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Screen & Stage
January, 2008

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Lingua Scriptus
Scripting language
By  J.R. Kambak

Capture your audience with an accurate conveyance of universal metaphors.
Screenplays sing to us, impel us, humour us, frighten us – written language capturing freeze-frame moments and the essence of human thought; formless secrets of the mind manifested in coherent cinematic fusion.
Regardless of good usage, bad usage, and just usage of the English language, the linguistics of the screenplay are initially formed in verbal patterns that make it accessible to the audience. What words and how the writer uses them determine the application of that linguistic authority, captured by the script’s synthetic language. 
The writing of a screenplay’s slug lines, action scenes, character traits, and dialogue are imposed usages in standard, nonstandard, formal, informal, or slang to accomplish the self-deception of objectivity in imagery and sound. The perceptive writer must be lucid in attitude and reminiscent of the culture in an attentive manner. Write what you know, not what you think you know" applies in the same vein as "write to express, not to impress." 
The screen writer must understand inside and out the likes, dislikes, passions, whims, and crotchets of the storyline’s linguistic point of view to make it feel right. What makes this significant is its distinguishable contrast and what constitutes equivalence at the various suprasegments embedded in the script's plot.
The complexity of script structure is uniquely designed in accordance to human beings who are constantly learning and relearning the behaviour of language, essentially habitual with a great pressure for the individual to conform to the speech of their social milieu. Consequently, the same goes for the writer writing about something other than himself. Having internalized a native language, the writer must realign with the mental calibration of diverse cultures to apply his experience as the essential account of the screenplay’s idiolect.
In analysis, two recent movies come to mind that contrast this idiolect illustration, and whose character’s phonetic tongue precisely furnishes unerringly the expressions of their complex socioeconomic backgrounds. The Good Shepherd, written by Eric Roth and Harsh Times, written by David Ayer. Both movies set out to accomplish a number of things that assert their specific forms of language, which cause the audience to focus sharply on their stratification. The two films are starkly different, but equally produce the aesthetic connection of putting the protagonist into a compromising position. The conceivable language of each character resonates with the time period and community in seamless continuity. The dialogue is written so that it defines the character’s persona. This is a screenplay’s implication of semantics, the lexicon of syntactic compatibility.
Both plots come from the nature of numerous social problems stemming from the influences of their respective economic strata. The particular language of the characters defines the collective perception for the audience’s entertainment. This is the testing of the writer’s own scholarly expression and the genius of refined objectivity of their subject matter. 
Linguistics is at the core of the human condition, our collective psychology, so it can produce an indefinite number of perspectives from the same scene – for example, a sentence in an action scene. 

The concept of extensive and sophisticated variants boggles the mind, but this shouldn’t stifle the writer’s creative force from insecurity if they know how to articulate the story’s true voice. English offers enormous possibilities in vocabulary structures, where one simple sentence can yield a billion different variations. The rudimentary key is to distinguish a script’s voice with appropriate word usage that defines the script’s genre and systematic structure.
Overall, screenplay writing has been whittled down to a subject-verb-object and phrasal-verb, active-adjective, idiomatic voice format. Formal grammar usage has become inadequate because of the plethora of grammatical phrase-structure rules that would be required for space-consuming sentence arrangements to deliver the writer’s concept of the storyline. 
In addition to representing a similarity to proper English grammar, the screenplay writer is challenged to take great advantage of syntax economy rather than expository overloads, making it possible for the audience to understand, without difficulty, the story’s abstract cultural nuances that they have never been exposed to before. Thus, the mixed review of these two films that enthralled some and left others scratching their heads are a drive-by sideswipe of the human condition; a collision between the high and low-level pomposities of human comprehension of life around them.
Some get it, others don’t, but as the author of your own screenplay, do you get it? Did you neutralize your screenplay to such a simplistic status quo that clearly implies that the audience be illiterate enough to believe their own superiority in the absolute standard overshadowing your own creative writing? So that this doesn’t happen, the screenplay’s generative grammar, abstraction, symbolic and traditional parsing must intelligently capitalize upon whatever is systematic to the plot. But never substitute or subtract for the sake of the audience’s own linguistic limitations. Instead, find the universal metaphors that resonate with humankind.
This universal metaphor for a screenplay writer evolves in developing a discipline for linguistic intuition. This is so intricate that it produces a given discrimination so the audience unconsciously grasps the capacity of the writer’s meaning in the transformation from page to screen. From the writer’s point of view, the screenplay must be completed as a unit, the language of the whole, broken down into segments, which furnish the basis for pitch, drama, and voice of the storyline thread pertaining to the struggle of the plot’s resolve.
In this regard, no single form of English can be singled out as the rule of thumb in screenplay linguistics. Inevitably, screenplay writing, at best, is developed from the standpoint of communication which distracts least from what is being said, even though a given linguistic phrase-structure may have several paradoxical ambivalences to varying audiences. 
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J.R. Kambak is a regular IN contributor and award-nominated screen-playwright, award-winning videographer, and former corporate communications/media relations executive. Contact J.R. Kambak for more information and resources:

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Screen & Stage
IN This Issue
Novel To Screenplay: Adaptation 101
Learning The Lingo
Elevator Exposure
Who Profits?
On The (Back) Lot
Lingua Scriptus
Part II: The Script's Key Plot Points
Part I: The Script's Key Plot Points
Origin Of The Screenplay
Scriptspeak: Writing Dialogue

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