Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Evolution of a Line


I'm still learning to exercise economy of words.

I'm working on the second draft of Pin-Up Girls, and I observed myself in the process of editing. It made me chuckle when this happened, and I'd like to share it with you:

Scotty, a WWII vet, has returned home to the burlesque club where he played trumpet before the war. As he sits backstage, eating cold dumplings, he says:
SCOTTY
Yeah. I remember. Jesus. Why does it feel like I've been gone for a lifetime? Why does everything look so different?

Yeah. Clunk. What the hell was I thinking? Here's the first edit I made:
SCOTTY
Yeah. I remember. Jesus. Why does it feel like I've been gone for a lifetime?

"Why does everything look so different" is redundant and a bit hackneyed. Okay, it's extremely hackneyed. No one talks like that.

Not done editing:
SCOTTY
Yeah. I remember. Jesus. I've been gone a lifetime.

Goodbye passive voice! Hello active. We don't need to be told how he thinks he feels. That's what the line did before. It said "I think I feel like it's been a lifetime." No one talks like that who isn't being interviewed by Oprah or somesuch. After this edit the line gives us a peek inside his universe, how he views things. This is good.

There is just one more thing I'd like to do:
SCOTTY
Yeah. I remember.
(pause)
Jesus. I've been gone a lifetime.

The parenthetical "pause" is just music notation. It's a "rest" if you will, telling the actor that the gears are shifting, and "Some sort of psychological change goes here."

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