The Problem with Parentheticals

I know you’ve all been on the edge of your seats wondering what other script I’m bringing to the CineStory writer’s retreat, so here’s the update: I’ve decided to proffer AUNT MOLLY’S MELTDOWN for serious inspection and reflection. (Yes, yes, you can once again enjoy a peaceful slumber at night now that you know my decision.)  Considering the two sets of opposing feedback I received on the script a few weeks ago, I figure it will be helpful to get an expert opinion on what steps might be taken to create a more uniform reaction among readers (preferably of the “I love it!” variety) without turning the script into another bland, by-the-numbers romantic comedy.  What I love about Molly is that she is a flawed, not-always-likable character…and I want to keep her that way.

Imperfect People

Since I had to turn in the script to CineStory in advance of the retreat, I decided to give it another thorough review to get it reader-ready.  As you may recall in my 8/9 post, I recently received two sets of notes from a successful production company here in Los Angeles.  Reader #1 was not as enamored with AUNT MOLLY’S MELTDOWN as Reader #2 seemed to be.  Some notable excerpts: Reader #1 – “…the writing rests its weight pretty heavily on some bad habits…”; Reader #2 – ““Aunt Mollys Meltdown” is a very enjoyable script with strong characters and witty dialogue.”

Overall, both sets of feedback were detailed and specific, clearly indicating that each reader gave AUNT MOLLY’S MELTDOWN a comprehensive analysis.  And while Reader #1 was tough, he was also right about a lot of things. (Yes, I know for certain Reader #1 is a “he” because the production company inexplicably included the names of both readers.  Lucky for them I’m not a vengeful writer-type, huh?)

One area that seemed to be particularly annoying to Reader #1 was my formatting:

“There are also a large number of formatting issues.  This includes a bizarre tendency to indicate the subject of referral in the parentheticals of dialogue.  For example, “(re: the coat)” when the character is talking about an in-scene coat, despite the dialogue itself making the subject perfectly clear. This happens quite often.  Speaking of parentheticals, there is an incredibly large amount of actions placed in parentheticals.  There is a slight tendency towards armchair directing through camera descriptions.”

Well, Reader #1 is absolutely right.  I pored over the script, ready to eliminate any and all superfluous parentheticals and acting directions, and eliminate I did.  THREE PAGES WORTH!!!  Good God, I had no idea I fancied myself to be such a Deirdre Lynn Coppola.  I really do try to keep my screenwriting as economical and efficient as possible, but there are times when I can’t seem to help myself in guiding the way I think a line should be delivered.  Or I’m overly specific regarding “who” is on the receiving end of a particular line of dialogue.  Good writing is clear writing and too many parentheticals muddy the cause and bog down the read.  The exercise with AUNT MOLLY’S MELTDOWN reminded me that there are always areas where I can improve and I have to stay open to the critiques that come my way.

Let’s leave this to the professionals, shall we?

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