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Getting Over Your Fear of Scripts

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Mon Aug 01, 2011 1:25 am
Flemzo says...



I'm currently writing a play, which is a pretty big venture. Writing a play, I'm learning, is like writing a novel, except a lot of the description needs to be left out, since it's up to the actors to interpret the character and make it their own. I'm also learning that a lot of people are apprehensive about critiquing scripts, since they are really visual in nature.

I'm here to tell you: critiquing scripts is not as daunting as it seems! Scripts are essentially prose pieces, and should be treated as such. As someone who has seen a lot of scripts in his life (being an actor in community productions and things of that nature), it's possible that all of that exposure makes it easier for me to know what to look for in a script. I'm here to impart some of that knowledge onto you to show that it's really not as bad as it seems.

There are two major components to a script: stage direction and dialogue.

STAGE DIRECTION

Stage directions and descriptions are the trickiest things about critiquing scripts. There needs to be a perfect balance of information: enough for the actors and set/costume designers to get a basic idea to work with, yet not so much that it's stifling for the persons involved. Great stage direction gives a basic framework of the scene, what the characters are doing, and when they should enter, exit, or move around.

Good stage direction looks like this:

Scene opens with TYLER and MICHAEL sitting on the couch, wearing sports jerseys, watching a sports game on TV. There is a coffee table in front of them topped with snacks and drinks. They both cheer at the action on TV when there is a knock at the door.

The stage direction is good because there is enough detail in the scene to work with, but nothing too specific. What sport are they watching? What are they eating and drinking? That's up for the set designers, actors, and director to decide.

Bad stage direction looks like this:

Scene opens with TYLER and MICHAEL sitting on the couch watching an NFL game. TYLER is wearing a number 33 Philadelphia Eagles jersey, while MICHAEL is wearing a number 6 New England Patriots jersey. TYLER has been a die-hard Eagles fan since he was a kid, while MICHAEL, originally from Minnesota, used to be a Vikings fan before switching to the Patriots. The coffee table has seven cans of beer, and three bowls of snacks, one bowl full of Doritos Cool Ranch flavored chips, one bowl half full of popcorn, and one almost empty bowl of pretzels. On TV, the Eagles broke free from the Patriots front line, and are running for a touchdown. TYLER gets more and more excited, while MICHAEL starts yelling and cussing at the screen. Just when the Eagles score a touchdown, making the score 26-14, a delivery boy knocks three times at the door.

If you made it through that stage direction, congratulations. There is simply too much information in this stage direction. Most of this information isn't relevant to the greater scheme of the scene. Who cares what sport is on TV? Or even which teams are playing? The actors playing Tyler and Michael are going to know how to react to the events on TV, so there doesn't need to be any direction for that.

What to look for: Put yourself in the actor's/director's shoes. Is there enough information in the stage directions to work with. Are you able to visualize, with some freedom, what is expected of the actors in the scene? Are you able to get a basic idea of what the set looks like?

DIALOGUE

Dialogue critiquing is the same as critiquing dialogue in a story. Are the interactions between the characters believeable? Does the language seem natural? Would it be something you could see people saying in real life?

With the dialogue, though, there needs to be some suspension of disbelief. Sometimes, especially in comedies, the dialogue is supposed to be a little unbelievable, if it's meant to provide some sort of comedic effect. Dramatic plays will have the more realistic dialogue. Be sure you know the type of script you're reading before you dig too deep into the dialogue.


Again, these are the things I personally look for when reveiwing and critiquing scripts. As you get more into scripts, you'll eventually find what you're looking for and what works for you to critique. The best overall advice I can give is to try and visualize the script as you're reading it. If you can put on a play in your head, then you know that it's a great script.