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April 19, 2012

Frankly My Dear...

What makes a memorable line from a classic movie?

Long before a film is made, it is written. Every detail from...

...clothes to setting to character description is written out first.

Sometimes a particular actor is in mind as a character is developed on the printed page, but many times the character is developed by the writer and the actor cast for the part does his (or her) best to literally flesh out the written outline.

And, of course, as hard as it might be to believe when we are caught up in the action of the story, every word spoken started as a printed word envisioned by a novelist or screenwriter. And every film (almost) seems to have one memorable line that somehow captures or personifies that film.

Consider these well-known lines:

I'm going to make them an offer they can't refuse.

Here's looking at you, kid.

Go ahead, make my day.

Toto, I have a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore.

Each one of these lines captures the essence of the film - and especially the richness of the character.

But look at these lines as sentences.

They are all direct, in the present tense, have simple uncomplicated grammar and a very clear audience and message - elements of every effective sentence.

Researchers at Cornell University have created a computer program to understand what makes a memorable movie quote (you can see - or hear - details here - http://www.npr.org/2012/04/18/150903304/what-makes-a-movie-quote-memorable).

The principles are simple (which does not mean easy) and apply to every aspect of writing; mostly keep it simple and don't fancy it up.

I've always thought it would be fun to be a script doctor - the one who goes over the near-final edition of a script and fixes it with a sense of attitude and tone of each character. Let me know if you are working on a film.

Listen, read and speak. Make your new language your own.

My best to you as you make your way through this intriguing , constantly shifting linguistic landscape.


Also, Morf just might be available to visit your school or agency this coming summer. You can contact him at mmorf@mail.com.

Posted by mmorf at April 19, 2012 09:18 PM


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