When you have a story that’s full of details and mystery, it’s easy to accidentally repeat yourself in dialogue or in action sequences. Every writer does this. However, only great screenwriters catch themselves during the editing process and remove repetitive information. If you’re writing a screenplay, even one with a large cast, make sure you never repeat vital information more than absolutely necessary. Doing so will pull audience members out of the story.
Repeating yourself is essential to establish certain qualities of a story and a character. However, repetition must be carefully carried out. If you find yourself at a loss in regards to how and when to repeat information, follow this professionally written guide.
Once May Actually Be Enough
Let’s say you’re writing a story about a woman who works as a grocery store cashier. This fact is made evident at the beginning of the film when we see her actually working. However, 10 minutes into the script the character begins explaining her job, or worse, her friends and family continually ask her how her job “at the store” is going. While this may seem normal or acceptable, the audience is already fully aware of her career choice. Instead of repeating this information throughout the film, find different ways to approach the subject. For example, instead of her friends asking her how her day is going at the store, have the actual character begin talking about her dreams and aspirations outside of the Piggly Wiggly.
It’s important to establish the time, location and current emotional state of your characters; however, this information should only be said once. If you feel that these tidbits of info are being lost, take a look at how the scenes are constructed. Don’t ever repeat common knowledge unless it’s absolutely necessary.
This is one of my professional pet-peeves. We all have certain greetings we do for very specific people. While in real life we may use these greetings every time, life in a screenplay is much different. If a character always says, “Hey girl!” whenever their friend enters a scene, it looses its humor and interest. Even though in real life this would be acceptable because you rarely see your friend during a 24-hour period, in the scope of a film we’re seeing multiple days, months or years represented in less than two hours. Repetitive salutations always come across as boring and easy – two qualities that guarantee your movie will never be made.