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Notes from a Screenreader: Speech Exhaustion

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Photo via Go Into the Story.

Speeches in early pages give readers creeping dread because they are weapons-grade tools and should not be brought out casually and waved around for piddly little tasks like exposition.

  • Speeches put the brakes on. Is it more than three sentences long? Read it out loud. See how long it takes. Is this a good spot to stop the drama, turn the house lights up and talk to the audience?
  • Speeches are not visual. Stage speeches over scenes of dramatic action. Something to watch as the words scroll by in the background, point and counterpoint. 
  • Speeches reveal change. The revelation speech, given in public, that a character could never imagine making at the beginning of the story, is for the third act. That is what you need your howitzer for. Theme. Not backstory.
  • Speeches are spotlights. Speeches that paint meaningful pictures are fine. There is a time and place to stop the action and weave a tapestry of words, but it better work as hard as the Indianapolis scene from Jaws to justify the page space.

— ANNIE LABARBA 

Annie is a screenwriter, story consultant, and reader for major screenplay competitions.

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