Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Screenwriting in Academia Overcompensates with Official Style

While the sphere that I wanted to analyze was screenwriting, in particular, I ended up finding an academic, scholarly article about screenwriting instead. I analyzed a small portion of Virginia Pitt’s Writing from the body: Kinesthetics and entrainment in collaborative screenwriting. Already, within the title we see the official style rear its head through the dreaded two-part title. I could already assume that the article had copious amounts of official style. After several minutes of trying to read through the article I decided to focus on several of the more official paragraphs rather than the piece as a whole. Pitts is an established screenwriter and after the experience of writing her script for the 2010 short film Beat she decided to document her latest revelations in this academic article. The article is intended for the academic world and in academia it is expected that scholars write in the official style, but it would much too easy to say that this is the only reason Pitts would choose to use the official style so excessively. I argue that the underlying reason Pitts engages in so much official style is to overcompensate for the natural tendency for scripts to be full of plain language. Scripts are extremely easy to read and to understand, because the majority of them are dialogue, a colloquial conversation. They must be easily digested in order for audiences who are watching to understand the plot and the characters. Because of this, when Pitts analyzes her own screenwriting techniques, she exaggerates her use of official style to overcompensate for the simplicity of the conversational language of scripts. If she had written her scholarly article in similar language as her script was written in, it would have appeared as if she hadn’t given enough critical thought to her thesis.

Take this sentence for example: “Having experienced the traditional process of writing in a solitary environment, my second research question asked how a more collaborative form of film development might open out possibilities as a result of interacting with the creative energies of others, in this case performers and a choreographer.” This is an official way of saying, “My second research question asks how a typical script might change if the performers were involved.” I cut down the sentence from 37 words to 16 words. Surely, it would have been easier for Pitts to use my sentence rather than her own, but these two sentences are not identical in their word choice, nor their meaning. The shorter choppier sentence I wrote has an entirely different connotation than Pitts’s sentence. Mine seems brief, choppy, and altogether not thought out. Meanwhile when Pitts uses the official style in her writing it exemplifies her passion for her subject, the knowledge and time she has put into the article, and also, it demonstrates her ability as a writer to construct complex sentences with seeming ease. All of these things lend themselves to establishing her credibility as a writer.

Many times when writers choose to use the official style it is used for deception or lending to credibility, but I argue Pitts tends to use it to contrast the plain language found in most scripts. Apart from stage direction and setting, scripts are primarily dialogue which means characters speak in an easily understandable plain way. Well this doesn’t help much when Pitts is trying to write a scholarly article so she overcompensates for the plain nature of scripts. In the example sentence above she has an 11 word participial phrase to start the sentence. The core meaning of the sentence is the same even if she just completely deleted that. Next, look at her diction, ignoring the participial phrase, “collaborative”, “film development”, “creative energies”. None of these terms or phrases were necessary to the meaning of that sentence. Pitts uses this elevated language in her research analysis to distance herself from the script itself. If a character talked like this in a movie or TV show the audience would possibly have troubles keeping up.

I understand that in academia it is expected that writers of scholarly articles write in official style but Pitts is writing at a reading ease level of 23, a level that not many excerpts have been able to match. In her article Pitts mentions and points to Bakhtin as an influence on the way she views language and writing. Bakhtin is a master of the official style in his excerpt about utterances. The level of complexity that Pitts obtains begs for an ulterior motive other than academic writing. Pitt’s article focuses around a plain language script and a personal learning experience she had, which makes the article read like a narrative at times. She must prove to her fellow scholars that researching something so colloquial as a script can be considered academic, and that is why she uses official language so excessively. Then to avoid being considered a narrative piece Pitts incorporates passive language to distance herself from the piece.

Considering my own experiences while reading this article, I wonder if Pitts took her language to an extreme or if she was required to do so. Certainly, I wasn't within the sphere that Pitts envisioned for her audience but this raises the question of, is it practical to write in this way when the majority of the audience the speaker is writing to refuses to read past the second paragraph out of sheer boredom. It restricts the audience and it restricts its usefulness, and screenwriting becomes less personable of a profession. Or, rather, has Pitts outsmarted my own analysis completely. It would be useful to note that Pitts audience may not have been, as I assumed, all screenwriters. True, it would benefit screenwriters to engage in the debate that Pitts outlines by taking the actors into account whilst writing a script, but because of the academic nature of this piece perhaps it is intended solely for the academic kind interested in this type of research. Within the article, Pitts analyzes language like a linguist does, she analyzes body movements like a psychologist does, she analyzes dialogue like a sociologist does. The initial assessment that Pitts uses the official style to distance herself from screenwriting can be considered half right and half wrong. Certainly, her article reads nothing like a script, but Pitts may not be intentionally distancing herself from the script for the sake of being taken seriously, but rather her use of the official style, which demonstrates her abundance of knowledge across multiple schools of learning, distances herself from the one dimensional aspect of solely being a writer of scripts.
-Matthew Leitner

No comments:

Post a Comment