Television Writers Between the Lines: Commentary on Writing in Television Scripts

One thing I really love about contemporary television writing is how often scripts include discussions of grammar or vocabulary. When a character like Castle does this, okay, well, that makes sense: he's a writer. But sometimes the discussions have no relationship to the characters; instead, they provides an opportunity for scriptwriters to ponder the writing process.

One of my favorite examples is from Psych ("Bounty Hunter") where Shawn and Gus start arguing about what to call a "bag"--
Shawn Spencer: Is this a briefcase or an attaché?
Burton 'Gus' Guster: I think it's a briefcase. Attachés have a softer shell.
Shawn Spencer: Really? That's all that differentiates them, a softer shell?
Burton 'Gus' Guster: Well, "attaché" does have a better ring to it.
Shawn Spencer: Let's go with attaché.
There's also an extremely odd exchange in Bones ("The Finger in the Nest") where Brennan corrects a character's use of the word "enervating." People rarely use the word; to me, this is clearly a place where a writer transferred his or her dilemma ("What does that word mean?") into the script--
Extra: There's nothing enervating about it.
Bones: For future reference, that word doesn't mean what you think.
On the other hand, Jack's following remark in "The Other Guys" (Stargate) is the type of English Composition rule that many people are aware of--
Her'ak: No matter what you have endured, you have never experienced the likes of what Anubis is capable of.
Colonel Jack O'Neill: You ended a sentence with a preposition, bastard!
By the way, ending sentences with prepositions is far more acceptable now than it was a couple decades ago--though Jack would have received his "English" education when the "no prepositions" rule was in vogue. (I usually like to keep the rule simply because it forces me to problem-solve a sentence; I like to avoid passive voice for the same reason.)

Even when they don't help the script, I enjoy these types of exchanges. I like to hear the writers puzzling over "who" versus "whom," over proper antecedents, over odd grammar rules and odder vocabulary. See, I think, writing is work--even for people who make a lot more money than me.

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