MONDAY'S SCRIPT TIP:

SCRIPT SPACKLE


A "plot hole" is when a series of events doesn't make sense. When one event CAN NOT lead to the next.

Unfortunately, the usual solution is to patch it with a liberal coat of "script spackle": A scene which plugs the hole using coincidence or fancy footwork on the part of the writer. Instead of solving the story problem, they've covered the hole and hope nobody notices. The writer tries to solve a script problem by grafting something on, rather than going back to the central concept of the script and solving the actual problem. "Script spackle" covers the crack, but hasn't solved the foundation problems. That crack is still there, under the spackle. I've seen screenplays with more script spackle than script! This is solving a problem from the outside in, instead of from the inside out.

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DON'T SAY A WORD is a script that seems to be mostly spackle.

It is based on a novel by Andrew Klavan, and I'm guessing that all of the problems come from the novel's wacky plotting. Novels are a different animal than a screenplay. A different experience for the audience. You may not noticed some strange plotting or script spackle or inconsistency when you have a big book that you read over a period of days, and may not remember the details from one scene when reading another days later. Books are also usually told in *chapters*, and read in chapters. So you are focused on what happens in *this chapter* and not as cognisant of the story as a whole. But when you condense that book down to a 110 page script, all of the plotting flaws and script spackle become obvious. This is why adapting a novel is often more difficult than writing an original screenplay - the story that works good enough for the book may not work at all when turned into a script. You often have to start from scratch with the concept and create a version of the story that works on screen. You need to streamline the story and remove pointless subplots and characters, focus on a central conflict, and remove any structural or story problems.

That didn't seem to happen in DON'T SAY A WORD.

The story: Brittany Murphy knows a certain piece of information that mad-dog killer Sean Bean wants to know. To escape from Bean, Brittany goes crazy and cuts up her boyfriend so that she'll be committed to the maximum security wing of New York's Hospital for the criminally insane. No way Bean can get to her, there. So Bean kidnaps psychiatrist Michael Douglas' daughter - the ransom: get into the maximum security wing of the asylum and get the information from Brittany by 5pm or they'll kill his daughter.

Douglas breaks into fellow psychiatrist Oliver Platt's office, reads his files on Brittany, then goes through all of those locked doors to Brittany's cell then begins to "shrink against time". He tries to break through to her - and get the information Bean wants.

Bean hears every word said. He planted a bug in the maximum security cell to make sure Douglas doesn't hold out on him.

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Wait a minute! If Bean can't get past all the security to get to Brittany, how did her get the bug into the cell? That doesn't make any sense. Which is where the script spackle comes in...

It seems that Oliver Platt's girlfriend was kidnapped by Bean. Platt planted the bug.

Wait a minute! If Bean controlled psychiatrist Platt, why not have Platt get the information from Brittany?

More script spackle! To plug this plot hole they have Platt tell Douglas that he's the best shrink in New York earlier in the film. See, Platt may be in charge of the hospital for the criminally insane, but he's just not as good as Douglas in dealing with the criminally insane. Why they would hire Platt when he's incompetent is a plot hole that is never plugged.

They also never plug an obvious plot hole - if Bean controls Platt, why not have Platt bring Brittany out of the safety of the maximum security wing of the hospital? Later Douglas just walks her out on a "field trip". Why didn't Bean just have Platt do the same thing?

The way to solve a plot hole problem is NOT to go back and plug it with script spackle, but to find the reason the plot hole exists in the first place and solve that problem. Platt and Douglas are almost the same character - having both of them in the film is redundant. Instead why not just combine the characters into one - Douglas. Now about that bug in Brittany's room? Why not just get rid of it completely. It doesn't make any sense. Problem solved! Find the ROOT of the problem and solve it, don't try to cover up the problem with script spackle. The problems always show through... and weaken your script. DON'T SAY A WORD dissipates any power it might have by splitting the story between Douglas and Platt and Jennifer Esposito - two of them exist only to solve plot problems that should have been FIXED instead of covered over.

Of course, nothing can explain why Bean would kill a dozen people, kidnap a child, spend ten years in jail for murder, and get stabbed and shot at... all for a jewel he'll end up fencing for a tenth of it's value. Heck - he could have taken a day job for those ten years he spent in slam and made more money!

Even though DON'T SAY A WORD began as a novel, and the plot holes and script spackle may have come from the book and just not repaired when the screenwriters adapted it, I have seen many original scripts with plenty of script spackle covering the plot holes... and script spackle seems to be a common suggestion in development meetings. If you find a plot hole in your screenplay, going back and adding a line or scene to cover the hole is *not* the solution. Instead you really need to solve the problem at its root, and that may require a major rewrite. Yes, that is a lot of work. Yes, that requires some analytical skills on your part. Yes, screenwriting is often about solving problems. Just hiding the problems never works! All of those problems you thought you covered up, show on screen!

Don't patch your story with script spackle, *repair* the story by finding the root problem and fixing that.


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Most screenplays are about a 50/50 split between dialogue and description - which means your description is just as important as your dialogue. It just gets less press because the audience never sees it, the same reason why screenwriters get less press than movie stars. But your story will never get to the audience until readers and development executives read your script... so it is a very important factor. Until the movie is made the screenplay is the movie and must be just as exciting as the movie. So how do you make your screenplay exciting to read? Description is important in a novel as well, and the “audience” does read it... how do we write riveting description?

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