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Wednesday, September 3, 2008

PACHEW! Sounds in Your Script

Is it okay to write sounds into your script? You know - stuff like BANG! RRRIPP! POW!

Yes, please. It makes the read a lot more fun. And it's fun to do. Your character might throw a rock into a lake with SPLASH or a soft plunk. The faucet might drrrip. DRIP DRIP DRIP. The door can open with a creak. And yeah, italics are okay once in awhile.

I have a client right now who is just the king of great sound effects. The genre of his script is such that sound effects are an important part of this story and man, does he do it well. On page one, our hero arrives in a cloud of dust in the middle ofa crowd with a BAWOOMPH! Later, bullets fly by with a SCHWIZZ! Laser guns fire PACHEW PACHEW! The ring of a phone breaks the silence with a BAAAA RING! This is not all on page or even on every page. Just here and there when the moment calls for it.

Recently, I read a script in which a rock flies through a glass window with a SPLAT! And I thought - splat? Wouldn't that go CRASH! or SHATTER! or CRACK ? And it really bothered me because I had to backtrack to see if I had read the action line wrong, if perhaps an egg had hit the window, or spit or bird poop. No - it was a rock. Rocks don't make glass go SPLAT, they just don't.

So be careful that indicating the sound gets you the cinematic effect you want, not confusion.

Experienced screenwriters know that a successful read of your script should immerse the reader in the simulated experience of seeing the movie. Choosing to write a sound effect here and there adds to the effing entertainingness of your pages.

Like anything, don't overdo sounds to the point that it's annoying. Don't use it as a crutch, use it for effect. Judiciously used, it's actually very fun and adds a lot of ZIP! to your script.

Remember, your script is essentially a seduction. You want the reader to become totally immersed in your story. Use absolutely everything at your disposal - use every one of your wiles. And if a well-placed FWAP! or BOOOOSH! adds to the experience of the moment in a scene, by all means go for it.

There are a lot of qualities that equal a PASS writer, but being boring is probably number one. Don't tempt the reader to hurl your script across the room with a THUD.

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Belzecue said...


Those sound on-the-nose to me (it's a fine line), but I do like my SFXs.

The first one I read that leapt off the page and demonstrated how good it can be when you get the right action snippet matched with the right onomatopoeia was...


Something like that. Shotgun reloading. From Cameron's Terminator 2 screenplay. I swear I could feel the walls shake when I read those action lines :-)

PJ McIlvaine said...