Is This THE Most Common Rookie TV Writing Mistake?

Although TV and film comedy writer-producer/playwright/baseball announcer extraordinaire Ken Levine’s funny and perceptive blog posts often show up in TVWriter™’s Writing & Showbiz NewsFeed, we haven’t featured him on this site for awhile.

But this one is just too, too, too right on important to let slip by:

A Common Rookie Writing Mistake
by Ken Levine

EXT. HOUSE — DAY

TWO DETECTIVES APPROACH A HOUSE. THEY RING THE BELL. THEY WAIT A MOMENT UNTIL A WOMAN ANSWERS.

WOMAN: Yes?

DETECTIVE 1: Are you Mrs. Hanson?

WOMAN: Yes. What’s this about?

DETECTIVE 1: I’m Detective Green. This is Detective Brown. We’re from the LAPD.

WOMAN: Oh.  Really?

DETECTIVE 1: Yes, ma’am.

WOMAN: Well… can I see some ID?

DETECTIVE 2: Yes, ma’am.

They both root around their pockets and pull out ID. She scans it.

WOMAN: Okay… I suppose.

DETECTIVE 2: You have a daughter named Mindy?

WOMAN: Yes.

DETECTIVE 1: Is she home?

WOMAN: No. What is this about?

DETECTIVE 2: You’re aware that a student was killed Wednesday night at the Westfield Mall?

WOMAN: Yes, it was horrible.

DETECTIVE 1: A tragedy, yes’ ma’am.

WOMAN: But what does Mindy have to do with it?

DETECTIVE 2: We think she might have a notebook that the victim gave her that might shed some light on just who did this.

WOMAN: Oh my.

DETECTIVE 1: Do you mind if we come in and take a look?

WOMAN: Now?

DETECTIVE 2: Yes, ma’am.

WOMAN:  Well, Mindy’s not home.

DETECTIVE 1:  That’s okay. Can we come in?

WOMAN: I don’t know.  Do you have a warrant?

DETECTIVE 1: No, but your daughter is not a suspect. This is just a piece of evidence that might help us solve the puzzle.

WOMAN: Still… I… Maybe I should call my lawyer.

DETECTIVE 2: Seriously, we just want to see if this notebook exists.

WOMAN: Let me call Mindy.

DETECTIVE 2: Fine.

THE WOMAN GOES BACK IN THE HOUSE. THERE’S A MOMENT AND FINALLY SHE RETURNS WITH HER CELLPHONE. SHE PUNCHES IN THE NUMBER. SEVERAL BEATS, THEN:

WOMAN: Mindy, this is Mom. There are two detectives here wanting to go through your room to see if you have a notebook belonging to that boy who was killed at the mall? (long beat, to Detectives) She says she doesn’t have it.

DETECTIVE 1: We just want to take a look.

DETECTIVE 2: Is there anything she’s hiding that she doesn’t want us to see?

WOMAN: (on phone) Mindy, they said is there anything you’re hiding that you don’t want them to see? (beat, to Detectives) No.

DETECTIVE 2: Then can we just look around?

WOMAN: (on phone) Then can they just look around? (long beat, to Detectives) Okay.

DETECTIVE 2: Thank you.

WOMAN: (on phone) Okay, Mindy. I’ll tell you what happened. Bye. (hangs up).

DETECTIVE 1: So can we come in?

WOMAN: Oh, yes. Please.

DETECTIVE 2: Thank you.

WOMAN: Can I get you something to drink?

DETECTIVE 1: No, we’re fine.

THE WOMAN HOLDS THE DOOR OPEN AND THE DETECTIVES ENTER.

Okay, now let me suggest an alternate scene. Instead of the above scenario, you just go straight to this:

EXT. TEENAGE GIRL’S ROOM – DAY

A WOMAN USHERS TWO DETECTIVES INTO THE ROOM.

WOMAN: Okay, this is Mindy’s room, Detectives. But she said you’re not going to find any notebook.

I think you can see what I’m getting at. There’s a rule of writing: Get into scenes as late as you can and get out of them as early as you can.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read scripts from young writers that have versions (usually longer) of the first scene. Let’s be blunt. It’s boring. Nothing happens. People just talk. Often in circles.  Or they wait. Or….

Read it all on Ken Levine’s peerless blog

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