I was having a conversation this morning with another writer friend, and we had a little bit of a laugh (but not in a malicious way) about another writer who fancies himself a director and this is evident in his writing because he, meaning his personality, is everywhere on the page. When you read his work, his personality dominates the page. He’s in the shots, the music, the pacing, tone – every core story element. The problem with this writing style in a spec is that the writer’s personality overshadows the story itself. It would be hard for a reader to put all the “personality” aside to even be able to understand what’s going on in the basic story enough to follow it. All that other stuff muddles the read. It becomes confusing very quickly.
This isn’t too uncommon. There are some writers who fancy themselves directors, or perhaps are simply control freaks, who want to control how the reader sees every image and experiences every beat on the page. Actually, as a screenwriter, our job isn’t to control imaginary camera placement. Our primary job is to tell a great story – a story that a professional director would want to shoot.
The problem with this style of writing is that often this writer loses the focus – which is to communicate the beat of the scene as richly as possible. Every time you draw attention to yourself as an “auteur” there is a big chance that you’re actually pulling the reader out of the story, because you’re not letting the beats speak for themselves. You are inserting your personal voice in there into the story, which actually pulls the reader out of the story world, because you’re crying out, “Look at me, aren’t I such a wonderful, smart writer?” Actually, not so much.
Of course, the ideal is to have a strong voice within the writing, but that voice should emerge organically from the piece and not feel heavy handed, as though the writer is calling attention to him or herself from the office chair. I have read some comedies wherein the writer uses this tongue-in-cheek style to success. However, in most other genres, it would not serve you well.
I prefer it when the tone of the piece matches closely the state of the protagonist. That feels the most organic to the read and underscores the protagonist’s journey and character arc because we are completely enveloped within the world of the protagonist and thus have very few distractions. Many elements can be brought into a screenplay that feel completely organic as long as they suit the scene or characters and feel organic to the world.