On the nose? They’ll punch yer lights out

If you are so unsubtle as to mention fighting yer demons, or his, or hers, or theirs. Screenwriters, don’t, please. Not unless you are strictly within a supernatural, vampire or fantasy genre, and safely enclosed in the charmed circle of salt.

As a long form fiction writer trying to learn screenwriting, I feel aggrieved when writers pen log lines and more, which include this ghoul-conjuring phrase.

In my humble experience, when submitting to a literary agent, any self-respecting novelist (or even a desperate one, dare I say) will unleash said agent’s inner Hound-of-the-Baskervilles with this fiendish phrase. It’s a cliché, but you guys are pro and in the kernel of your vampire-sucked hearts, you know it.

Fighting yer demons, but not in so many words

Earlier this year I paid good money to see a fantasy movie, when the protagonist had to deliver a fateful line about “my brother fighting his demons.” At this point, I walked out. I never knew how the protagonist resolved his problem and I didn’t care. Admittedly, character issues had been building throughout the story, but once I knew the demon cliché was at the heart of it, I lost interest. Why? Because novelists are not allowed to deal with demons in such an obvious and unsubtle manner. I’m not allowed to do it, neither are you. This particular cliché will get an unsigned novelist thrown out of agency-representation heaven before he’s even knocked on the pearly gates, so screenwriters should not get away with it either.

Woe betide you (if it hasn’t already), if you squander 3 of your 25-word limit on these fateful three in your log line. I understand the stress of writing against the studio clock (aka time bomb) but try to avoid the creaky, well-worn and trodden, please.

Characters may speak in cliché

Strictly speaking, the character uttered the phrase about the unworldly unmentionables, not the writer. Characters may speak in clichés; it can be a distinctive feature. The writer would probably supply this argument and I cannot reasonably refute it.

It’s me. I have a thing about the phrase “fighting yer demons”, besides which, this post turned out to be fun. Rant over. I feel better now (not a cliché: writers never feel better about anything). Always remember, whatever happens, it’s the writers fault. It’s a devil of an unfair problem, but that’s a screenwriter’s lot. Happy demon-slaying.

Originally published November 2015

Credits: Image by Microsoft Clip Art