Eric Heisserer (A Nightmare on Elm Street, Final Destination 5, The Thing, Hours, Story of Your Life) is probably the Hollywood screenwriter most willing to go online and provide a Twitter rant on a specific subject related to the craft. Writer Tim Wainwright hosts a blog and has been posting Eric’s rants there for the last year or so.
After several GITS readers asked me about archiving screenwriting Twitter rants so they wouldn’t get lost down the online rabbit hole, I reached out to both Eric and Tim about hosting some of Eric’s previous rants here. They both thought that was a swell idea.
Today: Eric’s February 2014 Twitter rant on “Minimalist Screenwriting Style”:
All right my Twitter buddies, I wanna talk about a certain style of screenwriting. It will likely lead to today’s challenge.
I’ve seen a rise in a certain style of writing in the past few months. Half of the scripts I’ve seen use the “haiku” narrative style. By that I mean the extremely terse Walter Hill form of writing. Soft returns, loads of white space.
First off: Yay! Congrats to all of you swinging for this minimalist style. It’s incredibly hard to pull off. So let’s talk about pitfalls.
The Walter Hill minimalist style isn’t merely a matter of omission. You can’t simply cut out a ton of action and format the rest as a poem. Every choice must be a conscious one. We need to know who the characters are in a scene. What things look like. Details. Don’t be vague.
I’ve read scripts recently where the only description was character action, i.e. “Joe runs.” This is too minimal; non-cinematic.
Likewise, there should be reason why and when you choose a soft return. Usually that choice should be directorial in motive. Suggest a new shot with the new line. Or a movement within the shot to catch a detail. Make it a cinematic choice.
So the Tuesday Challenge is this: Try out the minimalist style for five pages with these constraints: 1) With each new location/room, pick three details in the location to describe at the head of the scene. Shine a light on three sensory tidbits (at least 2 visual). 2) When you introduce a character pick three words to describe them. Make 1 physical, 1 psychological, 1 metaphoric.
The Walter Hill style isn’t about omitting descriptive detail, but rather paring it down to poetics. Find the most powerful word and use it.
Do not write it like a kid in a dark room with a flashlight, waving it around and making light saber noises. Point it at the dead body.
The link to Tim’s blog post for this rant is here.
Eric has put together a book that arose from his Twitter exchanges: “150 Screenwriting Challenges” which is available for Kindle here.
Each day this week, I will be posting one of Eric’s Twitter rants via Tim’s blog.
You may see all of the Screenwriting Twitter Rants archived on the site here.
Thanks, Eric, for taking the time to share your insights with the online screenwriting community.
Thanks, Tim, for making the effort to aggregate Eric’s Twitter rants.