Okay, book edits have been turned in, but I never made it to IKEA. One of our cats is sick and has been getting daily trips to the vet for fluids. So the library and game room are still stuck in transition.
Plus, I managed to squeeze a ranty blog post into all of this, only to realize at the last moment (just as I was inserting links and pictures) that I’d talked about this exact topic just a few months ago. I mean, I used some of the same examples and everything. I may be a hack, but I’m not that much of a hack.
So let me skip ahead in my list of topics and talk briefly about killing people.
A while back I mentioned a bad habit people have that I named “describe and die.” It’s when an author (or screenwriter) gives us tons of details about a character in an attempt to make them likeable and relatable. As a way to get us quickly invested.
Today I wanted to mention a little offshoot of this that I ended up talking about with my editor recently. Call it a connected bad habit. One I think grew out of necessity...
This is going to seem rambling, but stick with me.
One of the ugly truths about screenwriting is that so many things come back to budget. I can write the most elaborate script with a broad palette of characters, but at the end of the day it’s going to come down what we can afford to do—especially in television. I may have written dozens of little characters here and there to help bring the world to life, but the reality is they’re going to be cut and trimmed down to the bare minimum we need to move the plot along.
Of course, most of us don’t see this. We just see the final version. And we tend to absorb some storytelling lessons from it. Even the bad, unnatural ones.
In screenwriting it makes sense that we’ll never, ever have a speaking role that isn’t important. It costs almost a thousand dollars just for someone to have one line. Seriously. That actress saying “Your drink, sir”—she just paid rent for the month. And she’ll get a sliver of the residuals, because she’s a speaking actor. So
reeeeeeeeeaaally conservative when it comes to handing out random lines to
random people. I’ve personally watched those
parts get whittled away as new script revisions came out. Hollywood
Of course, that’s
. Books have no budget. We can have casts of thousands and dinosaurs and spaceships and all sorts of stuff. If
someone needs to speak, they can speak. Hollywood
Some folks still follow that minimal-character idea, not understanding it’s an element of budgeting, not storytelling. And when I combine this with describe-and-die, it creates a really weird mechanic in my story. Not only do I “create” real characters just to kill them off... they’re the only other characters I’m creating. Nobody else gets a line of description or a few words of dialogue.
Y’see, Timmy, now my story only has three types of people in it. Protagonists, antagonists, and... victims. Heck, depending on my story, I may not even have an actual antagonist. Now all I’ve got is protagonists and victims.
Which doesn’t feel like a very well-rounded world, does it?
I’ve talked here a few times about the need to keep things tight, but—like so many things in life—this goes horribly wrong once it’s taken to extremes. I don’t want to trim away every single interaction or description in the name of brevity. A non-stop, breakneck pace is going to get exhausting really fast.
I shouldn’t be afraid to have a little more in my story. I don’t want my world to be cluttered, but I also don’t want it to be a stark, utilitarian framework. Because the truth is... sometimes people are just there.
Usually blocking an aisle in IKEA.
Okay, look, my schedule for topics is a mess now, so if you’ve got something you really want to hear me blather on about, let me know down in the comments. And if nobody does, I’ll just end up blabbing on about Sherlock Holmes or something...
So until then—go write.
So until then—go write.