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The Picture of Jonathan Laslow by James McCormick - Short, Murder, Suspense - A bankrupt mill owner turns to a rich friend for help but soon wishes he hadn’t when he learns the terrible price he must pay in return. 16 pages - pdf, format
Hi James, you always have to be cognoscente of how important a first impression is. You start off with a title page that's not filled in, go into an actual title page, then label the first page of your script Page 2. Not good, my friend!
When I read the title, I said to myself, if I get any hints that this is another Picture of Dorian Gray, I'm going to stop, and sure enough, on Page 1, there it was. I know that's unfair, and maybe your story goes somewhere completely different, but I'm out.
Your opening page is so dense with description and filled with "we see this and that".
The writing itself is not bad and I hope you get some feedback, but remember, you have to give to get around these parts.
To ski or not to ski...that's not even a question.
Like Jeff, The Picture of Dorian Grey was the first thing that sprang to mind when I saw the title.
It's not a bad little short - it actually reads like a pretty good OWC (one week competition) entry.
I'm confused about what period we are in? The house is described as Georgian (1714 - 1830) and the dialouge has a period feel, then there is the business with the mill owner - yet you have a revolver, which wasn't made by Colt until 1836.
Perhaps a SUPER to clarify the time period.
The hooded figure setup is a little too obvious and has no real impact or gravity as there are no stakes that lead up to this. Perhaps this needs to be setup at the start.
I realise now I posted an older file and not the final version (I don't know why but when I convert final draft into PDF it always sticks a pesky blank title page in there, I have to convert final draft to RTF before saving it in PDF to get around this.
Blue, could I ask- would you always avoid using "we hear" and "we see?"
Eoin, your comments are so helpful - can't thank you enough - I'll take on board what you said and make some revisions.
James, I'm Jeff. Screen name is Dreamscale. "Blue" is simply a color associated with the number of posts I have in here.
Personally, yeah, I wold always avoid we see and we hear. You know why? If it's onscreen, and "we're watching, we'll see it. We'll also hear whatever comes out of the speakers. It's a waste of words and it takes readers out of your story because it reminds that it's a screenplay.
Many Pro writers continue to use these wasted words, but that doesn't mean you or anyone else should.
The very best scripts are written in a way that readers will literally see everything taking place on a tiny movie screen in their head. That's what you want to strive for.
Hope this makes sense. Take care and best of luck, bro.
To ski or not to ski...that's not even a question.
Murder and Suspense are one of my favorite genres so I thought I'd take a look.
Below are my notes as I was reading your script, appended by general thoughts.
"We’re in a plush, Georgian style study, crammed with exquisite examples of fine art."
The slug already tells us it's a study. So reword.
"An old style gramophone stands proudly in one corner."
Why are you personifying a non-living object in a screenplay? This is odd and should only be used in very rare circumstance, imo. It doesn't work for me here.
"expensively dressed in a tailored suit"
You could reword this. I would imagine if he's expensively dressed then he's more or less wearing a tailored suit, and vice versa. So this sounds redundant to me.
"holds an antique, ivory phone to an ear."
So on one hand, if this is a period piece then the word "antique" wouldn't fit here. Why not just say phone? Or describe the phone more properly? Scratch that. Why not give us an idea of the setting: time and place. You make me have to guess it, and if I had to, I'd say it was around the 1930s.
"for a pack of cigarettes. They’re next to"
So first you refer to "a pack of cigarettes" (a singular noun) then you use "they" in the next sentence to refer to the cigarettes themselves. Consistency is very important.
"A smile plays across his lean, aquiline features."
Your verb "plays" is poetic rather than visual. Rises, lifts, bends, grows, etc. are much better imo. So far I'm not very pleased with your word choice, I must be honest.
"distorted by an untalented hand."
How can a director possibly get "untalented hand" across to the audience? Again, word choice.
"it an unhealthy, ghoulish pallor;"
Again, word choice on "unhealthy".
The feel in the beginning, the first page that is, gives me the impression of something like an Agatha Christie story.
"It looks like something squeezed out badly from a tube of toothpaste. "
I have no idea what you're talking about.
Okay, so I'm going to stop because you have a lot of purple prose. Adjectives that are unnecessary, sometimes adverbs too. You write your action lines in a overly poetic way and so it makes your writing very ambiguous. So I'd suggest you get acquainted with more screenplays and study the language, verbs, phrasal verbs, and verb/adverb combinations in particular.
Some examples to back up my claims:
"Laslow puts on his most sympathetic expression."
Over a thousand ways for the director to understand this, multiplied by another thousand ways the actor could play this. And you'll end up frustrating them both because they both "see it" differently. Get what I mean?
"He clasps the drink between his hands, an unconscious gesture of pleading"
"Laslow refills his guest’s glass, another generous measure"
"The question takes his guest by surprise." This can be reduced to a parenthetical on Edward: (surprised).
"For the briefest of moments, Laslow’s face is cold, predatory then a good humored smile lights it up again."
"His guest reads the title." Unnecessary.
"Laslow regards the book affectionately"
"It’s almost a command." This is not even action. It's a modifier.
I couldn't really get anything story wise because of your distracting writing. I might take a look at it again if you happen to rework it, and it does need work. Some of the dialogue was okay but it appeared way too slow paced for me. So I don't know.
As a person who has not yet read The Picture of Dorian Gray, this was a very captivating story. Definitely read like a period piece, and I would agree with the commenters above, maybe indicate what period we are in.
Otherwise it was a very nice read...very twisted. I am a fan of such stories. Keep it up, bud