Spec scripts ordinarily undergo a tremendous amount of development prior to being put into the market or presented to any buyers. As the writer, you are personally responsible for most of that development, much of it before anyone other than your private circle ever sees your material. Developing a screenplay usually takes the form of outlining, writing and rewriting. As you near the end of the process, once the story itself is in good shape, you will want to make a number of focused passes, looking at different aspects of the story (e.g. clarity of action, humor, a particular character’s dialogue). Different writing gurus offer different “must do” passes. For me, it largely depends on what the story requires.
Nevertheless, there is one pass I always save for last. No matter how hard I’ve worked on the script, there is always room for this one. It is the “put the dogs out” pass. I go through the script and look at every line that is direct, literal and unimaginative. Instead of rewriting the line, I try throwing it out. Yes, just yank it right out of the screenplay and see what’s left. You may think you need those lines, but chances are, you don’t. Nine times out of ten, the scene tightens up, more of the story is moved into subtext (where it belongs), the remaining dialogue feels more interesting and more compressed, and the story gets shorter – always a good thing.
To summarize, on the last pass, put the dogs out – all the dogs. Your script will thank you for it.
11 thoughts on “PUT THE DOGS OUT”
yes, agree. often, on any given page, there is at least one line that can be cut (and not replaced with anything). i don’t try this until very late in the rewrite/polish process, though.
throw it out
I’m all for it. Count me in as a big fan of “less is more” or more specifically “write more with less”.
A crucial step, great way to put it. I just wrote a cable movie that needed to go from 117 pages to 92 in a week. I had to put out the dogs, some cats, several pieces of furniture and a guy named ‘Evan’.
Makes sense… I normally do that on my first pass because those lines of dialogue and description seem to JUMP right out at me BEGGING for either an edit or deletion.
Great advice – although there seems to need to be an addendum that advises on how to spot ‘dogs’… those lines/words that are direct, literal and unimaginative. It’s such a subjective thing, that which is imaginative vs. unimaginative.
Addendum: the more literal, the more likely it is a dog.
BILL: “What are you doing here?”
ANNA: “I came to see you.”
ANNA: “I love you.”
Bill stares at her, surprised. They fall together into a passionate kiss.
Take out the dogs and you have:
BILL: “What are you doing here?”
Anna blushes. Bill stares at her, surprised. They fall together into a passionate kiss.
There’s a lot of power in what is not said.
Thanks a lot. I was just thinking about my first 12 pages of my script which is just full of dialogue in a store and tho I felt it reads very fast and entertaining it still seemed a bit too much. I just cut everything out and see how it works.
Unfortunately I may have put the entire pound out, not just a few rogue puppies. I seem to have left the latch unlocked and THE END seems to have escaped
Nice. I’ve come to call this the “strip-tease” pass. See how much I can remove and still be excited.
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