Just the Facts, Ma’am by Joe Ochman

Unless you’ve gathered the money and wherewithal to turn your wonderful screenplay into the film you dream of all by yourself, utterly unhindered by outside powers, you’re probably writing with that idea that it will be read by someone, or many ones, before it comes to glorious life on the silver screen.

So, that being the case, who is the single most important character in your script, bar none – no matter what the genre or style? The leading man or woman? The love interest? The bad guy? The lovably surly raccoon?

Nope. It’s the Narrator. The Voice of the Stage Directions. The Guide you write that seeps inside the head of the reader and propels that reader through your filmic journey in the speediest, most entertaining way possible.

Your stage directions have to be a character. And not just any character. They have to be Joe Friday.

Joe Friday, of course, was the terse cop played by Jack Webb in Dragnet, a series that started on radio in 1946, ran on TV from 1952-59, and again from 1967-70. Joe’s “just the facts, ma’am” approach to getting whatever info he needed to move his investigation to its swift conclusion became legend.

Because he got to the point. Never wasted a word.

Now, as an actor, I’ve read stage directions for table reads countless times (one just showed up on youtube – go figure!). I know from experience you have to keep things moving or the read draaaaaaags.

The Narrator controls this.

It’s the same on the page. Gotta keep it moving. Something a guy like me, with a florid pen and a loquacious tongue, has had to learn and relearn as my writing progresses.  Even when I think I’ve got it down to the fewest words necessary to tell the story, I still get called on it.

So nowadays, I try to channel Joe Friday. It doesn’t have to be stone-faced flat-toned Joe Friday. My Narrator can smile or scare or scurry or strike however the story demands. Preferably in easy-to-read, four line or less blocks (like this blog). The easier to read, the more your reader will want to.

Your Narrator can and should be your personal version of Joe Friday too. Just as long as it’s “just the facts, ma’am.”

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