23. In a great script, nothing is wasted
In a great script, nothing is wasted.
When I first began writing for TV, I had these seven little words written on cards all around my house. I looked at this sentence over and over again… while I was washing the dishes and while I brushed my teeth. I read it until it became my mantra and made it nearly impossible for me to write a sentence or line of dialogue without asking myself, “What am I trying to say?” or “How does this move the story forward?” or “Why is this important to my story?”.
Producers have often told me that my scripts really move and that my scripts hook people and keep them hooked. In fact one of the best compliments I’ve ever received was when we were in post-production on the pilot for Dead Gorgeous. I was in the edit suite working with a truly talented editor, and at one point he turned his chair around and said, “I hate you”. I was really surprised since we had such a great working relationship. But then he smiled and added, “You have left me nothing I can cut!”
I have tried to remember this important lesson over the many years of my career and continue to apply it to every part of my work. Whether you’re writing a ten-minute children’s script or a two-hour feature film, my advice to you is to cut the fluff and use every action and every line of dialogue to say something. As you write, ask yourself questions such as, "Does this move the story forward?", "Does this reveal something about this character?", "Does this build emotion?", "Does this explore theme?" Learn to make the cut before an editor does, and your scripts will instantly improve.
In a great script nothing is wasted. Write these words on little cards and place them around your house. Read them until it becomes your mantra. I promise you, you’ll be glad you did!