“In closing, […] screenwriters — you need to chiggity check yo’selves before you wreck yourselves.” “#betheFUCKINGChange”
**Oh ye of sensitive dispositions: I apologize in advance for the all swearing in this post. It is necessary.**
A while back (almost a year ago) the sage @mysteryexec of Twitter fame went on a bit of a rant:
“pretty without pretense or solicitation” “pretty without trying” — If you have this as character description you are a BAD, LAZY WRITER.
STOP WRITING FEMALE CHARACTERS AS FUCK PUPPETS. YOU ARE ALL BAD WRITERS. ALL OF YOU.
TALK TO ACTUAL WOMEN. MALE WRITERS, YOU ARE ALL DOING IT WRONG.
HAVE A WOMAN READ YOUR FUCKING SCRIPT AND CALL YOU OUT ON YOUR AWFUL FUCKING DIALOGUE.
“She’s quirky”. NO SHIT!!! WE BETTER GET ZOOEY GODDAMN DESCHANEL ON THE LINE RIGHT FUCKING NOW!!! LAZY LAZY LAZYYYYY.
“It’s stylized,” you argue. NO. IT IS SHIT. NO WOMEN TALK LIKE THIS YOU FUCKING HACK.
THE FACT THAT REPS BRING THIS SHIT TO ME IS EQUALLY EMBARRASSING.
So sayeth the Lord of the Mystery Twitter Accounts. Amen.
However, again almost a year later, I am still seeing this crap in the scripts I read. “The only thing prettier than her face is her ass.” “Her eyes were clear blue gems in a porcelain face.” (also – present tense people, please.) “Girl-next-door looks with a not so sweet mind.” Yes these are real. But you see the problem. Besides being pretty awful, they also tell me NOTHING about the character.
Now I admit, I was guilty of this until the amazing ladies at Script Chix (http://scriptchix.com/ shout out to Miranda Sajdak) hit me over the head and pointed out that I wasn’t any better. I take solace in the fact I was doing it to both male and female characters, though that doesn’t make me a better writer, only a less misogynistic one. But it is totally and completely lazy. Here’s a piece of advice from the Script Chix: Hollywood does not hire actors who are not good-looking. Therefore it is entirely redundant to specify in the script that they are good looking. It’s a given. It doesn’t tell us WHO the character is. And on a smaller soapbox, it limits casting. Is it important that your heroine is blonde? Is it important that your hero has green eyes? Of course not. I tried to argue once that it was, actually, important to my character that she was pretty and that it influenced who she was as a person. But the way to go about that was not to talk about how beautiful she was. It was to show how she acted in the scene. I’m sure “show don’t tell” has been beaten into your brain enough by now, but it’s as true for character descriptions as it is for anything else.
Look at some screenplays from writers you admire (I’m not going to compile a list for you, that’s what research is for) and pay attention to the descriptions. As John August says, “Look for details that have an iceberg quality: only a little bit sticks above the surface, but it represents a huge mass of character information the reader can fill in.” Think simple, think memorable, think beyond hair color and ass shape.
First impressions are forever, make sure yours don’t suck.