure major sequences over and over again. I’ve done twenty-five drafts to arrive at what I term my first draft.

I have dispensed with almost all up-front exposition. Yup, the oh-so-necessary, and what I call: Moshe-the-Explainer points have been sprinkled throughout the script with an eyedropper: elegant, subtle, organic. I’m sooo happy. Exposition is the Hizbullah of cinema. It should be exterminated.

I’ve arrived at the point in my screenwriting career where I insist that each line of dialog must mean something. No word is wasted. Nothing serves as filler. I won’t allow myself to get lazy and use words as bridges to get from one scene to the next. Each line must move the story forward and ring with golden tones.

The masters of this screenwriting form were the screwball comedies of the 30’s and 40’s. His Girl Friday, Ball of Fire, My Favorite Wife, The Lady Eve, The Major and The Minor, The Awful Truth. Not a word nor gesture wasted. Too many in Hollywood are ignorant of these giants of the craft. It’s just plain sad.

My main character is named Delia McCoy. I agonize over the names of my characters. Don’t ask. Tie myself into knots. Dig into telephone books, my favorites are from Texas and Tennessee.

As a young girl, Delia was made to take a unique personal vow in the belief that such a vow would make her a more effective warrior. But she discovers that this pledge is cutting off a core emotional channel.

Thus the main conflict: duty and personal life. Nothing original here, but there are no original stories, only new ways of telling old stories.

In Delia McCoy, I have a tiger by the tail. I know this because I was at a wedding last night and right in the middle of the chuppah my mind wandered far away — and I rewrote a scene in my head. This character will not let me rest. Not for a moment. She is insistent on a corporeal existence. I know Delia McCoy as well as I know almost anyone.

Which is kind of scary.

Anywhoo.

Here are three words I’ll never use in a script or in real life.

So: sharpen your Number Two pencils, open your notebooks and compose a clever and coherent sentence using all three words.

xenodocheionology
n. love of hotels

hieromachy
a fight or quarrel between priests

shunamitism
n. rejuvenation of an old man by a young woman

Hat Tip: Futility Closet

Karen and I wish all our friends a lovely and meaningful Shabbos.

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14 Comments

  1. Alice
    Posted August 18, 2007 at 10:19 am | Permalink

    Congregants, let the latest hieromachy twixt Fathers Brewer and Johnson fall on deaf ears as Father Johnson’s presence at the Love Shack on Route 9 can surely be seen as flowing from his xenodocheionological tendencies, not from the shunamitism alleged by Father Brewer involving Sister Katherine.

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  2. Posted August 12, 2007 at 8:49 am | Permalink

    During the course of their conversation, Father John and Father Peter discovered to their mutual delight that they both had a weakness for the Hilton, Sheraton and Crowne Plaza chains, but although their shared xenodocheionology caused them to begin to bond, they could not avoid hieromachy over their common desire for shunamitism from the same woman.

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  3. Posted August 12, 2007 at 4:43 am | Permalink

    You’re making me feel lazy. Writing comedy is also all about no wasted words, BUT in comedy I can create the most far-fetched scenes without too much explanation because the ridiculous is part of the genre. Thus, I’m sending my comic strip studio chief to Tehran.

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  4. Posted August 11, 2007 at 10:41 pm | Permalink

    I’m exhausted. For the past two weeks I’ve been working day and night on the last stretch of a screenplay
    Heh. I knew it.

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  5. hmmm
    Posted August 11, 2007 at 10:34 pm | Permalink

    Didja hear about that there hieromachy over the woman of Shunam – that bit of shunamitism would’re never had happened if he had been a xenodocheionologe!

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  6. Posted August 11, 2007 at 8:01 pm | Permalink

    When do loyal readers start getting pre-release copies of your movies?

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  7. Posted August 10, 2007 at 5:53 pm | Permalink

    Oh heck, Robert, just home from work and pooped out, and now just read about how trying Delia has been in your life and if I were you I would be really annoyed that she had the unmitigated gall to wake you from much needed sleep, but that’ s just like a woman I suppose – we never let anything go, and no matter the time of day or not we are more than ready to let you know what we need.
    Anyway, there’s no energy to tackle words bigger than WEEKEND!

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  8. Posted August 10, 2007 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

    “I will have justice and I do not care how many I have to kill to get it.”
    And I wonder: where the heck did that come from?

    Noahide law. The responsibility of every people to establish courts and enforce the laws.

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  9. kishke
    Posted August 10, 2007 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

    Now on to the contest:
    It may have been his xenodocheionology, which allowed him to meet her; it may have been hieromachy, which drove him from the church; either way, it ended with the shunamitism of Cardinal Scombroid.

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  10. kishke
    Posted August 10, 2007 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

    “I’ll have justice, no matter how many I have to kill to get it.”
    It flows better, l’aniyas daati.

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  11. Posted August 10, 2007 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

    I guess I’m late to this game …
    Delia sighed as she reflected on the irony of it all. Twenty five years earlier she had promised herself not to get involved in relgious conflicts after witnessing a particularly disturbing hieromachy at her church.
    It wasn’t easy for her to betray that commitment but her mentor, Samson, thirty years her senior had shown her the importance of fulfiling her duty in fighting Islamic terror.
    She looked at him fondly, enjoying the relationship they shared that was borne of shunamitism.
    Their mission successful the headed off to share their xenodocheionology.
    (I really like shunamitism as it likely taken from Melachim I. I guess that avishagitism would be a little unwieldy.)

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  12. Posted August 10, 2007 at 11:49 am | Permalink

    The secret world of the Vatican includes both the strange and surreal including,hieromachy, xenodocheionology and sadly, shunamitism.

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  13. Posted August 10, 2007 at 11:32 am | Permalink

    For someone who’s so busy and under deadline, it’s nice to see that you still make time for things that are important — such as Seraphic Secret(and Karen, I’m sure Robert is not being intentionally abrupt and distant).
    *********************************
    Even though this proven concept might still be questionable, according to the current hieromachy in the Catholic Church, xenodocheionology, Viagra ™ and shunamitism often work well in tandem.

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  14. Posted August 10, 2007 at 11:22 am | Permalink

    The fathers’ hieromachy centered around the question of whether the tryst at the Fairview was motivated chiefly by xenodocheionology or shunamitism.

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