All this week, I’ve been putting one of YOUR dialogue scenes up against a pro’s. My job, and your job as readers of Scriptshadow, is to figure out why the dialogue in the pro scenes works better. The ultimate goal is to learn as much as we can about dialogue. It’s a tricky skill to master so hopefully these exercises can help demystify it. And now, for our last dialogue post of the week!

All I know about our first scene is that it’s an introduction to Charlie Lambda, who’s a major character, and Diane, who’s a minor character. It takes place in a bedroom after sex.

The room is cluttered with furniture and wrinkled clothing.

DIANE sprawls across the bed in her underwear, awake. Charlie LAMBDA stands at a dresser mirror, shirtless, buckling his jeans.

DIANE: Leaving so soon?

LAMBDA: Night waits for no one, my dear.

DIANE: Neither do I.

LAMBDA: You wanna leave? Suit yourself. I’ve got money to make.

DIANE: You got a night job?

LAMBDA: Best there is.

DIANE: You a pimp, Lambda?

LAMBDA: You know, most women try to figure people out before they sleep with them.

DIANE: I like mysteries. I like solving them, too.

Lambda grabs a shirt, buttons it up.

LAMBDA: You play cards, Diane?

DIANE: I play poker sometimes.

LAMBDA: You any good at it?

DIANE: I’ve got bad luck.

Lambda chuckles. From the dresser, he picks up a deck of cards. He shuffles them without looking, and they fly from hand to hand and around the deck like magic.

LAMBDA: Luck’s just a matter of stacking the odds in your favor.

DIANE: You still have to shuffle the deck. That’s luck.

LAMBDA: That’s what you think.

He brings the deck over to the bed and hands it to the woman, who sits up.

LAMBDA: Find the aces.

He walks back to the mirror, produces a comb, runs it through his hair. Diane sifts through the deck.

DIANE: So you’re a card shark.

LAMBDA: I’m a professional gambler.

DIANE: And you cheat.

LAMBDA: That’s what makes me a professional.

DIANE: I can’t find the aces.

Lambda goes to the bed, sits beside her, and pats her on the back.

DIANE: You’d take cards over an easy lay?

LAMBDA: It’s better than sex.

DIANE: Oh, really?

LAMBDA: You don’t understand. Playing cards ain’t a game. It’s a way of life. It’s zen. It’s jumping into a pool of sharks and seeing who’s got the coldest blood.

DIANE: And that’s you?

LAMBDA: Babe, Charlie Lambda’s the coolest guy around.

Diane tries to hand him the deck.

LAMBDA: Keep ’em. I’m going hunting.

He goes to the door and opens it.

LAMBDA: Go back to sleep, Diane.

DIANE: If you’re not here when I wake up, I’m gone.

LAMBDA: Wanna bet?

DIANE: Some odds you can’t sway.

Lambda smiles and closes the door behind him. Diane rolls over to go back to sleep– The four aces are stuck in her bra strap.

In this next scene from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Joel is coming home on a train. Clementine enters the car and tries to find a place to sit. She eventually sits across the car, facing Joel. After awhile…

CLEMENTINE (calling over the rumble): Hi!

Joel looks over.

JOEL: I’m sorry?


JOEL: Why what?

CLEMENTINE: Why are you sorry? I just said hi.

JOEL: No, I didn’t know if you were talking to me, so…

She looks around the empty car.


JOEL (embarrassed) Well, I didn’t want to assume.

CLEMENTINE: Aw, c’mon, live dangerously. Take the leap and assume someone is talking to you in an otherwise empty car.

JOEL: Anyway. Sorry. Hi.

Clementine makes her way down the aisle toward Joel.

CLENTINE: It’s okay if I sit closer? So I don’t have to scream. Not that I don’t need to scream sometimes, believe me. (pause) But I don’t want to bug you if you’re trying to write or something.

JOEL: No, I mean, I don’t know. I can’t really think of much to say probably.


She hesitates in the middle of the car, looks back where she came from.

JOEL: I mean, it’s okay if you want to sit down here. I didn’t mean to—

CLEMENTINE: No, I don’t want to bother you if you’re trying to—

JOEL: It’s okay, really.

CLEMENTINE: Just, you know, to chat a little, maybe. I have a long trip ahead of me. (sits across aisle from Joel) How far are you going? On the train, I mean, of course.

JOEL: Rockville Center.

CLEMENTINE: Get out! Me too! What are the odds?

JOEL: The weirder part is I think actually I recognize you. I thought that earlier in the diner. That’s why I was looking at you. You work at Borders, right?

CLEMENTINE: Ucch, really? You’re kidding. God. Bizarre small world, huh? Yeah, that’s me: books slave there for, like, five years now.

JOEL: Really? Because—

CLEMENTINE: Jesus, is it five years? I gotta quit right now.

JOEL: — because I go there all the time. I don’t think I ever saw you before.

CLEMENTINE: Well, I’m there. I hide in the back as much as is humanly possible. You have a cell phone? I need to quit right this minute. I’ll call in dead.

JOEL: I don’t have one.

CLEMENTINE: I’ll go on the dole. Like my daddy before me.

JOEL: I noticed your hair. I guess it made an impression on me, that’s why I was pretty sure I recognized you.

CLEMENTINE: Ah, the hair. (studies a strand of hair) Blue, right? It’s called Blue Ruin. The color. Snappy name, huh?

JOEL: I like it.

CLEMENTINE: Blue ruin is cheap gin in case you were wondering.

JOEL: Yeah. Tom Waits says it in—

CLEMENTINE: Exactly. Tom Waits. Which son?

JOEL: I can’t remember.

CLEMENTINE: Anyway, this company makes a whole lie of colors with equally snappy names. Red Menace, Yellow Fever, Green Revolution. That’d be a job, coming up with those names. How do you get a job like that? That’s what I’ll do. Fuck the dole.

JOEL: I don’t really know how—

CLEMENTINE: Purple Haze, Pink Eraser.

JOEL: You think that could possibly be a full-time job? How many hair colors could there be?

CLEMENTINE (pissy): Someone’s got that job. (excited) Agent Orange! I came up with that one. Anyway, there are endless color possibilities and I’d be great at it.

JOEL: I’m sure you would.

CLEMENTINE: My writing career! Your hair written by Clementine Kruczynski. (thought) The Tom Waits album is Rain Dogs.

JOEL: You sure? That doesn’t sound –

CLEMENTINE: I think. Anyway, I’ve tried all their colors. More than once. I’m getting too old for this. But it keeps me from having to develop an actual personality. I apply my personality in a paste. You?

JOEL: Oh, I don’t think that’s the case.

CLEMENTNE: Well, you don’t know me, so… you don’t know, do you?

JOEL: Sorry. I was just trying to be nice.

CLEMENTINE: Yeah, I got it.

I chose these two scenes for a reason. In the first one, we’re looking at two strangers talking AFTER they’ve had sex. In the second, we’re looking at two strangers who’ve just met (before they’ve had sex).

Take note of the energy in each scene. In the first scene, the energy is relaxed, subdued, almost lazy. Which makes sense. They just banged. They’ve already reached the pinnacle of their coupling. Generally speaking, scenes where people are relaxed and happy are bad scenes. You’d rather seek out scenes where there’s tension, where there are problems that need to be addressed.

But in Eternal Sunshine, there’s still an entire world of possibility with these two characters because they haven’t consummated their relationship yet. As a result, their scene’s bursting with nervous energy. There’s excitement in the uncertainty of the moment. We feel tension. We feel hope. We want this to go right.

This is why, generally speaking, you don’t want to consummate the relationship until as deep into the script as possible. Once you do that, the dialogue between the characters loses something. The air will have seeped out of their “relationship balloon” so to speak.

But even if you took all this “consummation” talk away (I was told Diane wasn’t a major character, so maybe we shouldn’t hold her to that status), something’s still missing in that first scene. Let’s take a look at the first exchange. “Leaving so soon?” Diane asks. “Night waits for no one, my dear,” Lambda replies. “Night waits for no one, my dear?” That doesn’t sound like something real people say, does it?

That’s not necessarily a harbinger of doom, though. Some genres produce stylistic dialogue. Take the dialogue in “The Big Lebowski,” for example. Clearly, characters aren’t always talking the way real people talk in that film. The problem is, I’m not getting the sense that that’s what the writer intended here. I feel like this scene is supposed to be grounded. And in that case, lines like “Night waits for no one” come off as overly written, like the writer’s trying too hard.

This cuteness continues when the cards are introduced as a quasi-metaphor. Writing in metaphors (or analogies or clever explanations) is a very writerly thing to do. It gives the impression of depth and cleverness. And it allows you to talk about something by talking about something else. But if the only reason the analogy exists is to achieve this effect, it feels false. It reads as analogy for analogy’s sake.

Now I get the feeling that cards might play a larger role in this movie. If that’s the case, then the introduction of the cards isn’t as misguided. But I think the problem here is the same one we’ve encountered in most of the amateur entries this week. I don’t know what either of these characters wants in the scene! I don’t know if Lambda wants her out or if Diane wants to stay. There’s no clear objective, which means anything they say will appear as “babble” to the reader. It’s not that the dialogue is bad so much as we don’t know the point of it.

Looking at the Eternal Sunshine dialogue, there are two things that stick out. First, the dialogue is much more realistic. It’s short, it’s clipped, it ping-pongs back and forth uncertainly. But most importantly, it’s imperfect. It really feels like two people talking.

That’s a mistake we writers make often. We want our dialogue to be so beautiful, that we carve and mold each line into a perfect specimen of auditory delight. Put a bunch of these ultra-developed lines next to each other and the conversation starts feeling false. We don’t know why, but it does. It isn’t until we realize that no one would actually say any of these individual lines that we understand what’s wrong.

And we never see that problem in Eternal Sunshine. Words are flying by seemingly willy-nilly, with no rhyme or reason. It truly does feel like real life conversation.

Secondly, lots of writers get obsessed with balanced dialogue. Balanced dialogue is when there’s a perfect balance to the conversation. Each word, for the most part, is responded to with a word in kind. “Hey.” “Hiya.” “How’s it going?” “It’s going good. How bout you?” “Going good here.” And back and forth and back and forth in perfect balance.

Real dialogue is unbalanced. It’s often weighted to one side or the other, depending on the character or the situation. Read the bottom half of the Eternal Sunshine scene. Clementine is basically having a conversation with herself. Joel’s just there to hear it. That’s a big reason why this dialogue feels so authentic. Unbalanced dialogue is real life.

What about you? What stuck out to you about today’s scenes? The first one felt a little too “written” to me. But I can see some of you just as easily attacking the “rambling” quality of Eternal Sunshine. Share your thoughts!

What I learned: Balanced versus Unbalanced dialogue. There’s no such thing as perfectly balanced dialogue. Some characters are going to talk more than others. Some characters won’t always answer when asked something. No matter how many times you’ve rewritten your dialogue, it should always feel a little imperfect, a little unevenly weighted.

  • FD

    I love Eternal Sunshine, but this scene really doesn’t go anywhere or do anything, except establish that there is some kind of connection between the two that none of us or them can put a finger on. It is very subtle.
    My biggest problem with scene 1 is that a card shark brags to this lay he just scored that he is a card shark. Isn’t that the most stupid sick-of-living thing a card shark could do? Telling a stranger that he cheats gamblers (probably potentially violent ones) out of their money? There must be a better way of establishing he’s good at what he does than blowing his cover to a girl.

  • Dannyy

    I think this is a case of “tell” rather than “show” in the first scene. We learn all about what Charlie does through what he tells Diane or what Diane tells him. Instead, I’d love to see Charlie do what he does best.

    Compare this to the second scene, we learn so little about what they do, but so much about who they are. I haven’t seen Eternal Sunshine, but based on the dialogue here, Clementine’s job is mentioned in one line and we (Joel) might have seen her earlier in the diner. We learn how quirky/eccentric/funky/spacey she is through how she talks, rather than what she says.

    One thing I really love about the second scene, and it reminded me of the first scene in The Social Network, is that characters don’t always know what the other person is talking about. Unlike the pros, we often find ourselves thinking from outside a character’s mind so they all know what they’re talking about.

    C: Hi
    J: I’m sorry?
    C: Why are you sorry?

    In the Social Network, I think it was something along the lines of:

    Erica: Have you tried? [to row crew]
    Mark: I’m trying right now. [to get into final’s club]
    Erica: To row crew?
    Mark: To get into finals club. To row crew? No!

    It’s a small detail but it makes the dialogue seem realistic.

  • GuyWhoWroteTheThing

    Hey, everyone:

    I’m the guy who wrote today’s amateur scene. I’m happy to see that Carson chose to critique my scene, and critique it he did! Even with the mixed (to put it politely) reception from him and the comments thus far, any advice is good advice, especially since I’m really just starting out. If anyone has any questions, comments, whatever, I encourage you to post them here so that I can learn from them. That said, I’d appreciate something a little deeper and more constructive than “you might want to give up writing.” Thanks!

    • fd

      Well done Guy. Don’t worry, we all put the bar really high when we critique things here. No need to give up, but anything that is below sensational will be torn apart. It’s just tough love.
      Just out of interest: Does Lambda later get hunted down and shot by a poker playing gangster who knows Diane?

      • GuyWhoWroteTheThing

        Nope! Diane ends up reporting him missing the next day (seeing as how he charmed her to the point where she accidentally starts caring for him), which puts the cops on his and the bounty huntress’s trail. If that last sentence didn’t make any sense to you, I posted a light synopsis below.

    • Dale T

      What’ll probably help you is acting out your scenes yourself just to get a feel of how it sounds like if it were to be acted out. No matter what a piece of text can never capture the tonality and cadence of real human speech. We read differently than we listen.

      • Ansar M. Smith

        To add on to your comment:

        Also when you are writing dialogue or action (descriptions), try to visualized everything your characters are saying and doing on the big screen, and whether or not that line would sound cheesy, or repetitious, and if that action (descriptions) is coherent, relevant, and would maintain the suspense of disbelief in the script as a whole.

    • Scott Strybos

      I wrote a comment down below and was curious about how close to the beginning of the script the scene was? (It has a first scene feel.)

      • GuyWhoWroteTheThing

        Pretty close! If I were to give a time estimate, I’d say about five minutes in. The story opens with the other protagonist, a bounty huntress, capturing and bringing in a mobster.

    • Michael

      There is not one person on this site who hasn’t written some version of this scene when starting out. Hell, I’m still writing them. Don’t worry about it and welcome to the addiction that is screenwriting.

    • GuyWhoWroteTheThing

      Side note: I probably should have sent Carson a light synopsis something along with this. I’ll do my best to come up with one on the spot that might clarify some things:

      The story has two protagonists: Lambda and a bounty hunter (who is a woman… so a bounty huntress, I guess?). Lambda is deep in debt thanks to some bad plays and borrows money from the mob to put on a supposedly rigged boxing match. The guy who is supposed to win gets killed. Lambda panics, takes the money, runs. Meanwhile, the bounty huntress has been contracted by the police to bring him in. She grabs him–with the borrowed-but-now-stolen money–and, after finding they’re in way over their heads, flees across country with Lambda and the money, pursued by both the mob and the cops.

      The idea behind Lambda (which I’ve posted before but will post again so anyone who doesn’t want to scroll can find it easily) is that he’s a cocky moron who thinks he’s cool and capable but isn’t. He’s a misogynistic twit who just happens to be good with cards. The bounty huntress throughout the story takes him down a peg and, while he’s in captivity/cahoots with her, inadvertently helps him grow as a person as they work together to make their escape.

      • leitskev

        That wasn’t too far from what I took from the scene, so I think you’re close. I saw a little more of an attempt to be purposely over the top, but I think I got the basic sense of the character.

      • klmn

        Maybe you should have picked a scene with Lambda and the bounty huntress.

        Then again, Carson picked your scene so maybe I’m full of shit.

        • GuyWhoWroteTheThing

          No, that definitely should have been it. And I considered doing that, too–a scene not long after the bounty huntress captures him where, as they talk about what they do, he picks open his cuffs. Alas, I chose this one. Hindsight is, as usual, 20/20.

    • klmn

      That said, I’d appreciate something a little deeper and more constructive than “you might want to give up writing.” Thanks!

      Gee, I was just about to suggest suicide.

      Just kidding.

      • GuyWhoWroteTheThing

        No, no, suggesting suicide is okay–just don’t suggest that I give up writing, because that’s what really gets me mad!

    • jw

      GuyWhoWroteTheThing, I’d venture to say that 99.9% of writers are told at one point or another to STOP WRITING. I sat across from a dope writer / director / producer who has TONS of a-list projects going right now who told me he wrote 16 scripts before breaking down the barriers. It takes time, it takes a huge amount of effort and it takes an understanding that you’re voluntarily getting into an industry that is cut-throat and hard-wired to be blunt and careless. Leave the sugar for the Sour Patch Kids because you won’t find that coating anywhere near Hollywood! Keep writing!

      • GuyWhoWroteTheThing

        I’m not saying that you should use kid gloves, and I know that there are going to always be assholes (trust me, I’ve encountered plenty of them). Just asking people for advice. Thanks, though! Always inspiring to hear stuff like that.

        • jw

          Criticism is hard, especially when you’re putting a lot of time, effort and energy into something, so let me share a technique I’ve grown to use — let it effect you for 1 day. Just 1. Be pissed, down or whatever for that time period, but only allow it for 1 day. Then get back up and start swinging AT THE PAGE. This is a fighter’s game, so to be EXTRA cliché here, it won’t be how many times you get knocked down, it’ll be how many times you get back up. And then, how many times you get back up having learned something prior to going down. Like I said, just keep swinging. It’s the only way.

          • Marija ZombiGirl

            I used to give myself a whole day but that’s too long not to be writing. Now I’m down to one hour :) And it works !

  • leitskev

    I believe the first scene was maybe intended as spoof or comedy. “Night waits for no one, my dear”. “Keep ’em. I’m going hunting.” Picture Jim Carrey maybe? Steve Carell? It seems to be intentionally over the top. Picture Lamba going into a card game in the next scene, thinking he’s the coolest thing, and then something funny happens. It could really be entertaining.

    The second scene is great because Joel is so awkward and uncomfortable, and the girl seems so vulnerable. This makes us uncomfortable. This happens in real life, too. I mean pretend you are a cab driver and two strangers agree to share a fare for a one hour trip to the airport. You’re listening up front and you can hear them talking to each other, but they are awkward and uncomfortable. For example, what if one was a Hasidic Jew and the other was a Palestinian. It’s set up so they won’t get along. But they try. This alone creates tension. Then we find out they are both physicists who work on similar research, and the barrier breaks down as they discuss subatomic particles, and in the front driving the cab you feel a sense of relief. The tension has lifted.

    • GuyWhoWroteTheThing

      I intend to get around to all of these comments eventually! I’m going to be busy for the next few hours, but I can answer this one pretty quickly right now.

      The intention was that Lambda would be a cocky bastard but have less to back it up than he thinks. Writing this script, I was thinking more Carl Hiaasen and Elmore Leonard than anyone else, where the criminals aren’t half as good as they think they are. Since that obviously didn’t come across, I’ll have to rework this quite a bit.

      • leitskev

        Hey, Guy, thanks for checking in. Actually, I think that came across. It was a little over the top, but I’ve seen early drafts of scripts for movies that went on to be famous where the early draft seems over the top.

  • grendl

    “Babe, Charlie Lambda’s the coolest guy around.”

    Uhm what?

    Did a character just say that about HIMSELF.

    Are we supposed to like an asshole like that? I don’t think any Brando or James Dean character said that about themselves.

    Maybe Leslie Nielson in a Zucker brothers movie could pull off that line, but it would elicit smiles because that kind of cocksure attitude is funny. But this doesn’t feel like a comedy. It feels like hokey noir.

    Are we supposed to think he’s the coolest guy around? Because having him claim it doesn’t mean a thing. And magicians who perform magic tricks are just one rung up the ladder from Trekkies on the nerd spectrum.

    And cards are better than sex? What planet is he from. NOTHING is better than sex. A male who says this doesn’t come across as cool. Sorry.

    And for chrissakes, you’re talking about luck in the scene, with no reference to the fact that he just got lucky by having sex with her. That should be mentioned in the dialogue.

    This is another example of a writer who loves his character, but hasn’t made us love his character. Lambda isn’t likable here. He’s an asshole. Yes, he is. He’s self absorbed, he’s boorish and he’s calling himself cool.

    Look at Bogey. He didn’t say “Rick Blaine is the coolest cat around Casablanca”. He helped a desperate couple win on his roulette wheel. THAT was cool. Don’t tell, SHOW.

    It’s a cheat, and a poor one to try and sway an audience like that. Show someone being cool, like John Milner in “American Grafitti”, who saves Toad from getting beat up. Or giving the teen brat he’s been driving around all night ( when he could have dumped her anywhere ) a peck on the cheek, making her year.

    Jesus, don’t have a character say about himself, in the third person, “he’s the coolest guy around.” The audience will want him dead.

    • Cfrancis1

      “And magicians who perform magic tricks are just one rung up the ladder from Trekkies on the nerd spectrum.” Wow. Generalize much? Obviously you haven’t seen many card guys who are seriously good at what they do. They are far from nerds.

      • Paul Clarke

        Yeah, like that guy on TV. Criss Angel. He’s amazing. After watching his card skills I went straight out and bought myself a whole bunch of fancy bangles and necklaces. And grew my fringe out.

        • Cfrancis1

          I’m not talking about Chriss Angel. He’s a poser. I’m talking about real card men. I know some magician/card cheats. Like the real deal. And they aren’t Trekkie’s. Far from it.

        • Nicholas J

          That’s a good look. I go for the waxed chest with a deep v-neck down to my belly button look myself. Women seem to look at me a lot more now. Especially when rocking my unzipped black leather jacket over top. Really accents my fringe as well.

          • drifting in space

            Works every time.

      • brenkilco

        There is nobody cooler than Ricky Jay.

        • Nicholas J

          Nothing against him, but there are millions of people cooler than Ricky Jay.

    • Erica

      Well I guess being the asshole worked because he got laid. lol

      • drifting in space

        Most asshole guys get laid quite frequently.

    • Randy Williams

      I read his “coolest guy” as being off the line he gave before about the sharks and the temperature of his blood. It might be better rewritten to pinpoint to that reference instead of sounding like he’s just “cool”. Refer to the shark pool again? something like, “Babe, Charlie Lambda doesn’t flinch. They might as well be jelly fish.”

      I think a character who is full of himself isn’t off putting at all, in fact, very sexy, if there is a hint of vulnerability and someone has power over them. A woman in bed certainly does. Lambda seems to say to her, leave if you want, then bets that she won’t so he knows deep down, despite his bravado, it’s her decision.

      Loved the reveal of the cards in her bra at the end.

    • GuyWhoWroteTheThing

      Oh, boy. I’ve lurked Scriptshadow for a while and seen you around the comments… To be honest, I can’t say that I’ve been looking forward to this. But now I’m excited to dive into conversation with you!

      “Are we supposed to like an asshole like that?” No. This is my mistake–I didn’t make this clear enough in his introductory scene. Lambda’s not the kind of guy you admire. He’s an idiot.

      “This doesn’t feel like a comedy.” Which is also my mistake, because it is, to a certain extent. If you put a gun to my head and asked me to categorize the script, I’d say “crime caper.” It’s not exactly serious–it’s lighthearted fun. So I’ll have to tone that up in the final product also.

      “NOTHING is better than sex.” Oh-ho, I’ve got you beat here! I personally believe that well-made pasta risotto is better than sex… but regardless. If you want an example of this from a pretty magnificent script, look no further than Trainspotting: “Take the best orgasm you’ve ever had, multiply it by a thousand, and you’re still nowhere near it.” Now, Renton isn’t a cool character, but my points stands: people do say this as a form of hyperbole.

      “No reference to the face that he just got lucky… That should be mentioned in the dialogue.” Yes, it should. Good call.

      • grendl

        Thank you for providing more information, sincerely.

        If he is an idiot, she sure does let him off the hook for his arrogance.

        You think Lauren Bacall would let a blowhard off so easily? Or Kathleen Turner’s characters?

        i think if you’re going to have cartoon cockiness it has to be offset by someone in a script, someone to speak on behalf of the audience.

        You have Lambda running roughshod all over Diane in this, complete with his card trick, as if you the writer are on his side. That’s the impression you’re giving here, not that YOU think he’s an idiot, but that you actually think he’s cool.

        You have to make it clear you don’t, and you do that through Diane. IMHO. With wittier retorts, with boredom for card tricks. Make her Lauren Bacall not Doris Day. ( I know these are old references, older than even myself but the archetypes are eternal )

        • GuyWhoWroteTheThing

          And thank you for commenting again. Nice to get some discourse going on…

          And you also make a good point about this–it’s all about audience perception. I’ll keep that in mind. It’s difficult to remove the lens of authorial subjectivity, which is why most people run their scripts by outsiders–which I didn’t do for this contest. Stupidly. So once again, thank you for this. It’s been much more pleasant and informative than I expected it to be.

      • Midnight Luck

        taken from one of the greatest movies ever, and so in need to be said:
        “obviously, you’ve never had great sex”.

        • Erica

          “I’ll have what she’s having”.

          • Midnight Luck

            “No, you did not have Great sex with Sheldon. A Sheldon can do your income taxes, if you need a root canal, Sheldon’s your man. But humpin’ and pumping’ isn’t really his thing. It’s the name. Do it to me Sheldon, ride me big Shel-don.”

          • Erica

            I miss those Romantic Comedies.

            If I knew how to write one, I would. I’m afraid all I would end up with is a dating site profile gone bad.

          • GoIrish

            I knew a Sheldon. He forever hated the movie just because of that line.

        • Nicholas J

          Or maybe you’ve never had great pasta risotto.

          • Midnight Luck

            that’s true.
            it would have to change how I thought about the world.
            so, maybe.

          • Nicholas J

            You could always George Costanza it and do both at the same time.

        • astranger2

          Good movie… but Ewan semi-lost me when he took the fantasy-dive into the toilet…

      • LV426

        Crazy idea here for the last bit of the scene.


        Lambda goes to the bed, sits beside her, and pats her on the back.

        DIANE: You’d take cards over an easy lay?

        LAMBDA: You don’t understand. Playing cards ain’t a game. It’s a way of life. It’s zen. It’s jumping into a pool of sharks and seeing who’s got the coldest blood. It’s better than sex.

        DIANE: Oh-ho, I’ve got you beat here. I personally believe that well-made pasta risotto is better than sex.

        Diane tries to hand him the deck.

        LAMBDA: Keep ’em. I’m going hunting.

        He goes to the door and opens it.

        LAMBDA: Go back to sleep.

        DIANE: If you’re not here when I wake up, I’m gone.

        LAMBDA: Wanna bet?

        DIANE: Some odds you can’t sway.

        Lambda smiles and closes the door behind him. Diane rolls over to go back to sleep– The four aces are stuck in her bra strap.

        • GuyWhoWroteTheThing

          Or she turns over and she’s got pasta risotto stuck in her bra strap.

          • LV426


            Seriously though, I liked your (real) response to grendl about a “well-made pasta risotto” being the end all be all of existence. I’m thinking something like that gives Diane a chance for some push back against the aggressive machismo of Lambda. It is also a bit unexpected and gives us some info on her (maybe she’s a foodie?).

            I also thought a few lines weren’t needed and could be cut for efficiency. Although overall I did like your scene.

      • astranger2


        Couldn’t you at least include something with pesto?

    • Nicholas J

      You crack me up sometimes grendl. Gotta agree about Charlie here. I imagined him wearing one of those button up shirts with flames on it.

    • willis

      They’re called illusions, Grendl. A trick is something a whore does for money… Or cocaine.

      • Linkthis83

        I’m an ideas man, Willis. I think I proved that with f*ck mountain.

      • brittany

    • JakeMLB

      It’s pretty obviously a horrible, amateurish line. Clearly this writer is in the early stages of his/her writing career. No one talks that way outside of maybe a 12-year-old male Disney character on a show like the Suite Life of Zack & Cody so it’s probably pointless to give it too much analysis. But you bring up a good point in how do you make an asshole likeable? Too many amateur writers simply try to up the cool factor through cheesy dialogue or hokey action like, well, terrible magic tricks. None of these feel real. If you want to make us like the asshole (wow that sounds bad) then make us understand why they’re an asshole. That’s at least a place to start.

      • Guest

        You watch The Suite Life of Zach and Cody.

    • astranger2

      I love reading your comments, grendl… that doesn’t necessarily mean I don’t disagree at times.

      “Nothing is better than sex?” Ever ask a asexual amoeba that same question?

      Just kidding of course. But adrenaline rush is adrenaline rush. Ask a heroin addict when that needle is a QUARTER way IN… or a sky-diver in a free fall… Or… Or… Or…

      … a gambler on a ROLL…

      I once had a “Brad Pitt” looking friend who was a sex-a-holic… and LOVED SEX… for him, sex was a simple pleasure, akin to scratching an itch behind your ear… he was a gambler…

      His quote: “Nothing is better than being at Caesar’s Palace watching a football game, a full glass of Jack Daniels, with a thousand dollar bet on a team… “

  • Pauly W

    I have not made any comments this week , but I feel that it is my duty to tell you now , that I have learned a whole lot this week , so thank you!

    • carsonreeves1

      That was the plan, so I’m glad it helped! :)

      • GuyWhoWroteTheThing

        Same here–doubly so because you chose my scene to go over. Thanks for the advice!

  • Dale T

    “But most importantly, it’s imperfect. It really feels like two people talking.”

    Before Tinder took over electronic dating, a lady friend gave me a tip of advice about the guys she avoided on AIM. The perfectionist. This was the guy that during the peak of the conversation when both people were having a great time talking, that the guy suddenly found a way to leave. All the time. This is the guy that wants to be remembered on a high note by the girl, thinking that she’ll think more highly of him if there’s no opportunity for the conversation to hit a slump.

    My lady friend thought this was creepy, that the guys would preserve this sense of perfection and felt proud at abruptly ending a conversation for that purpose. I kept on pestering to her about why she found this creepy, and it took her a while to find an answer, but finally found one and said to me “real life isn’t perfect like that.”

    • brenkilco

      He might have creeped out women online but if he’s a writer it’s doubtful he’d bore an audience.

    • JakeMLB

      Men like that actually exist?

  • Logline_Villain

    CLEMENTINE: I think. Anyway, I’ve tried all their colors. More than once. I’m getting too old for this. But it keeps me from having to develop an actual personality. I apply my personality in a paste. You?

    For me, that’s dialogue gold….

    • Casper Chris

      It is indeed.
      “I apply my personality in a paste.”
      Great line.

  • brenkilco

    Does anyone else feel a little whipsawed at this point? On the one hand scenes must be focused, have a specific purpose and a dramatic arc. Of course natural human speech, which we’re celebrating today hasn’t for the most part any of this. Human interactions aren’t scenes. They don’t have specific dramatic purposes or fit neatly into some larger story scheme. Human conversations are prolix, repetitive, inarticulate, digressive and sometimes just empty sound that nevertheless helps to glue us together. We love movie stories because they have the appealing, dramatic shape and closure that real life doesn’t.

    So movie dialogue, no matter how natural it may seem, is either a con job or a bit of hypnotism. The con men somehow manage to convey necessary info to the audience while maintaining the illusion of natural conversation. Most great screenwriters are this type. Take the taxi scene in On the Waterfront. Brando’s brother is just trying to find out whether Brando is going to turn informer. But somehow the writer manages to shoehorn in Brando’s entire history, his betrayal by his brother, Brando’s shattered dreams, and even a resolution to the conflicted relationship between the two men. And the whole thing doesn’t last more than two minutes. Is it natural? Hell no. But between the writing, the acting and the directing we buy it. At the other end of the scale are the hypnotizers like Mamet, Pinter and to a far lesser degree Sorkin who get us to accept their heightened, stylized dialogue because they are able to create an entire world in which it seems to belong.

    In short movie dialogue can get points for seeming like actual conversation but it never can be. Out of context the Sunshine scene isn’t much. An exchange between a slightly ditzy motor mouthed young woman and a rather withdrawn guy. It might be part of the dullest indie ever made. The kind of scene that depends either on the charm of the players or a previous investment we’ve made in the characters. On it’s own, so what.

    • astranger2

      Supposedly, in On the Waterfront, Brando couldn’t believe in the context of the story, his brother, Charley, would pull a gun on him — and therefore, played it that way –pushing the gun away, in disgust, knowing Charley would never actually shoot him.

      “… I could’a been a conten-dah…” Classic.

  • Scott Strybos

    I think the first scene is near the beginning of the script and its purpose is to introduce the protagonist and inform the reader that Charlie is suave, he can get woman into bed, and he is a gambler. But the scene is very passive. Mostly because he has already gotten to know the woman before, even on a rudimentary level, and he has already slept with her. The second scene nothing really happens either, it is still a static get-to-know-them scene, but it has a freshness because the two characters don’t know each other. To add a little jolt to the first scene I would consider placing it before the sex and have him use his gambling card skills to get her into bed. This would establish everything we need to know and make the scene a little more alive.

  • Paul Clarke

    The first scene is too cool for school. Well, rather Lamda is too cool. Over the top. Which would be fine if Diane called him on it, but she just falls for it and we don’t believe that. It’s not earned. It’s implausible behaviour.

    And like Carson says, post-sex scene is boring because there’s no chemistry and nothing at stake. At least prior to sex we would know Lamda’s goal. I would rather see him try to woo her and (when successful) decide the game of cards was more of a challenge.

    The conversation between Lamda and Diane serves no story purpose. It just exists so Lamda can express his philosophy (which hopefully he learns is incorrect during the course of the movie).

    If he is the lead I would have trouble empathizing with him. It’s good if he starts out flawed, plenty of room to move. But we might need to see a reason why he’s so cocky. Something he’s making up for. A fear. But I guess we’re getting out of the scope of the dialogue scene.

    In the end the Sunshine dialogue just seems real, like real people talking instead of movie characters. And we can feel their awkwardness through their words.

  • tobban

    Great week ! Loved these dialogue articles.
    I learned a lot.
    Thanks Carson !

  • Logline_Villain

    LAMBDA/DIANE scene:

    Kudos to the writer for this line: “You know, most women try to figure people out before they sleep with them.”

    Why? Because as I read up to that point, I wondered why Diane was asking those questions – it seemed like they should have been dealt with prior to the Big Bang – so it bugged me. And the writer pretty much disposed of that issue in one fell swoop – I’ve read enough scripts where those kind of questions linger, unanswered (which usually means it was an exposition dump with no concern for anything organic). Here, it tells me that the writer is at least considering the scene in context – and how it will come across to the reader.

    IMHO – the following are lines I would reconsider.

    Lambda: “I’ve got money to make.” He has snappy retorts elsewhere but he’s so on-the-nose with this one – it’s what he’s about, for sure – but I presume that will be abundantly clear otherwise.

    Lambda: “Babe, Charlie Lambda’s the coolest guy around.” See grendl’s comment – for me, that’s a scene killer which DID stop me in my tracks when reading it. In one line of dialogue, you made it exceedingly difficult to care about this character – the reader will remember that line, but not in a good way – which I doubt is your intent. It seems like you have his flaw front and center as it is…

    • GuyWhoWroteTheThing

      Appreciate the comment–you’re right about those last two lines. I didn’t consider the bluntness of the first, and the second one… well, it made a lot more sense for the character when I first wrote it, but it really does come across as goofy.

      • Logline_Villain

        Thanks for the response, Guy. Best wishes for your script…

      • gonzorama

        And that’s the point – in your first draft you’re free to write on the nose dialogue. But in succeding drafts convert those lines to “Show, don’t tell.” How can you “Show” us how cool Lambda is???

  • Michael

    As others are pointing out, the biggest difference between these two scenes is how they reveal character. The dialog in the amateur scene has the characters telling us who they are. It’s all some version of “I’m this…” and “You’re that…” By the end of the scene we know what the characters have done and might do, but not who the characters really are and how they behave as real individuals.

    The Sunshine scene is all about revealing character through behavior. Clementine is dominating the conversation. Joel is constantly cut off by her, saying “I mean…” having to explain himself, and being tentative. By the end of this scene we have a strong sense of who these characters are.

    Scenes that introduce us to a character need to reveal the inner life off that character and not just launch into plot.

    One small nitpick: DIANE: “You a pimp, Lambda?”

    In scenes where we are meeting characters for the first time, it always rings false when characters that are already familiar with each other, address each other by name. The characters have already been identified in description, but a little devil pops up on the writers shoulder and says “But the audience won’t know its Lambda, they can’t read your introduction to the character.” So the writer has a character needlessly name the character. Wednesday’s amateur scene was grossly guilty of this. The three criminals were old friends, members of the same gang, even wearing the same ties, yet they all prefaced their lines by saying “Yes, Tony…” “Hey, Johnny…” and “Hey, Paulie…” People who know each other never talk like this. The audience doesn’t need to know the name of the character right away. At some point later in the script there will be a more organic way to give the audience the character’s name. Don’t obsess about getting the name out there.

    What a great discussion this week has been. When reviewing a whole script it’s hard to see the forest for the trees. These scene comparisons are really focusing in on the nitty gritty of why dialog or a scene is working or not. The dialog doesn’t exist in a vacuum, it’s part of a carefully constructed tapestry. Yeah, this is all part of screenwriting 101, we’ve read it half a dozen times already in the guru books. These discussions keep dragging pearls of wisdom from a forgotten dungeon in my brain and placing them right where I need them on those rare occasions that I’m actually writing my script.

    Thanks Carson.

    • GuyWhoWroteTheThing

      Thanks for the post!

      I really liked that bit about how dialogue should reveal HOW a character is rather than WHO. I’ll definitely keep that in mind.

      As for the name thing… you’re right. It’s a knee-jerk reaction with me, an instinct to just put it out there. For some reason, I’m always afraid that I’m going to lose the audience if I don’t immediately state the character’s name. Part of it, I think, might be the transition from page to screen: I write short stories more often than I do scripts, and saying “the man” or “the woman” or whatever feels pretty disjointed. On screen, however, that’s not as much of a concern, as the audience will probably stay with you until you can reveal the name in a better way.

  • Erica

    I like the amateur script today. While the first line
    “LAMBDA: Night waits for no one, my dear.”

    may not sound like something someone would say, I’ve heard people talk like this. The energy is different because they’ve already had sex in comparison to the second example. This just show’s more of Lamba’s character. This reminds me of the article about “The Off-Screen Movie”.

    We join these characters after they hooked up. We don’t know how they hooked up or anything about them other then they had lives before FADE UP:

    Now not knowing the rest of the script, perhaps you could add a line or action saying the Lamba would like for her to be there when he gets back (even if she is not), might add a goal.

    Now I just watched The “Wolf of Wall Street”. Talk about scenes with no goals. I’m not sure the movie really had a goal. The Characters never changed from the start of the movie to the end of the movie. So many scenes that had no tension, no drama, no purpose.

  • Scott Strybos

    I don’t think The Eternal Sunshine scene is as good as it seems. If an amateur had submitted it I think we as a community might find fault with it.

    It is a “death scene”—just two characters sitting around being quirky and “real” together. No conflict, no real goal besides having a conversation, no stakes, no mystery, no tension, no excitement or urgency (although urgency does come later, if I remember correctly, when Joel has to decide at the last minute to get off the train with her).

    The dialogue works, but that’s all this scene has—dialogue. The scenes sole purpose is to introduce characters, which I was told is a no-no.

    • Casper Chris

      I think there’s some truth to that.

      The pro starts out with the grade A in the reader’s mind. The unknown amateur starts out with the grade D. The amateur has to pull himself up by doing something amazing (but not so amazing that it comes across as “trying too hard”). The pro just has to avoid screwing up too much. Sound fundamentals will often suffice.

    • carsonreeves1

      I’m not sure about this. I know where you’re coming from, Scott, but there’s a little more going on here. This is their first scene together. And there’s a natural ticking time bomb in that they only have until the train gets to their destination (as opposed to being in a static room where they theoretically have forever to talk). Also, there’s a pursuit going on , a big goal driving the scene (Clementine trying to get Joel) that gives it more purpose than simply “shooting the shit.” It’s not the most original scene in the world. But it’s better than most meet-cute scenes.

      • Casper Chris

        The big goal is Clementine trying to get Joel? I think that’s stretching it a bit. I also think talking about a ticking time bomb is stretching it (I never felt any urgency while watching this scene).

        This scene works primarily because we want to see Joel break out of his shell and “go for it”, to succeed in meeting this girl. As I remember, Joel appears interested in Clementine while they’re on the platform waiting for the train in the previous scene. The goal driving the scene is for him to not screw up their first meeting, not for her to “get him”.

        • drifting in space

          Exactly. This scene is set up perfectly by the previous scene. Joel himself even mentions that he’s been pretty much semi-stalking her.

          We want to see him nail this first chance at speaking with her, but instead, we get a much more in depth look at his character based on his mannerisms. Most awkward guys act awkwardly in a situation involving a girl they are interested in.

          This is a great scene and what makes it great is the subtle way this information is fed to us.

          The first scene just shovels it onto us. We react poorly to it because the dialogue rings false. If he’s such a cool cat, he should have acted in the way, not just told us directly. We want to see heroes or protagonists BEING cool, not telling us. In life, when someone tells us they are cool, we tend to think the opposite.

          I think that happened in the first scene pretty quickly.

        • carsonreeves1

          Hey Casper! I think Clementine’s moving in on Joel (literally!) pretty hard here. I agree we’re not feeling an intense rush of time running out. But just by putting the scene on a train as opposed to, say, in a static room, there’s more of a feeling of an impending ending, which I think adds energy to the moment.

          I agree with what you’re saying about Joel though. That’s a big reason why this scene works. I have a hard time encouraging negative goals in scenes (his goal is *not* to screw it up), but in this case, it works.

          • Casper Chris

            Hey Carson :) Well, I never got the impression Clementine’s moving in hard on Joel at all. Like I said, her talking to him is just a by-product of her outgoing and happy-go-lucky personality. She’s bored and wants someone to talk to (like you said yourself, she’s talking with herself more than she’s talking with him), and he just happens to be the only other person in the train car.

          • carsonreeves1

            Fair point. :)

          • https://thebarkbitesback.wordpress.com/ Jim

            Keep in mind “when” the scene occurs in context to the story and not necessarily in its telling. The scene is totally driven by their subconscious as it’s the second time they meet after both their memories are erased – after “meet me in Montauk”.

      • Scott Strybos

        The ticking-time bomb is only assumed because of what we know about trains—that they eventually reach the end of a line.

        And both Joel and Clem said they are getting off at the same stop—this diffuses any urgency because they can just continue their conversation after. We also don’t know how far away this stop is. I think having them plan to get off at different stops would have added more to the scene. Or have the conductor count off the stops.

    • grendl

      Two words.

      “Blue ruin”.

      It’s specifics like that that give a dialogue authenticity. It’s something the audience didn’t know ( like the thing about the native Americans paying 24 dollars not only for Manhattan but what they thought was Dutch alliance )

      When you have a girl talking about hair color, and how it defines her, that’s interesting. We lean in on that kind of talk, because its not only about that character. We all have our own personal affectations or style choices that define us as well and therein lies a point of connection, of empathy.

      I think there’s plenty to like about and learn from just this scene.

      • carsonreeves1

        I agree. A lot of the best dialogue contains specificity. Bad dialogue is often full of generalities. General responses, general phrases, general backstory, general interests, etc.

        • Marija ZombiGirl

          Specificity, exactly !
          I’ve watched several movies lately that were poor in dialogue but still felt rich in content because nobody ever spoke for nothing (BLUE RUIN, THE PATH, THE ROVER…).
          I’m in Writing Phase #1 (= developing characters and story) of my new script and these films have been immensely helpful. Everything needs to have a purpose and every relationship be meaningful. This makes preparation long and difficult but so rewarding when you finally get to the “Fade in, Scene 1, Ext/Int” stage…
          (Thanks for this week – I haven’t commented but I have read everything and learned a lot)

      • Scott Strybos

        I agree, the dialogue in the scene is very good.

  • http://www.linkedin.com/pub/brett-martin/52/702/72 ElectricDreamer

    Lots of great advice to be had this week, thanks to Carson and the commenting rabble.

    Should we do this again, I hope we can examine ACTION-BASED dialogue.
    More scenes where the focus isn’t always on the almighty BOOTY.

    Maybe seeing how amateurs and pros handle a COURTROOM scene would rock.
    Or someone could submit a presidential PRESS CONFERENCE we can analyze.
    Exploring how amateurs & pros contend with TECHNO-BABBLE would be nifty.
    How do pros make all that EXPOSITION melt into the story where amateurs struggle?
    What tricks do pros use to spice up INTERROGATION scenes that we might overlook.
    I’d like to dissect a PEP TALK BEFORE THE BIG GAME scene, iconic stuff like that.

    YOU vs. PRO has a lot of meat left on the concept for a SEQUEL in our near future.

    • drifting in space

      This is a mighty fine idea.

    • GuyWhoWroteTheThing

      Another idea: PLOT TWIST. Carson gives us a scenario before the twist and after the twist and we have to try and find a way to get from one place to the other.

      • klmn

        That’s not as interesting as judging scenes from our existing works. Carson did challenge us with a Star Wars contest. None of the resulting scripts will ever be made.

        Our goal as writers should be to get produced. In the words of MLK, “Keep your eyes on the prize!”

    • klmn

      Great idea.

    • JakeMLB

      More scenes where the focus isn’t always on the almighty BOOTY.

      Carson’s just dropping a not-so-subtle hint to the ole ball ‘n chain. Way to blow it for him Dreamer.

      Aside from that, excellent points. Comparing scenes built around specific intentions would be great. Carson might need some help finding good examples though.

      • LV426

        Either that, or a detailed breakdown of the screenplay for “Booty Call.”

        Fun fact: One of the writers is named Bootsie. That’s it. Just Bootsie.


    • NajlaAnn


  • GuyWhoWroteTheThing

    Ah–this is where the nasty truth is revealed. See, this script is still a work in progress. I haven’t even finished the first draft (though I did my best to touch up the section that I submitted for this contest-ish-thing). Diane was originally supposed to just be a one-off character, but I changed that later on and gave her a name, promoting her from a minor character to a slightly less minor character. I thought that I had caught every instance where I called her “the woman,” but I guess I was wrong. Thank you for unintentionally serving as my editor for one sentence in the script.

    As for that second part–I don’t know if this is what you had in mind, but I didn’t intend for the characters to be taken at face value. I wrote in a comment somewhere below that Charlie is a jackass throughout the script: he’s not half as cool as he thinks he is and as such ends up suffering for it. Not readily apparent here, which is something I’ll have to touch up going forward. Thank you for your comment!

    • klmn

      Congrats on being chosen. But like I mentioned in a previous comment on a submission a week or so ago, it’s a mistake submitting anything but finished work.

      You’re likely to only get one shot here, so make it count.

      • GuyWhoWroteTheThing

        In that case, I fucked up, but at least I fucked up in an educational way. On the offchance I ever get anything examined here again, I’ll make sure it’s as polished as it can be. Thank you!

  • https://thebarkbitesback.wordpress.com/ Jim

    Actually, the ESotSM scene is after they’ve both had their memories erased and are meeting again, so it’s full of subtleties one might not fully appreciate unless they understood this. There’s an underlying sense of subconscious driving this scene that we don’t realize upon first viewing as a result. We think it’s the first time they’re meeting because of the way the story is structured, but they’ve met again because Joel was compelled to “meet me in Montauk”.

    • klmn

      “Actually, the ESotSM scene is after they’ve both had their memories erased and are meeting again…”

      If an amateur writer wrote a coincidence like that, he’d catch all kinds of shit for it. (Not just 7 kinds of shite).

  • Erica

    Was I serious, yes. In real life that’s what happens. Was I serious here? No, hence the LOL at the end.

    I like most of your comments and opinions, but sometimes you come off as a very angry person, I can’t get the Yosemite Sam image out of my head – The roughest, toughest, mean ol’hombre to ever write a script.

    Now going on “the trick of getting US to fall for the protagonist”, what about “Wolf of Wall Street” there is someone you know is wrong and shouldn’t like. He cheats and steals from people without regards to to the person or consequences of his actions. Yet I can’t help but watch. I think I watched because I was hopping for justice at the end. That never came.

  • klmn

    I have to admit I’m disappointed in not being chosen for Me VS Pro. But since I took the time to break out the scene, I’ll post it here. To view the scene, click on SEE MORE, then click on the insert and use your arrow keys to scroll around.

    There are two characters in this scene, Kevin and Amber, both animal-rights activists. Before this they had taken part in a break-in of a products testing lab and the rescue of a number of rabbits. Others in the group were driving the rabbits out of town while this scene transpires.

    The police investigation of this break-in and the subsequent break-in of a genetics engineering facility give the thrust to the plot. The genre is Dark Comedy.

    Kevin – a wannabe magician and the group’s lock picker manipulates a coin between his fingers while he sits with Amber who is preparing for a play.

    (the page numbering starts with 1 although it takes place a little later in the script, because it’s a cut-and-paste job)


    Amber picks up a script. She opens it, looks at the words.


    What’s that?


    It’s this play I’m in – THE ELEPHANT

    MAN. I can’t get into my character.

    I just can’t get a handle on her.


    What’s the problem?


    I play this actress who gets it on

    with this real ugly dude.


    The elephant man?


    Yeah. I mean why would she do

    something like that? What’s her



    Jeez, I don’t know. Maybe he’s a


    Amber’s face brightens.


    Yeah. That’s good. I can work with

    that. Thanks, Kevin.


    No problem. You know – since you’re

    into performing and all – maybe you

    could help me out with my magic act.

    You’d be great misdirection.


    What’s that?

    Kevin manipulates a quarter with his right hand.


    Distraction, mainly. You get ‘em

    looking one way so they won’t see

    what you’re really up to.


    With his left hand, Kevin pulls a quarter out of Amber’s



    How’d you do that?


    Very well, I think… Interested?


    What would I do?


    Help me with props. Hand me stuff.

    I guess I’ll cut you in half.

    Amber looks worried.


    You’ll put me back together, won’t



    Probably. Of course, I’ll put you

    back together. It’s part of the



    Okay then.


    Who knows? We could be the next

    Penn and Teller.

    Amber has trouble with the concept. She looks puzzled.


    But would I be Penn, or would I be


    The quarter falls from Kevin’s fingers.


    I don’t know. I guess we’ll have to

    work that part out.

    • klmn

      You can download the script at

      Script Link: https://www.mediafire.com/?hq49y2y19e1doao

      • Levres de Sang

        Thanks for posting! Poe’s enthusiasm has definitely piqued my curiosity… Great title, too!

        • klmn

          Thank you. I’m optimistic that Carson – or Miss SS – will review your script.

          • Levres de Sang

            I’m probably a long shot, but you never know how these things might turn out…!

    • Jaco

      Thanks for sharing. For me, like all the scenes posted this week, this one feels flat. You have two different goals for the characters – but each plays fairly benign and neither works together as a whole. I get the attempt at subtext here – but subtext for subtext’s sake isn’t really interesting. Both characters come off as really soft and there’s little to no popping chemistry between them.

      Also – look at the structure. You have one character with their problem (not being able to get a handle on the scene/needing a magician’s assistant) and the other character basically just asking leading questions. Having so many leading questions in here makes it feel writerly.

      Not sure what to suggest – what’s the purpose of this scene? If you lose this scene – what happens to your script as a whole? Is it important that she find the motivation to act in the play? Does he really need an assistant? Do we really care?

      • klmn

        The magic – sleight of hand, illusions, and escapes – plays a part throughout the story.

        And the mention of the Elephant Man foreshadows something in the second half of the script.

        • JakeMLB

          I think Jaco is on the money. The dialogue is really flat and a lot of it unnecessary. Kevin’s first three lines are all leading questions. I mean how exciting is that? Really, what purpose does that serve? Would anyone honestly speak that way?

          I hope you see what I’m getting at with my three questions above :). And then look at Amber’s dialogue. Again, she ends up asking several leading questions: “What’s that?” “How’d you do that?” “What would I do?” “You’ll put me together again, won’t you?”

          As for how to make the scene pop, it’s difficult to say but the scene as a whole seems pretty unnecessary. Even if there are setups that will pay off later, you’re planting your setups within mundane dialogue so your reader might not even remember them. Couldn’t you set this exchange somewhere else? Like during the break-in? Or during the high that immediately follows? Then you’ll have some actual energy to the scene that could infuse some life into the dialogue. As it stands, you’ve set it up in such a way that nothing exciting could be said even if you wanted it to. Hope that helps!

          • Jaco

            Yeah – unless the context of the scene is set up in a very interesting way and/or the characters – or a courtroom drama – better to have your characters asking questions neither of them knows the answer to, right? Push yourself with the situation. See what pops. Make it uncomfortable. Maybe he does a trick where he removes her bra or something creepy. Something he thinks is funny – but she doesn’t.

            Good luck.

          • klmn

            Thanks for your comments. This scene happens after the first break-in and is just a bridge.

          • JakeMLB

            Right, so shouldn’t there be some energy to it? I don’t know about you, but usually after doing something crazy like that most people are on an incredible high of anxiety and energy that lasts for some time. At the very least it would be a topic of conversation wouldn’t it? You should use that. Obviously it will depend how far after the break-in but if this is literally the scene after it would run completely contrary to expectation (and not in a good way). Your characters are just calmly discussing relatively mundane personal problems that we don’t really care about (e.g., what are the stakes of Amber not getting into her character, who cares if Kevin gets an assistant or not?). Take all this with a grain of salt as I’m not sure the tone you’re going for and I’m totally missing the context but as is a standalone scene it’s just a little void of emotion or intrigue.

          • Jaco

            After reading the pages leading up to this scene, I think the scene is a microcosm of a larger issue. Structurally – it’s fine I guess. But, there’s little to no energy in the opening pages. Also, the characters – save maybe the Weiner Dog – aren’t engaging. To be honest – I was left feeling like I read a Scooby Do knock off. All that said – remember – I’m just one person and a gabazillion others could love your work.

          • mulesandmud

            Hmm. The fact that you call the scene a bridge isn’t a good sign. Suggests you’re just marking time until the next plot point.

            If the scene’s only relevance is to introduce the magic/illusion motif and to reference ‘the elephant man’ for a later (incidental?) payoff, then it sounds like it could easily be cut.

            Also, I assume this is intentional, but both characters seem pretty unlikeable to me. She comes off as painfully superficial and he’s similarly self-interested. Odd choice for animal rights activists, who you’d think would be a little more earthy and selfless. Are you trying to underline that contradiction in their personalities?

      • klmn

        I suppose I could cut that scene. But for the time being, I’ll leave it in. I’d like to hear some opinions from other people.

    • Poe_Serling

      Hey klmn-

      I’m glad you decided to post your own scene from Corridor of Freaks. I was wondering if your script contained a scene that stacks up against this classic “science/nature run amok” film.

      INT. CAGES – DAY

      An ape GUARD has a high pressure hose trained on Taylor. It forces him
      back toward the rear of the cage.


      Julius shoves Nova across the aisle to a cage opposite Taylor’s, locks
      her inside.

      Why are you doing this? Say something,
      you hairy scum!

      Julius gestures toward the ape guard

      Turn it off!

      The ape guard shuts off the hose.

      Answer me!

      Julius strides over to Taylor’s cage.

      Shut up! The reason no one’ll talk to
      you is because you’re a freak!

      Where’s Dr. Zira? Why–?

      I said shut up!

      He slashes viciously with his whip handle against Taylor’s fingers.
      Taylor yells in pain. Julius and the ape guard start out of the

      Ape! Apes wearing clothes!
      It’s a madhouse! A madhouse!

      He sinks to the floor as the apes go out.

      • klmn

        Because Carson asked for dialogue scenes, I avoided scenes with action. That’s why the scene I posted is only 2 pages, maybe a page and a half.

        You’ve got a whip and a firehose in that one. If I have to compete with props, I’ll bring my own to the party.

        • Poe_Serling

          Sorry, I meant to say – Do you have another scene from your script that you think might match up with POTA scene?

          Say like the Corridor of Jars scene…

          • klmn

            Maybe the first scene in the Corridor of Freaks (there are several) on p55-57.

            I don’t want to break scenes out of the second half of the script because of spoilers.

          • klmn

            As kind of a sidelight to the Corridor of Jars scene, did you know that used to be a popular sideshow attraction?

            It was known in the carnie world as “pickled punks.” If you google that term, you can find some horrific images, if you dare.

          • Poe_Serling

            “If you google that term, you can find some horrific images, if you dare.”

            No thanks. I’ll take your word for it. ;-)

            When it comes to scary carnivals and such, I’m more of a Carnival of Souls guy.

          • klmn

            The whole carnie world is fascinating, what they could sell to small town people. I guess folks had to get their horror somewhere, so in the Hays Code era, sideshows was it

          • GoIrish

            Made it all the way through. Quick read with minimal typos. I thought at one point you had described this as a dark comedy (but could be mistaken). For me, it came across predominantly as horror – reminded me a little of the Island of Dr. Moreau (in terms of some of the visuals). The comedic elements with Fred, Charles, Jason, Norman, and Pinhead didn’t quite match the tone of the rest of the script for me. So, you may want to take another look at those characters and possibly consider playing it straight with them. I was also curious what you considered to be the end of Act 1 and end of Act 2. I thought entering Genotexx would be the end of one of the scenes, but looking back at the script, that doesn’t happen until p. 47 – which is pretty much the middle of the script.

            I thought the scene at the nursing home lasted a little too long given the length of your script. Also, is there any connection between the nursing home and Genotexx (aside from the Mean Nurse)? Assuming the Mean Nurse was the same one at the nursing home as at Genotexx, that’s quite the coincidence. For there to be that type of coincidence, I think we need to have the nursing home play more of a role. And if you do that, we need to understand the nurse’s role more. Right now, she’s just a mean nurse at the nursing home and a mean nurse helping at Genotexx. She didn’t really do anything at Genotexx, so why bring her in at all?

            I’d also suggest taking another look at Smith and Wesson’s questioning of Amber and Tod. They asked Amber 3 (?) questions and then left. It came off a little too abrupt. I think they need to grill her a little bit more – and same for Tod.

            Those are my initial thoughts. Let me know if you have an questions.

            Notes while reading:

            p. 8 – extra period after Ta Da!

            p. 12 – “what’s her motivation?” this line feels a little over-used to me at this point.

            p. 12 – “what’s that?” I think most people know what misdirection is.

            p. 14 – “I guess so” (re: Houdini) – Amber is coming off fairly dumb/unaware. I would think most people have heard of Houdini.

            p. 19 – extra period after “…won’t we?”

            p. 19 – extra period after “show him a good time?”

            p. 20 – do police introduce themselves as “burglary”?

            p. 28/29 – the cop’s quick entry/exit at Tod’s (and Amber’s before) seems a little odd.

            p. 29 – probably can strike “it’s not a busy night” – we know that from the empty parking lot.

            p. 29 – I think John Browning is the first character you’ve introduced with the age in parentheses

            p. 32 – Amber says she’s going to report the nurse and then does nothing. If she was willing to step in and say something in the first place, seems odd she wouldn’t take further action.

            p. 30-36 – nursing home scene. Seems like a lot of time was spent at the nursing home and not much happened. For a short script, 5-plus pages is a good amount of time. Will be curious to see how much this ties into story as a whole.

            p. 36 – extra period after “is this on?”

            p. 37-39 – Dr. Michaels twice gets the audience to laugh on p. 37, but on p. 39 they are booing him off the stage. They’re switch in attitude was a little jarring. Is the audience aware of Dr. Michaels’ work or are they just reacting to the statements of Amber and crew?

            p. 40 – “Smith and Wesson” – I think this the first time you use just their names without job titles (and the order is reversed). The next action sequence you revert to prior practice. If you want to make a Smith and Wesson joke, maybe have Amber or Tod make a sarcastic comment to the cops – “Smith and Wesson. That’s cute.” Tod’s a little on the meek side, so he might not work.

            p. 50 – “like a man among frogs”- comparison seemed a little strange since Charles IS a “man.” You’re comparing the embryos to frogs, which is fine, but not comparing Charles to anything new.

            p. 55 – extra period “supernumerary head”

            p. 57 – extra comma “Finally”

            p. 59 (bottom) – should be Scarlett instead of Amber.

            p. 61 – extra period “Pinhead!”

            p. 62 – not sure she’d say “she’s my sister.” Does the doctor need help determining whether they’re identical twins?

            p. 63 – okay, knowing how to escape from handcuffs pays off here, but not sure the 5-page scene at the nursing home was the best way to show it. Maybe have Kevin a little further along in his magic career, but still small-time – maybe he’s doing shows at dives.

            p. 68 – Is this the same Mean Nurse from the nursing home? Isn’t that a different state?

            p. 71 – with all that has transpired, not sure I’m buying Amber stopping for a puppy

            p. 79 – extra period after “guess what?”

          • GoIrish

            I posted some notes, but it seems Disqus may have eaten them. I’ll given it a little bit to see if they reappear and re-post if necessary.

          • klmn

            Don’t! Disqus Emailed them to me. I’ve been waiting for them to reappear. I’ll paste them in with my response.

          • klmn

            Thanks for the read. Great set of notes!

            Made it all the way through. Quick read with minimal typos. I thought at one point you had described this as a dark comedy (but could be mistaken). For me, it came across predominantly as horror – reminded me a little of the Island of Dr. Moreau (in terms of some of the visuals). The comedic elements with Fred, Charles, Jason, Norman, and Pinhead didn’t quite match the tone of the rest of the script for me.

            I didn’t want it to be tense all the way through. My thought was to ratchet up the tension and then blow it off, either through an action or comedy. I wanted to write a nice little comedy, along with some imagery that would (hopefully) give the viewer a few nightmares later.

            I was also curious what you considered to be the end of Act 1 and end of Act 2. I thought entering Genotexx would be the end of one of the scenes, but looking back at the script, that doesn’t happen until p. 47 – which is pretty much the middle of the script .

            You’re exactly right about p47 – that was the midpoint shift (to use the term of a certain e-book writer who shall remain nameless). The end of act 1 occurs on p29-30 with the detectives starting to pressure Tod, interview the twins, and the introduction of Special Agent Browning. The beginning of act 2 is the magic show for the catatonic old people. That’s when things start to get weird.

            The end of act 2 is p55, when the activists enter the Corridor of Freaks. They’re in the nightmare world now, and things will get increasingly strange.

            I thought the scene at the nursing home lasted a little too long given the length of your script. Also, is there any connection between the nursing home and Genotexx (aside from the Mean Nurse)? Assuming the Mean Nurse was the same one at the nursing home as at Genotexx, that’s quite the coincidence.

            It’s no coincidence. That is intended to confuse the viewer, make him wonder what the hell is going on. I do the same thing with the housewife from the first scene, but more subtly.

            Along the same lines, during the chase scenes through the corridors, there are moments when they become nonlinear. A corridor might lead one place one moment, the next it leads somewhere else.

            It’s all part of trying to replicate a nightmare. When I have one and I realize something isn’t making sense, I wake up. I assume it’s the same for other people.

            I also want to doubly thank you for flagging my typos. Every time I go into a script, I fuck something up.

            I definitely owe you a read. You have my email on the title page of my script. If you’ve got something ready, send it on. If not, this is good any time in the future.


          • GoIrish

            Hope the notes help and thanks for the offer. My script is currently driving me crazy, so it’s not quite ready for review. I might take you up on that offer down the line though. Thanks.

          • Casper Chris

            There’s a bug in Mediafire where, if somebody views the document in the Mediafire viewer, it’ll sometimes count for many downloads. I tried once with one of my own documents. I only viewed it once, but when I was done scrolling through the first third of the document (it doesn’t download all the pages at once), it showed something like 30 downloads, presumably for each batch of pages it loaded or something.

          • klmn

            Didn’t know that. Thanks.

          • Levres de Sang

            This script illustrates the usefulness of knowing both the logline and genre in advance of the read. I found myself wanting an X-Files-style conspiracy thriller; but it was only afterwards I realised that you probably envisage a straight-to-video flick designed to accompany a bunch of 17-year-old guys’ beer and pizza lock-in on a Friday or Saturday evening: there’s the Scooby Doo-like protags/scenario; 80s horror movie references; profanity-laden insults; some t&a; and plenty of gross-out moments that could easily be played for laughs.

            In short, it may well be that my notes are barking up the wrong tree as I’m not a connoisseur of 80s horror. Having said that, here goes…

            In general, I felt the characters were too thin. I did keep thinking of Scooby Doo (and that may well be a deliberate ploy on your part), but after a while they just became names in corridors. I liked that the twins finished each others’ sentences (needless to say, their presence was also highly thematic), yet Kevin was by far the most developed character with his whole magic/Houdini thing. I was certainly expecting Scarlett to play more of a role: Not only did she arrive later, but she was a bit older and appeared to be in charge. And yet nothing really came of her character?

            Opening Sequence:

            – Missing comma OR “… rain[y] fog and darkness”

            – Consider I/E. rather than INTERCUT AS NEEDED. Just that there’s a lot of CAPS in this opening 1/4 page.

            – Repetition of “She”…?

            – Maybe cut back on some of the dialogue in this opening sequence (i.e. the Housewife’s “No” at the foot of Page 1 didn’t resonate). Instead, I’d like to see things played straight-up mysterious — like one of those X-Files teasers.

            – It’s a style choice, obviously, but I really think two carriage returns between major slugs would benefit these pages — especially when there are a lot of CAPS around. (I’m sure you’d still come in under 95 pages.)

            Act 1 / Act 2:

            – Scenes often start too early and therefore lead to humdrum dialogue exchanges; i.e. doorway scene at nursing home. You can still show the FBI agent WHILE they’re doing the magic act.

            – Too many establishing shots of cars outside buildings.

            – Pages 25-27: The dialogue at the coffee shop breakfast meet-up pretty much REPEATS the two scenes we’ve just seen.

            – Page 29: Nice dialogue at the top!

            – On the whole, though, the investigation into the activists just doesn’t pop. Maybe just one too many scenes of the “We’re watching you…” variety?

            – Page 30: Stray “a”: Should be “She’s dressed…”

            – Pages 38-39: I like the Dr. Michaels lecture scene (especially his CLANK), but again it really needs to start later.

            – Page 42: Tod has just gone back to studying as though nothing has happened?

            – Page 49: How does Kevin know Michaels is “harvesting eggs”?

            – The Housewife’s return falls a little flat. Is she drugged, for instance?

            – At this juncture it feels like you’ve raised the stakes by introducing something far more sinister, and yet your protags don’t seem that interested (“Maybe there aren’t any animals”): Of course, we want them to achieve their original goal and save our furry friends, but they just seem a bit blasé to the genetic engineering of their fellow humans.

            – It’s not clear why the lights suddenly come on, but surely the jars would be far more sinister in a half-light?

            – Page 55: I’d lose the internet reference. Let people imagine the horror…

            – While The Corridor of Freaks itself is a fabulous notion, in all honesty I wanted more atmosphere to really visualise the scene. There was an almost matter-of-fact quality at times, when instead these scenes should resonate with hallucination and phantasmagoria.

            – Page 57: Stray comma: “Finally, his grip loosens…”

            – I like the wooden box that Dr. Michaels uses. It’s a nice detail and I felt we needed a few more like this.

            – I realise they are lost in this maze-like building, but there must be a way around the endless repetitions of ANOTHER CORRIDOR. Also confused as to why it often occurred as a mini-slug beneath the major slug (as opposed to being a part of the major slug)…? Perhaps sketching a floor-plan/architectural blueprint of the Genotexx building might help?

            – Page 67: If Browning was monitoring Tod then surely he would have gone in MUCH earlier as they are clearly in trouble.

            – Page 70: I felt things were lagging by this point. And yet I DID still want to read to the end!

            Act 3:

            – Too much comic relief with Pinhead et al (although maybe I’m misjudging the genre/tone?) I would have preferred to follow Kevin, although he kind of went out of things for a while it seemed as we kept up with all the other characters. (Of course, by this stage Kevin’s goal is simply to escape and maybe that’s the problem? He may well need a more heroic Act 3 goal.)

            – Page 80: I know more about the guns than Scarlett.

            Overall: Moves briskly and certainly doesn’t outstay its welcome, but I’d like some additional character work (both detail and overall story motivation) as well as a more hallucinatory atmosphere within the CORRIDOR OF JARS and the CORRIDOR OF FREAKS itself.

          • klmn

            Thanks for the notes. It’s always good to see different peoples takes on something (and I didn’t realize I had so many typos). There’s a lot to think about in your review.

            I’ll read yours when it gets reviewed on this site (if Carson chooses a different script from the group yours was posted with, I’ll email my impressions to you).

            Much appreciated.

            EDIT: The URL I included was meant for potential filmmakers, not for the viewing public.

          • Levres de Sang

            I’d not intended to write at such length, but I was grateful for all the notes I received last weekend… I was also getting tired and forgot to mention that I liked the way the ending dovetailed with the opening and hinted at the wider conspiracy. Indeed, I realise (now I’ve had time to think about it) that’s what you intended! Also, I think my problem with Pinhead stems from him being introduced in act 3.

            Anyway, it was mighty brave of you to post ‘alone’ so to speak and I hope that maybe one or two of my thoughts are helpful in some way.

      • klmn

        Hey Poe, this is OT but I thought you might be interested. Reading the IMDB blurb on Russ Meyer I found this:


        While bivouacked at Moberley House, Manchester, sometime in May 1944, Russell Meyer was assigned by colonel Laughton, of the US Army Pictorial Service (London) to film a group of GI prisoners being trained in a stockade near Southampton. The GI guards told Meyer that they had committed capital crimes, and had accepted to be parachuted behind enemy lines prior to D-Day in a daring sabotage mission. He was driven there by his army driver, Charles E. Sumners, filmed the twelve dirty, uncooperative prisoners (of whom one American Indian and a Negro) for about 40 minutes, then returned, sent the 200 ft reel to headquarters, and later received the usual critique by captain Fred F. Fox on his work. Meyer encountered colonel Laughton near Metz, after the invasion, and was told the men had been parachuted, but not reported since. Meyer told this story to his friend ‘Eric Michael Nathanson’, who was impressed by it, and on which he based his novel behind the movie The Dirty Dozen (1967).

        • Poe_Serling

          Never heard that story before… thanks for sharing. The Dirty Dozen is one of the all-time great suicide mission films.

  • Cfrancis1

    There are all different types of magic and magicians. Andy is a socially awkward magic enthusiast in that movie. Plenty of them out there. It works great for 40 Year Old Virgin. But what about “The Prestige” or “The Illusionist” or “Now You See Me”? I can’t say I loved all of those films but they did make magic and magicians look pretty cool. I’m just saying, your criticism of the writer trying to make a magician/card cheat seem cool was unwarranted and unfounded.

    • drifting in space

      The Prestige is amazing. But those two examples (except train wreck that is Now You See Me) are period pieces and don’t actually make them look pretty cool. It more proves Grendl’s point.

      Even then, they are social outcasts using their magic to try and gain recognition. You watch them fall apart throughout the movie. I would not say either of those movies made magicians look “cool.”

      But cinema is all subjective so what the fuck do I know?

      • Cfrancis1

        We could debate the “cool” factor. What I’m talking about is the portrayal of magicians as socially inept buffoons. I’m not against it. It can work. But that’s not the ONLY way they can or have been portrayed. Look, I’m a magician, okay. That’s why I keep pressing this point. :)

        • drifting in space

          What’s funny is, my first reaction is “that’s pretty bad ass.” Cards and stuff, or full-on tricks?

          • Cfrancis1

            Full on card tricks. :) Close up magic.

  • Kosta K

    If anyone’s interested, the first 15 of the 10 finalists are up at http://www.writersstore.com/industry-insider-screenwriting-contest-sheldon-turner/

    • Craig Mack

      Well played sir.

    • walker

      Hey Kosta, thanks for posting this link. With no Amateur Offerings to look at this weekend I decided to download these and check them out. It’s actually quite instructive to see several different approaches to setting up a story based on the same logline, and since these are the finalists the quality is high.

      • pmlove

        From what I read, the winning entry had a focus on which sins would be atoned for in the coming pages, rather than why the character is about to die or why they are such a badass. It also did well in setting up the character as making ‘bad choices’ for a good reason (something he believed in), rather than just being an asshole, all the while tying it into an action-laced plot.

        On the basis of the first fifteen, the winning entry had a very clear set-up for how the rest of the screenplay would play out (given the logline) and how the character would arc.

        That said, it was almost a carbon copy of Patriot Games.

        What were your thoughts?

        • walker

          I read the first 15 of the winning script and found it to be surprisingly densely written and a pretty demanding read. It is basically an action set piece that also foreshadows what is presumably to come while also including flashbacks. In fact they are flashbacks of an action scene with obvious thematic significance inside of an action scene with obvious thematic significance. And then we jump forward 25 years. So three time periods in the first 15 pages too. I assume this writer did a good job of pulling all these strands together throughout the rest of the script, because after all he won.

          • Kosta K

            I stepped away from mine after submitting the final. When I read it again after almost three weeks, I decided to completely cut out the third act and get back to work : There were so many last minute changes to so many different parts that it just didn’t hold up in the end :( Once I finish the rewrite, I’m gonna throw the fucker to the wolves (you guys) and see if it comes out alive :)

          • pmlove

            How does the time management work for the competition? Is it ten pages a week or am I misremembering something.

          • Kosta K

            Yeah, ten pages a week. You can send in more, but it cuts down your session time. The problem was, once I got to my later pages, whenever there was a problem or direction change, I would have to go back and change the previous pages on top of sending in the new ones in order to keep up the pace, and smaller details would be left in (or out) that had a hard time supporting the new material :

            I only started outlining much later in the process, but by that time, I think it was too late. The entire process made me realize how important outlining is. And now, without all the pressure, I can almost see straight again.

            I’m still learning, right?

          • walker

            Hey Kosta I found your 15 pages to be well-written and entertaining. I actually liked them better than the opening of the script that eventually won. Great job.

          • Kosta K

            Thanks! :)

  • mulesandmud

    Great week, everyone.

    This last comparison is a little frustrating because, like Monday’s article, the scenes lack significant parallels. Sure, both feature men and women on the cusp of a romantic relationship, but the characters and situations are so drastically different that there’s rarely a moment where the writers are even trying to deal with similar problems.

    One valuable comparison that others have mentioned: the way the scenes introduces its characters through dialogue. In the first scene, a character talks about himself and what he does. In the second, a character talks about what interest her, we must infer who she is based on her choices and her interests. The latter is almost always the smarter play, unless the thing that a character says about himself is laced with unreliable narration or some other irony that adds another layer to the flat exposition.

    If Carson decides to revisit this little experiment, I hope he keeps in mind the comparison is always more valuable if we can identify specific differences in approach that each writer has taken to solve similar problems. Otherwise the conversation ends up just analyzing each scene on its own, which is of course still informative, but squanders the premise.

    It might also be interesting to make PRO vs PRO or AMATEUR vs AMATEUR comparisons. Leveling the playing field (say, if both scripts were produced or unproduced) might help us keep our analysis more objective, or at least mix it up a little.

  • mulesandmud

    One more thought: the ETERNAL SUNSHINE scene is a testament to the importance of context in the choices a writer makes.

    The scene is beautifully written, but no matter how you cut it, the setups is extremely familiar: two awkward young people have a tentative meet cute, the kind that might lead to a relationship. Kaufman (and later Gondry as the director) deliberately plays into that familiarity, making this a recognizable beginning to a love story, just shy of cliche in its simplicity.

    This is a calculated choice designed to let out guard down, because in fact what he’s about to give us is A TOTAL MINDFUCK SCI-FI REMIX OF A LOVE STORY, in which people have fallen so out of love that they pay for brain damage to erase the memory of each other. The script begins with the genre as we know it, then goes on to deconstruct and subvert that genre in every way possible.

    The cute romantic setup on the train eventually reveals itself to be part of the mindfuck as well: upon reflection, it’s clear that we’ve actually been watching two amnesiacs who don’t remember that they’ve already fallen in love, fallen out of it, and broken up. The scene becomes truly exceptional the specific story that surrounds it takes advantage of its plainness and adds layers to it.

    If the movie were less interested in playing games with the idea of a love story, I doubt Kaufman would ever have considered such a mundane meet cute. Case in point, his other work on the subject:


  • Guest

    Of the first scene I really liked:

    LAMBDA: I’m a professional gambler.

    DIANE: And you cheat.

    LAMBDA: That’s what makes me a professional.

    • Kirk Diggler

      Yeah it’s a good line.

    • astranger2

      … thought that clever too.

  • NajlaAnn

    [First scene] What caught my attention and I really liked Lambda’s response to Diane’s insult:

    LAMBDA: I’m a professional gambler.

    DIANE: And you cheat.

    LAMBDA: That’s what makes me a professional.

    • astranger2


      • astranger2

        Great lines can be small bridges to carry you over…

  • GuyWhoWroteTheThing

    Oh, man. I hate to do this–I don’t like trying to compare anything I write to anything anyone else writes. That said, I’m trying to match the tone of Jackie Brown. I’m going for an Elmore Leonard/Carl Hiaasen vibe here.

  • grendl

    While we’re talking about Charlie Kaufman…

    • Malibo Jackk

      It’s a losing battle.
      With no disrespect to CK, the problem is
      — the vast majority doesn’t give a shit.
      It’s why we have terrible politicians, an uninformed public,
      failed news media, bad teachers protected by lobbyist money,
      low national test score, a food industry built on sugar,
      more prisons facilities being built, bad movies, and a decaying culture.

      • astranger2

        And… that’s entertainment!

        … educating and entertaining, not quite polar opposites, are a writer’s challenge… just ask George Orwell…

        • Malibo Jackk

          There’s a scene in The 25th Hour.
          Ed Norton looks in the mirror and the guy in the mirror
          talks to him — giving a 5 or 6 page rant. All the people and
          things that he hates. Totally unnecessary for the film.
          But they worked it in. And it’s entertaining.

          • astranger2

            Oh, I’m not saying it can’t work. Just that it’s extremely difficult to do well, unless you’re Paddy Chayefsky in Network… or Sorkin in the opening scene from The Newsroom…

      • pmlove

        …that’s what they want you to think.

  • astranger2

    Sorry, late to the party again…

    “And in that case, lines like “Night waits for no one” come off as overly written, like the writer’s trying too hard.”

    Everyone talks about the phenomenal dialogue written by the the polar-opposites with a Tarantino or Sorkin… and then go on to RAVE about the originality…

    I have found so much on SS I’ve felt invaluable info to my hopeful progression as a writer, and I may be one of only a handful here, but I really, really liked the amateur version. I must say, I’m not a big Kaufman fan.

    As Biffer will tell you, I’m a heathen. Probably the most complimentary thing said to me in the last few years…

    Not EVERYONE speaks the same way. Some people say things like, “Bond, James Bond.”

    Isn’t that unnatural?

    I don’t think hunch-backed people on whatever odd floor is clever, or original… just nerdy… and tedious… like an Ivy-league version of a fart joke… yawn… (insert laugh to be cool.)

    Regardless, WRITER! I really enjoyed your dialogue…

    … an isolated voice from the wild…

    • GuyWhoWroteTheThing

      Thank you, thank you… Appreciate the compliment! That said, the last thing I was trying to do was ape Tarantino and Sorkin. I think those two have had the biggest influence on movie dialogue in the last twenty years or so, and they’re mimicked (badly) way too often. I made a conscious effort to essentially do the opposite of whatever they would. Still, making something both original and good is a lot tougher than it seems.

  • fragglewriter

    Great tip Carson, The best way to write dialogue is to listen to yourself having a conversation on the phone. I was having a conversation with my friend on the phone last night. She had a really bad day at work and was very cathartic. As she was speaking, she said a word that pigged my memory of what happened earlier in the day at work, and I completely changed gears, cut her off, clipped conversations while the both of us were trying to get our points across.

    I know, bad friend, but such realistic dialogue.

  • Midnight Luck

    This was a fun, interesting week. Thanks Carson for doing it.

    I am impressed with Tailmonsterfriend, thanks for having the guts to come on and chat with everyone about your writing.

    I am not sure why all the other entrants were people who have never appeared on SS before. Strange how many people follow but never chat in the comments section. Either that or the authors were embarrassed by what they had sent in, or what people had to say about their entry, and so used a different Guest name to post under.

    Why are people not posting under their specific Disqus name, or even bothering to sign up with a permanent one? instead just posting as a GUEST, though under a name like “DUDEWHOWROTETHISSHIT” and then when the day is over, they are never to be heard from again?

    I know it is all strange psychology and it is worthless to even pose the question of “why”. Still, I find it strange that out of five postings, only one person is someone I recognize, someone who posts, with their Disqus name. All the others? Unknowns or flyby’s, drive-by’s, lookie-loos or what-have-you’s.

    Well, regardless, it was a great week, and if more of these should happen again, hope some of the regulars are chosen and post and give feedback on their writing.

    Would love to see what you all have written, or write for the project.

    And thanks again Tailmonsterfriend, you rock.
    And thanks to all the unknown rest for sharing your writing with us all.

    • mulesandmud

      For some perspective: I visited this site regularly for more than a year before I even considered making a comment or signing up for disqus.

      I’d guess that for every regular commenter, there are at least four regular readers who follow the discussion but never leap into the fray. By those numbers, one familiar face for the week is about right, proportion-wise.

      • Midnight Luck

        thanks for the reply and thoughts Mules.

        I am always interested in the psychology behind things. Would you be open to explaining why you followed it for a year without jumping in? You are a great and consistent commenter now.
        I cannot tell if you are still considered a guest without a picture, or if you are signed up as a Disqus poster but just haven’t put a pic up. That part doesn’t matter as much. Still, I find it intriguing that you would come back over and over, possibly daily, but maybe just here and there, and I would guess you must’ve enjoyed it since you kept coming back for a year, yet never posted during that whole time. So what would keep you from wanting to participate in the beginning?

        It seems like a lot of the AmFri or AoW entrants just want to get free feedback (which is understandable in many ways) if they are chosen. Though, after getting a ton of free feedback you would think they would stick around and enjoy the group who chatted them up and talked about their work. Instead, I would say the rate of people staying after their weekend posting of work, or their Friday win, is Maybe 10%, though that could be pretty high even.

        People start to get some feel for certain posters after they have been on a while and posted, and I don’t think I am alone in this, you start wanting to see what kinds of stories they write, or what their voice is in their writing, compared to their online discussion. I am always so interested to see how DIFFERENT their writing voice is. I think it is awesome the Otherness of who they are as a writer is, compared to who they are as a poster.

        I know. I have been called Weird my whole life. And now explaining this, I sound weird.
        Doesn’t matter, I like weird.

        Thanks again for your comment, appreciate the thoughts on my wondering.

        • pmlove

          Similar to mules, I spent a long time viewing before signing up to a disqus account.

          Why not join in?

          The quality of the comments are high. That’s the draw. But, as a result, sometimes I have little to add. I’d rather wait until I have more experience and am more likely to become signal, rather than noise. Being considered noise doesn’t always work out well (and can draw unnecessary attention). So, for now, I’ll mainly keep myself to myself but because I come so often, an account is nice to throw out an occasional comment.

          Plus there’s the permanence of the internet. I’m naturally a cautious person, so having a whole series of my commentary out there for all to see can be worrying – I’ve stalked people before and I don’t like the idea of people stalking me.

          It’s time consuming. The site can be addictive; if I don’t have an account, I’m less likely to spend time discussing minutiae and more time learning and writing (and, again, if my critiquing skills aren’t up to scratch, less input from me isn’t necessarily a bad thing).

          It’s annoying having to sign up to 84 different accounts to do everything you want to do on the internet. If I don’t need to, then why bother. Some regulars here never bothered to join (eg walker). Doesn’t hurt them any.

          That said, if I did submit something, and have it get selected, I’d be more than willing to participate in the subsequent discussion.

          Anyway, my two cents on it.

          • Midnight Luck

            That does seem to be a consensus. That others have said what needs to be said, and therefore why add to the pile, or possibly the person doesn’t feel like they have anything to add.

            I get that as well, and agree.

            I have thought many times that I shouldn’t have setup an account, because if I had to Log In EVERY time I wanted to come on here and say something, it would detract from me doing it. I hopefully then would spend less time on here as a result.

            Sadly, I don’t think it would work that way. I really enjoy SS, the articles, the discussion, the Amateur weekend and friday, all of it. So then I would just become annoyed that I was having to sign in ALL the time.

            Thanks for giving me your thoughts and 2 cents about it. I appreciate what you have to say.

            I know my wonder about all this might seem odd, but it is just how my brain works. It likes to KNOW things, and soaks up as much info as it possibly can. So something about the high percentage of Amateurs who come on here and get a script chosen for AoW and don’t have Disqus profiles, then chat a bit over the weekend or on Friday, then leave FOREVER, just has my grey matter in a ruffle as to why?

            Again, appreciate your candor, thanks for the reply.

          • walker

            It is still correct to say that some writers use Amateur Friday and Amateur Offerings Weekends primarily for self-promotion and then never show up again.

          • Midnight Luck

            I know. If that is what they want from the site, it is their right. Too bad, so much more they could get from SS or give to SS though.

        • Meta5

          I visit often. I’d like to post more but after reading the daily article and some of the comments, I just don’t have much time left to formulate meaningful or helpful replies. Sometimes I just don’t have much to say. In real life, I’m mostly a listener – most people appreciate that about me – of course, that doesn’t come across on the webs. Working on it though.

          • Midnight Luck

            I am in real life as well. A listener, through and thru.
            Thanks for your response and giving me some insight into your reasons as well.

            I understand, sometimes I just can’t read all the comments. Even at say 70 comments, that can be a ton along with reading Carson’s actual post. (let alone 300+ or something)

            My thought was just, after a year, or over the course of years, if someone comes to the site, why wouldn’t they just decide to post something one day? What would the reasons be? The person obviously likes the site and the comments, maybe there is another reason I can’t think of.

            As a very quiet person myself, and as an avid listener and I only speak when I have something to say (something of importance to me or the conversation), I get what you are saying. I don’t do small talk, I don’t just chit chat. So I can see where, if you don’t have much more you feel you have to add, where 100+ commenters have said it all, then you don’t feel a need to say more.

            Thanks a bunch for your thoughts, I appreciate it.

        • Casper Chris

          I cannot tell if you are still considered a guest without a picture, or if you are signed up as a Disqus poster but just haven’t put a pic up.

          His name is red. That means he’s a registered user. Unregistered users appear with a grey name.

          • Midnight Luck

            ah, thanks, after all this time I wasn’t quite sure how it worked. I guess that makes sense, since when someone has an actual GUEST for a name it is always in grey. Appreciate that.

          • walker

            Another variation is what I do: I always post as a guest, but use the name walker. I can’t register under my preferred name of walker because some other walker beat me to it.

          • Midnight Luck

            Thanks for your thoughts.

            So WALKER must mean a lot to you.
            I take it you aren’t someone who wants to modify it to
            because it’s available? Right :)

          • walker

            I used to be a musician, and when I got into the business I took walker as my stage name. Oddly enough there was/is a working pro with my actual birth name, so I needed a stage name. When I started writing screenplays I kept it and it is sort of a point of continuity between my two careers. Like the no money thing.

          • Midnight Luck

            That is Funny.

            “I kept it and it is sort of a point of continuity between my two careers. Like the no money thing.”

            I hear you. I have MASS continuity as well.

            Artist — Screenwriter

            I am a self styled MASTER at the broke game.

            Another great reason to have become a Minimalist.

        • mulesandmud

          I’m no guest! I just like the anonymity of that little disqus icon.

          At first, like many regular readers, I used Scriptshadow mostly as a shameless (shameful?) resource for accessing pro scripts. That was the draw, cut and dry. I didn’t take Carson’s reviews very seriously, though since then I’ve realized what a great window he is into the industry’s approach to screenwriting. As for the comment section, it took me a little while to even realize that there was such an entrenched community of commenters here.

          Eventually, it started to feel very selfish of me to keep my relationship to SS so one-sided, gleaning knowledge from the community without offering anything in return. So, I started speaking up, and am doing my best to make that a consistent habit, for better or worse. Sometimes I feel I’m being helpful; other times I’m just adding to the noise. It’s all par for the course.

          (Aside from my interactions here, I have zero experience with commenting, and generally regarded comment boards as the digital equivalent of drunk tanks: a sometimes entertaining, sometimes scary dumping ground for crazies and troublemakers. I still find that to be an accurate description of many boards, but not this one.)

          Submitting to AOW has never been an attraction for me, but I give credit to anyone who tosses their work into the fray, whether they comment here or not. In every community, you’ll always have some people who are less involved than others. And honestly, I think that the commenters and readers usually gain more from the AF and AOW process than the writers do.

          I do agree with you, though, that talking shop with people here makes me wonder what they write and how they write it, because you really never know. I’m always amazed when I meet someone whose voice on paper is exactly like their voice in real life.

          • Midnight Luck

            Thanks so much Mules for explaining to me a bit more in depth your reasoning for waiting the year.
            I really enjoy your comments and I know everyone else does as well.

            I whole heartedly agree with you about the Drunk-tank analogy. I also have zero experience when it comes to commenting. This is the only place I do, or really ever have. It is a subject central to my life, and I enjoy all the topics that appear throughout the week.

            I also agree that comment boards do seem to be arenas for people to get together to do battle. Sparing in any way they can. There are so many faceless trolls out in the web weird world. So I assumed most of the commenters were much the same. I was pleasantly surprised to find (on here) the majority are serious and interesting. There have been only a few crazy trolls since early on. And I believe most of them have been the same person or same couple people just using different names or accounts.

            I do find it fascinating the voice people choose to use when creating fiction, or blogging, or commenting. I find it to be very different. Their voice on Facebook is totally different from them putting out their own Blog, which is different from commenting on a site like this, which then is VERY different from writing their own creative Fictional work. Fascinating.

            I have different voices I use when writing different kinds of scripts. A Comedy uses a different voice then a Horror story, which is very different from an Action or Espionage Thriller. I am not sure if others do that too, or not.

            Again, thanks for responding and giving me some insight about why you waited and then decided to post.
            Your participation is awesome round here.

    • Jaco

      I would bet that a lot of the one time guest posters with the dumb names are, for the most part, the same dumb people.

      Been following this site (and commenting) a lot longer than most – believe me – you see all sorts.

      • Midnight Luck

        I would agree. I have been following since a bit after its inception. I have seen all sorts as well.

        My feeling was the same, that the guests are many of the same people and just give themselves different names at different times.