Simp for the Reader
Ahh, dating. You know, the wonderful dance between two humans that most people reading this article probably struggle with.
Oh … that’s not true, you say? It’s just me who sucks at courtship? OK, fine! Thanks for making me feel great about myself, anonymous reader person!
Anyway, the point is that I’ve been trying to brush up on my “game” recently, and I’ve come across one of these new-fangled Gen Z words that has slowly worked its way into the everyday vernacular: "simp."
If you’re like me and never wade into the waters of TikTok, a simp is someone who does way too much for another person, generally someone who they are romantically interested in (by the way, I pulled this definition from Urban Dictionary, mostly because Merriam Webster has not yet included this word into their hallowed pages). But the point remains that simping is generally considered to be the act of fawning, obsessing, or falling over yourself in the pursuit of a romantic partner, especially one who shows no such interest in you in return.
So, you know the girl who bakes the team quarterback dozens of cookies while he’s off flirting with all the cheerleaders? She’d be a simp. Or the guy who washes the beauty queen’s car in the hopes of scoring a date? Send that dude straight to Simp City.
It’s a word that is almost exclusively used as a negative adjective. Simps are looked down upon. Simps are not respected. In the dating world, you certainly, absolutely, unequivocally DO NOT want to be a simp.
However, I can think of one particular field where simping might actually be a good thing. Writing.
That’s right, ladies and gentlemen: I’m sitting here telling you to simp as hard as you fucking can for your reader.
Don’t believe me? Let’s take this analogy as far as it can go, shall we? First let’s answer the question "why do people simp?"
It’s because they want something, right? The girl who is baking the quarterback treats wants a boyfriend. She seeks companionship and connection. And the dude who is washing cars seeks a date with an attractive woman. In both of these examples, the person chasing someone they like is trying to score a date by making the other person’s life easier. They are doing what they’re doing in the hope it will foster and create similar feelings in their desired partner.
Well, if you’re a writer who is submitting novels, screenplays, or graphic novels to publishers, agents, managers, and studios, you want something, too, right? You want them to publish your work. You want them to sign you to their roster. You want to be paid money to do what you love. So, why in the hell WOULDN’T you do whatever it took to make that experience as easy as possible for them?
The answer is simp-le (see what I did there?): you should!
As a professional reader, one who probably reads close to a thousand scripts a year, I can tell you that I absolutely notice when writers actively make my life easier. It’s clear from page one if someone has a brisk writing style that flows, has solid pace, and if a script has momentum. And it’s also clear very early on if a script is going to be a slow, tedious, laborious slog. Listen to my words when I say this, aspiring scribes: you don’t want to be the latter in this scenario. Readers don’t like people who make our lives more challenging.
You should actively seek out ways to make your audience’s life as easy as possible. Because the person at the publishing house, agency, management company, or screenwriting competition of your dreams ARE your first audience. They ARE the people you need to impress. If you can’t make us sit up and go, “Wow, we’ve really got something special here!” you’re never going to get the chance to put your work in front of the masses. You will never get the opportunity to live out your dreams.
Now, before I move on, let me be clear: I am not under any circumstances telling you to actually bake cookies or wash your reader’s car. You don’t need to be the person who waits outside the CAA offices with your script and a $20 bill, hawking it off to whatever assistant just happens to step out for lunch first (although, admittedly, I have heard stories of such things taking place). This, in my opinion, is a step too far.
No, what I DO want you to do is actively keep your reader at the forefront of your mind as you are punching the keys of your laptop. You need to put yourselves in our shoes as you are building up your dramatic framework. I want you to always think about not just what YOU want to achieve on the page, but also how a reader (specifically someone who reads a whole bunch of scripts and is constantly underwater with their reading load) is going to feel when analyzing your work. Because, trust me, every assistant, producer, or publishing agent has more to read than you can possibly imagine.
And what are some of the ways you can make our lives easier?
I’m so glad you asked:
Improve Your Wordsmithing
Have you said the word “horse” seven times on the same page? Or the word “ambient” three times in the same sentence? Seriously, I want you to go back in that script you’re working on and check. If you find that you have, for the love of God, vary your language.
There are a lot of ways for you to say the word “horse.” You could call it an animal, a steed, stallion, mare, colt, or beast. That’s six different words which all apply to the equestrian field without having to say the word "horse." And I didn’t even have to check the thesaurus! Trust me, if you said there was a horse in the scene two sentences ago, we’re going to remember that’s the case. You don’t need to repeat the same thing over and over. It’s just unnecessary.
A very easy way to do this is to go through your screenplay and look for instances where the same word appears overtop or underneath itself. Like this:
Agatha creeped through the dull house. Tiptoeing through the long, dark corridor, she entered the house’s kitchen.
Do y’all see how in this example the word "house" is right on top of itself? Don’t do that. Again, we already know we’re in a house. So, in fact, it’s even better if you ...
Cut Out All Repetitive Information
Treat your reader like they are a smart person. If you said something on page three, trust that we are going to remember it on page five. If you have any skill in this field at all, you really don’t have to bang us over the head with this stuff.
That’s not to say you should never remind us about super important plot points. If you established your story engine’s ticking clock on page 40, then it makes sense to bring it up again on page 60 or so. Check in on the devices that are essential to keep your narrative working. But you don’t need to consistently bring up that memento your character keeps on their mantle (unless, of course, said charm is critical to your third act climax or something).
Break Up Your Action Description
Please. Please. Please. Don’t bunch this up into unwieldy paragraphs. In fact, let me bring forth another example. I want you to read the below passages for me, please.
Slowly the ship crosses New York Harbor. Ellis Island can be seen in the distance. It makes its way towards the Manhattan skyline as the sun sets. The waves crash against the sides of the boat. The smell of fish and the sounds of people clamoring ashore can be heard as they get closer. A whistle on the ship calls the passengers to the stern deck. CAPTAIN DANIELS (a tall man wearing old seaman’s clothing, 50 years old, and with long stringy white hair) is behind the wheel. The passengers all stand and stare out at their new home. The children awe at the Statue of Liberty as they pass by. Seagulls caw above them, welcoming the immigrants to the greatest country in the world: the United States of America. It’s a new day for all who have arrived here safely.
Slowly the ship crosses New York Harbor. Ellis Island can be seen in the distance. It makes its way towards the Manhattan skyline as the sun sets.
The waves crash against the sides of the boat. The smell of fish and the sounds of people clamoring ashore can be heard as they get closer.
A whistle on the ship calls the passengers to the stern deck. CAPTAIN DANIELS (50), a tall man wearing old seaman’s clothing, with long stringy white hair, is behind the wheel.
The passengers all stand and stare out at their new home. The children awe at the Statue of Liberty as they pass by.
Seagulls caw above them, welcoming the immigrants to the greatest country in the world: the United States of America. It’s a new day for all who have arrived here safely.
Both of those paragraphs contained the exact same sequence of words. And yet … which of them were you more excited to read? Be honest, now, it was the second one, right?
That’s how we feel whenever you bunch up your description like that. So don’t do it. Keep your paragraphs short in screenwriting. It helps with pacing and flow.
Do Whatever It Takes to Reduce Your Page Count
I have said it before, and I’ll say it again, this is the first thing that every reader looks at when they open your PDF. And it has a massive effect on how we view your material.
I want you to imagine that it’s a Saturday morning. And a stack of ten screenplays is the only thing standing between you and a relaxing weekend. You open up the first one … it’s 120 pages. You check the next. 126 pages. You reach for the third … 133 pages.
Are you frustrated yet, or is it just me?
The world would certainly be nice if you could guarantee that every time someone went to read your work, they’d be in a perfect bubble, protected from any stressors or outside influences, wouldn’t it? But we don’t live in a perfect world. The shorter your script is, the happier the reader is going to be when starting it. And if they’re in a good mood when reading, they’re more likely to give you some leeway than not.
You follow what I’m saying here?
It really makes no sense to me when I see people who leave blank pages at the end of scripts. Why would you do this? It just makes your script look longer at the start! You’re actively hurting yourself. Additionally, take care of those damn hangers. Those one little words that drop down on a line of action description but that take up a whole page! Word efficiency is key in this medium.
Now listen, I’ve just given you a whole bunch of ways that you can make our lives easier. But let me also say this: there’s definitely a balance to this game. You don’t want to cut so much that it hurts your story. Additionally, someone might give you a note that they think is awesome, but you think would kill your third act twist.
You have to decide which is more important. Sometimes, there’s a reason for keeping a five-page scene in the second act that someone tells you is superfluous. I’m not saying you need to take every single note that someone gives you. You’re still the writer.
But, unless you’re writing only for you, you need to keep the audience in mind.
Especially if that audience is the gatekeeper to all your hopes and dreams.
Godspeed y’all, and happy writing.
*Feature image by Kateryna Kovarzh (Adobe)