Cassandra Hennessey: The 7 Deadly Sins of Overwriting

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by Cassandra Hennessey

There are many ways any aspiring writer can send red flags a-waving to a prospective agent or publisher.

Allow me to demonstrate:

INT. UPTOWN OFFICE – DAY

Our handsome hero, HARRY HOLMES strolls into the office which boasts a tropical motif complete with rattan furnishings and potted palm trees the size of luxury SUVS.

He saunters jauntily toward the RECEPTIONIST who is a youngish fiery-haired former cheerleader. She files her nails with a pink emery board. He adjusts the right lapel of his Jos. A Banks navy blue suit jacket, clears his throat twice and grins like someone’s just called his number at the supermarket deli.

HARRY
Hi. My name is Harry. Harry Holmes. What’s your name?

SUE
(puts down file, smiles sadly)
Susan; but most of my friends—the ones I’m on speaking
terms with—call me “Sue”. My mom still calls me “Suzy-Q”.
Since childhood. For as long as I can remember.
Even in front of my dates. I wish she’d stop doing that…

HARRY
(cringes comically, smoothes back gelled hair)
Sorry for the childhood trauma you’re currently
experiencing, Sue, but I was wondering if I could
speak with your employer, Mister Walters? You
see, Sue, I’m here to audit his books for embezzlement.

SUE
(drops her emery board in shock, gasps)

Not Mister Walters! I’ve known Mister Walters for years!!
He’d never steal money!

HARRY
(shaking his head, dubious)

Sue, Sue, Sue, I believe you may not know Mister
Wayne Walters as well as you think you do!

Sue grasps the phone and frantically dials a five-digit extension. Waits for three seconds, practically holding her breath. When the phone on the other ends is picked up, she instantly blurts out—

SUE
(with hysterical tears on her flushed cheeks)
Wayne!! How could you do this? Wayne, say this isn’t true!
There’s a Mister Harry Holmes here, telling me you’re a
thief and a crook! Say something, Wayne!

END SCENE.

(Thank Goodness…)

OKAY!!

Can you guess what’s wrong here?

There is sooooo much to work with (to be truthful, it actually pained me to write something this horrible… but it is for the greater good, so I made the sacrifice…)

Here are the Seven Deadly Sins of Bad Writing (in no particular order…)

  1. Deluges of Details. Character appearance is not THAT important to note every single detail. I mean, unless the hangnail on the protagonist’s pinky plays an integral part in the story, I suggest you omit it. Same goes with surroundings. You want to set the scene, not “set dress” it.
  1. Going Through the Motions. There’s no need (or space) to start a running tally of gestures, expression, stances or involuntary tics and twitches.
  1. Too much supposition/narration either revealed by the character or in the descriptive action paragraphs. If it’s not essential to the story, it has no place in the script.
  1. Curb “Talking Head Syndrome”. Dialog should be brief and to the point.
  1. Too much exposition, like salt, spoils to the “plot pot”. (See Sin #4).
  1. Adjectives. Don’t. JUST DON’T.
  1. Overuse of a character’s name in dialog. Unless your character’s doing this for a specific reason (being obnoxious, or perhaps suffering from amnesia), one character should not address another by name every time he/she speaks.

When writing for television, trust that the director and actors will do their very best to “flesh out your characters”.

Yes. I used the word “Trust”.

It’s the best advice for your script.

Trust me.

I know. It’s your “vision”, your “brain-child”, your “baby”. I get it. But if you’ve written your best and raised, nourished and doted over this brain child of yours well enough, it can and will survive in the world all on its own.

Then you will be the proud parent-writer of a great manuscript!

To demonstrate, here’s the sample god-awful scene how it SHOULD be written:

INT. UPTOWN OFFICE – DAY

HARRY HOLMES enters and approaches the receptionist, SUE. She files her nails behind her neat desk.

SUE
May I help you?

HARRY
Name’s Harry Holmes. I’m here to see Wayne Walters–

Harry eyes her name plaque on the desk. It reads “SUSAN” but he says—

HARRY (cont’d)
–Sue.

SUE
It’s Susan. And your business with Wayne—Mister Walters?

HARRY
Let’s just say I investigate incidents like embezzlement.
So, may I speak with your boss or do I come back with a
subpoena?

Sue picks up her phone and dials an extension.

SUE
(into phone)
Mister Walters, there’s someone here to see you…
(whispers to WALTERS)
…About that situation, Wayne.

Sue opens WALTER’S office door to allow Harry to enter. WAYNE WALTERS rushes to block Harry’s entrance, but Sue blocks him. She tosses him her name plaque.

SUE
Consider that notice of my resignation.

(to HARRY)
Have a good day, Mister Holmes.

With her purse and emery board, Sue exits the office with a SLAM of the door.

…Aaaand CUT SCENE!!!

Better, right?

No description of the furnishings. No tics, twitches, gulps, blinks, grimaces. The dialog sets the tone of both characters. And Sue’s actions speak louder than words when she quits, without the use of exposition or supposition. We KNOW she’s more than merely a “receptionist” to Wayne. We KNOW she knows something’s rotten in Denmark, and we definitely know she doesn’t want anything to do with either Harry or Wayne.

TAA-DAA!!!

The 7 Deadly Sins have been eradicated, and the script has been saved!


Cassandra Hennessey is a Contributing Editor to TVWriter™. You can learn more about her HERE

Cassandra Hennessey: #POORBOB

Bob in the WALKING DEAD Comic
Bob in the WALKING DEAD Comic

by Cassandra Hennessey

Uh-oh, you caught me. I’m still among THE WALKING DEAD.

Where I would like to take this moment to eulogize Bob Stookey, currently a one-legged guest of honor at the most bizarre BBQ EVER…

“But wait,” you say. “Bob’s not dead.”

Not. Yet.

Hear me out…

…If there’s anything we’ve learned from AMC’s The Walking Dead is when a character has a moment of levity, an opportunity for redemption and a deep philosophical conversation with Rick Grimes, that character’s days are numbered.

Side note: RIP Hershel.

“But, wait,” you say, “Speaking of Hershel; he survived with one leg!”

That’s true. And he would have probably been teaching Rick all about drying heirloom seeds for the next year’s crops if it wasn’t for that nasty little run-in with the Governor. Boy, did that meeting start on the wrong foot!

I know. Groan now at the bad pun. But know that I had to use it. It was right there. Tempting me.

Anyway, back to Bob. When we first met him way back in the Season Four premiere, Bob was a pathetic, scrawny guy who had been residing at the prison for barely a week. Not too far into the episode, it’s revealed that Bob has a problem with the hooch. It’s so much a problem that it results in the horrific death of others (RIP Zack) when he brings down a crap-storm of walkers through a rain-rotted superstore roof, while knocking over wine shelves. Well, I’ll give him credit; he caused all that calamity actually putting the wine bottle back on the shelf.

Later on, in Season Four, he has another literal struggle with “the bottle”; this time dangling precariously off the roof with it, about to fall into the rapacious grasps of walkers below. After much wrangling (and threatening, on Daryl’s part), Bob finally releases the backpack full of booze.

I understand that shaking an addiction in a post-apocalyptic world with no 12-Step programs available may be tough, but gee whiz…

(I have to admit here, that at one time or another, I suspected Bob of being the one feeding the rats to the walkers at the fence, as well as dissecting the ones found within the prison. I feel I must exonerate him, but here’s my argument for my presumption of his guilt: A) He is a former army medic. Dissection is a scientific, medical procedure. I thought perhaps he was studying little walker rodents, trying to find a cure for “Walkerism”.  Uhm… Walkeritis? Then there’s B) He said the last two groups of survivors he was with perished, leaving him as sole survivor. Though he appeared genuinely traumatized by the ordeal, one has to ponder the odds of a streak of such bad luck as well as the conversely good fortune to suddenly acquire caches of supplies from those two defunct groups to tide him over until the next…)

When it came to Bob and his dubious backstory, I kept waiting for the proverbial “other shoe to drop”.

I know. Like Britney Spears, Oops, I Did It Again.

You’re with me so far, though, right? I mean, could this guy really be this much of a jinxed loser, roaming between bands of surviving humans until they inevitably were overrun with rampant zombies, only to get out by the few scraggly hairs of his chinny-chin-chin? And how was he doing this drunk? Is alcohol a Zombie repellent? Or was he so stupefied in his wasted state that the walkers mistook him for one of their own, as he stumbled and moaned and drooled?

Just saying. It leaves a lot to the imagination exactly how scrawny little Bob dodged each dilemma before ending up at the prison. I guess we’d have to walk a mile in his shoes…

…I know. That’s the last one. It’s all I’ve got.

There were definite signs in the “Strangers” episode of Season Five that something horrible was about to befall Poor Bob. Let’s assess, shall we?

His Humor. The “Glorious Tan” joke was pretty hysterical. Rule Number One: Don’t crack funnies. They’ll make your character more in-depth, more likeable and more susceptible to being tormented by the writers. (It’s what we do. *Insert maniacal laughter here*)

Kissy-Face. His romance with Sasha? At least he didn’t sing to her (Tyreese knows all too well what happens to someone when you croon like Old Blue Eyes to your love interest—a flambé!)

Introspection. He had a rich and meaningful conversation with Rick Grimes. Certain D-O-O-M.

Let’s tally up the “Had a Prolific Moment with Rick” score:

  • Lori
  • Shane
  • Dale
  • Andrea
  • Jenner (the crazy CDC dude, who revealed the group as infected and blew up the building)
  • T-Dog
  • Hershel
  • The Governor. Yes, even the Governor.

Okay. You get it, right? But by this time, EVERYONE has had at least one in-depth, emotional conversation with Rick; hence there’s a good possibility that anyone at any moment could die a horrific death.

And Bob’s transformation to a man of sobriety with passion in his heart made him the perfect victim for the writers! What a better way to tug at our heart strings than to make his character worthy of our care and concern?

And that’s one of the many secrets to good writing, my friends.

On a serious note, the last scene in the “Strangers” episode which reveals the atrocity Gareth and the “Hunters” had inflicted upon Poor Bob was one of the most chilling, devilishly executed and ingenious moments on Television. I would say for sheer “shock value” it’s on par with the gruesome death of Gustavo “Gus” Fring in Breaking Bad.

But I wonder if the evil-hipster Gareth has bitten off more than he can chew? (Oh, groan all you want! You know you said the same thing!)

Remember when Bob was attacked by the submerged, slimy walker in the flooded Food Bank basement?

There’s some speculation going on around the internet that perhaps Bob was bitten and hid the injury from Sasha and the rest of the group. That perhaps that was why he exited the church after watching Sasha blissfully holding Judith and was weeping. If it wasn’t for the fact that mass consumption of the church’s wine was going on and he abstained from drinking, why did he get so emotional? Sure, Abraham’s speech was good, but it wasn’t THAT moving to reduce a grown man to tears.

I happen to agree with the pundits of the web; that Bob was indeed bitten by the basement walker, in an underwater sneak attack to parallel the opening scene from “Jaws”. That Bob limped from the Food Bank back to the church like nothing had happened. That perhaps he was beginning to feel the onset of the walker virus’ symptoms, right before Gareth ambushed him.

Gareth looks like a “Medium Rare” guy to me. And Bob’s leg that he was gnawing on looked pretty undercooked. I didn’t see any meat thermometers around the grill. I haven’t seen any cannibal cookbooks (amazingly not even on Amazon), but I know that most meats must be 165 degrees in the center to be considered safely cooked. Duh! FOOD SAFETY, people!!

Can you say “The Mother of All Food Poisoning Cases”?

If that is the case, then would the former inhabitants of Terminus dying from consuming “tainted” meat be a more fitting “poetic justice” than the one to which Gareth so sardonically referred?

Wouldn’t that be the ultimate in Karma? Botulism on steroids!

And maybe, just maybe, Bob would be alive long enough to witness his captors’ comeuppance.

Unfortunately, I don’t see Poor Bob lasting too long into Season Five. Perhaps only an episode or two more.

So, in closing, my eulogy:

Here lies Bob Stooky.

Army Medic and a former alcoholic.

A man with a sense of humor,

As well as an undying hope for a brighter future.

A man with a glorious tan, by the way.

Some who didn’t know him personally

Would say that he merely “Tasted Good”,

Whereas we know our Bob was a Man of Good Taste.

Rest In Peace, Bob.


Cassandra Hennessey is a Contributing Editor to TVWriter™. You can learn more about her HERE