The screenplay format – when pointless obsession takes hold

I can’t bear widows. They are the bane of my life. Not the black-clad in-mourning type, but the single-word-on-a-line type. They have the power to ruin an otherwise productive writing session – and induce hours of pointless, seemingly-endless fiddling, taking me from creative eagerness to despair with just one word. One word on a line. On its own. Argh.

Screenplay example
Oh, the horror

I’m not sure if the screenplay format was originally designed to send pedants into a howling rage, but that’s often what happens to me. Time and time again.

Yes, I know it’s insane

For the uninitiated – how I envy you – a widow is a single word on a line at the end of a paragraph. I can’t count the number of times I’ve sat down to write or edit a script, and have found myself sucked into a pointless vortex of trying to get a piece of action all on one line. Once I have widow fever, I can’t rest until I’ve resolved it.

I’m ashamed to admit I’ve even done it with dialogue on occasion. Rather than having a zinging piece of speech in a script, I would often rather it fit neatly in lines with no widows. Ridiculous. Imagine the sparkling lines of All About Eve if I’d got my insanely OCD hands on them when I have widow fever.

A widow in a screenplay

Yes, I know there are bigger things to worry about

I’ve worked extensively as a journalist and copywriter, so part of my background is in preparing copy for print. That means nice, neat columns in a magazine, or online, without any world overhangs. A widow used to mean a sound beating (or near enough) by an irate editor. Now with screenplays, there is no editor. The irate editor is me. Ruthlessly hunting widows and eliminating them.

Widow in screenplay

In my writing workshop group, I find myself judging writers harshly if they have a widow in their script, and for that I can only apologise. I even judge produced scripts on the basis of widows. All of the examples in this post are from garlanded, award-winning scripts. Widows didn’t bother them. No siree.

A perfect paragraph of action in a screenplay.
Ahh, that’s better. Perfect.

As part of my therapy to try and get over this ridiculous obsession, I’ve decided I have to just have to embrace the problem, and run towards widows with open arms. I’m just going to leave a word on a line on its own, and see how long it takes before I

I’ll just leave that there.
*walks away, whistling, pretending it’s not killing me*

“The Honourable Mrs Maxwell-Stuart in Mourning” by lisby1 is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0


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