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Jane Espenson gives insight into a tiny bit of Joss Whedon screenwriting

Monday 6 March 2006, by Webmaster

03/05/2006: Another Neat Trick. And Bunnies on a Peanut.

I had Indonesian food with a friend the other day. You remember the lunch entry. There was much interesting conversation and laughter and a really gorgeous dessert. This was one of those little restaurants that also has a small selection of imported grocery items for sale. I bought myself a bag of garlic-and-tapioca-coated peanuts and they’re mighty good. I’m eating them now and enjoying the packaging very much. You should see this logo. It seems to be two Easter bunnies astride a swimming peanut that is arching out of the water like a breaching whale, or maybe like a speedboat. Seriously. They’re certainly bunnies, and each is holding a basket. And that peanut that they’re on is almost completely out of the water. Two small fish jump alongside and a pine forest is arrayed behind the whole scene. And there’s a big setting sun, too. Wow. That’s one hard-working logo. Words are not adequate.

But when you’re writing a spec script, all you have are words. And you need to deploy them with maximum efficiency. Here’s another neat little trick that can help you. This is from Joss’s script for the Firefly episode called "Objects in Space." Jayne has been complaining about River, who recently came at him with a butcher’s knife. Zoe defends River to Mal:

ZOE Sir, I know she’s unpredictable. But I don’t think she’d harm anyone.

JAYNE ("Hellooo...") Butcher’s knife.

Joss has done a beautifully efficient thing here. The one word "Hellooo" in the parenthetical does the work of a much longer explanation. Even the longer alternative "pointing out the obvious" doesn’t really get the job done, since it doesn’t necessarily convey that distinct exasperated tone of voice that "Hellooo" does.

By the way, the quote most often used in this way is probably "Yeah, right," since sarcasm is needed so often.

Keep in mind that this is not a very commonly employed technique. This is the only time Joss uses a quote inside a parenthetical in this whole script, and a quick look through my own scripts didn’t reveal ANY, although I know I have used it on occasion. So don’t go looking through your spec for places to use this. But if you find yourself struggling to efficiently convey in a parenthetical the tone you need, then this might be the answer.

Maybe you thought scriptwriting would be all about learning lots of rules. But look at how many of the really expressive ways of doing it are all about creative variations on the standard ways of doing things! Don’t you just love that?

Lunch: Sashimi with a nice little serving of warm rice.