Nothing is clear or obvious

Words like “clearly” and “obviously” in action and description lines work against script clarity. They are an assumption that something should be understood without specifying how it could be.

Take these examples:

  • The room is obviously a pediatric dentist’s office.
  • Margaret is obviously interested in what Dana is saying.
  • This exchange clearly took place in his imagination.

These are all missed opportunities.

In the first, the slug line can take care of informing the reader of what location we’re in, making the sentence wasted text. Additionally, details about the room could help to show what makes it a pediatric dentist’s office, and those items could be used to strengthen our understanding of how being in this location relates to the larger plot. If our protagonist is 12 1/2 years old, sitting in a waiting room looking at a poster of a child with a big grin and missing teeth while Nick Jr. plays in the background, that suggests a conflict.

Or in the second, how it’s essentially a sentence telling us that Margaret is listening to Dana. The details of how we would understand she’s interested in the conversation while watching the finished film could be used in place. Margaret’s body language or her end of the conversation would be stronger ways to help the reader intuit Margaret’s interest.

The third is something of a double whammy. It’s in past tense, which is a different red flag in that this particular instance sends the reader looking back over what they just read instead of continuing to move their eye down the page. But, for the purposes of looking at the use of “clearly,” this line misses out on the chance to establish the cues and rhythms that would come from a story where fantasy and imagination play a part. There are any number of ways to set a dream or fantasy sequence apart from reality (consider the vast difference between how Scrubs and Inception handle this concept).

We are not inside your head. Everything the reader understands about your story comes from the page. You must convey, specifically, every element you want to make sure that we understand.

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