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Screenplay Edit: “A Quiet Place”

A line-by-line edit of the first 167 words of the script.

Screenshot by the author; © 2018 by Paramount Pictures.

A Quiet Place tells the story of a family, who, in a post-apocalyptic world terrorized by monsters with hypersensitive hearing, attempt to survive — and thrive — in silence. The script was written by Bryan Woods & Scott Beck and John Krasinski, from a story by Bryan Woods & Scott Beck.

💬 Original lines appear as code blocks, edited lines appear as “quote blocks,” changes appear as boldface, and commentary appears as regular text.

Original Text

BLACKWe hear, very clearly, the sound of light wind.EXT. TOWN — MAIN ST. — LATE AFTERNOONWe come up on... a streetlight. There is no illumination... and no movement. We hold on it for a long moment when suddenly... The streetlight bobs... and then begins to sway. We slowly begin to rise up on the streetlight to reveal... a small bird has landed on it. We continue to rise to reveal, behind the bird...Wind blows through the gargantuan evergreens that seem to engulf the narrow main street of a small town in upstate New York. Shop windows and cars on either side covered in dust, the place seems frozen in time. There is no movement.In the very middle of the road one can see... sand. A bizarre incongruity, a long pathway about a shovels width runs the full length of the street with offshoots into open doorways of some of the shops.We hold for a long moment:

Line Edit

BLACK

If a script opens on nothing, then nothing is sufficient to indicate as much. So let’s remove this line.

We hear, very clearly, the sound of light wind.

“The sound of light wind” is simply light wind, and “light wind” is simply a breeze. And if this breeze is the only sound described, then it is the only sound we hear, thus making it clearly heard. So let’s simplify this sentence.

We hear a breeze.

EXT. TOWN — MAIN ST. — LATE AFTERNOON

In a few lines, we’ll learn that this town is in upstate New York. So let’s add this information to the scene heading, to orient readers from the outset. Also, punctuation in scene headings tends to make scene headings difficult to read, so let’s spell out St.

EXT. UPSTATE NEW YORK — TOWN — MAIN STREET — LATE AFTERNOON

We come up on... a streetlight.

“Come up on” is ambiguous, as what does it mean to come up on a streetlight? So let’s specify this action and style it to denote camera direction.

We PUSH IN on… a streetlight.

The purpose of an ellipsis is to denote omission or trailing off, and the mark is also sometimes used in dialogue to denote hesitation or pausing. Ellipses, then, should not be used for pacing, as doing so may confuse readers by altering the meaning of the mark. Further, using ellipses for pacing may frustrate readers by interrupting — or, worse, dictating — the flow of their reading. So let’s remove the ellipsis from this sentence.

We PUSH IN on a streetlight.

A streetlight is a light that illuminates a street; however, what the authors mean to describe here is a stoplight, or a traffic light. So let’s replace streetlight with traffic light.

We PUSH IN on a traffic light.

There is no illumination... and no movement.

If these things are not, then we needn’t state as much, as their omission from the script is sufficient to indicate their not being. For example, will readers assume that the traffic light is moving if the writers have not described the traffic light as moving? Of course not. However, I think what the writers are trying to accomplish with this sentence is conveying a sense of desolation. So let’s accomplish this by other means; let’s insert adjectives into the previous sentence to describe the traffic light.

We PUSH IN on a still, unilluminated traffic light.

This edit has two benefits: first, it removes a sentence, thus making the writing more concise; and second, instead of telling readers what the traffic light is not, this edit tells readers what the traffic light is, which information is more useful for understanding the scene.

We hold on it for a long moment when suddenly... The streetlight bobs... and then begins to sway.

To improve this sentence, let’s style the camera direction, remove the ellipses, and replace streetlight with light. And while we’re at it, let’s improve the mechanics of the sentence by surrounding the adverb suddenly with commas, lowercasing The, and swapping the adverb when for the preposition until.

We HOLD ON it for a long moment until, suddenly, the light bobs and then begins to sway.

Unless the object of the reader’s attention changes, readers will assume that the object remains the same — meaning, readers will assume the holding-on described in this sentence. So we can remove it. However, it seems that the authors are using this part of the sentence for pacing, and keeping it is consistent with their voice and style. So instead of removing this part of the sentence, let’s simply revise it; let’s specify it and remove the arbitrary length of holding.

We HOLD ON the light until, suddenly, the light bobs and then begins to sway.

Specifying it has caused a redundancy in naming the subject, so let’s replace the second light with a pronoun.

We HOLD ON the light until, suddenly, it bobs and then begins to sway.

If an action or event occurs suddenly, then simply having it occur suddenly will convey its suddenness to readers — meaning, we can remove suddenly. Also, since swaying is an absolute, or self-contained, action — meaning, it has no stages of completion (as would, say, writing a script or applying for a job) — the words begins to are irrelevant in describing it. So let’s remove these words and add an s to the end of sway.

We HOLD ON the light until it bobs and sways.

We slowly begin to rise up on the streetlight to reveal... a small bird has landed on it.

As with the previous sentence, let’s remove begin to, style the camera direction, replace streetlight with light, and remove the ellipsis. And since removing the ellipsis will leave a gap in the grammar, let’s fill this gap with the conjunction that.

We slowly begin to RISE UP on the light to reveal that a small bird has landed on it.

The juxtaposition of the adverb up and the preposition on in RISE UP on is awkward, and on is unnecessary here anyway, so let’s remove it.

We slowly RISE UP the light to reveal that a small bird has landed on it.

We continue to rise to reveal, behind the bird...

The ellipsis in this sentence is warranted, since the sentence breaks over a line break, so we’ll leave it. However, let’s style the camera direction. And to avoid the back-to-back infinitives to rise and to reveal, let’s replace to rise with rising.

We CONTINUE TO RISE to reveal, behind the bird…

Wind blows through the gargantuan evergreens that seem to engulf the narrow main street of a small town in upstate New York.

Since this sentence is a continuation of the previous sentence, let’s indicate as much by beginning the sentence with an ellipsis and lowercasing Wind. And let’s also make the conjugations consistent by changing blows to blowing.

…wind blowing through the gargantuan evergreens that seem to engulf the narrow main street of a small town in upstate New York.

Since the evergreens in this sentence have not been referenced until this point in the scene, let’s remove the article the that precedes them, as this article specifies nouns relative to referents. Also, since the setting has already been established in the scene heading, let’s remove this redundancy.

…wind blowing through gargantuan evergreens that seem to engulf the narrow street.

In fiction, if a thing “seems to” do something, then it may as well do it; the only difference between a thing seeming to do something and a thing actually doing something is the writer’s confidence in making decisions. So let’s make this sentence deliberate by removing seems to.

…wind blowing through gargantuan evergreens that engulf the narrow street.

Engulf means “to flow over and enclose” or “overwhelm.” Thus, given that the evergreens are behind the town (and not on top of or around it), this word is inaccurate for describing them. So let’s replace engulf with a more accurate word; I’m going to guess that what the authors mean is that the evergreens are encroaching on the town.

…wind blowing through gargantuan evergreens that are encroaching on the narrow street.

Oh, and let’s change narrow street to town, as a forest of evergreens would be impartial in its encroaching.

…wind blowing through gargantuan evergreens that are encroaching on the town.

Shop windows and cars on either side covered in dust, the place seems frozen in time.

The two parts of this sentence are not inherently related; that the shop windows and cars on the street are covered in dust does not inherently mean that the town has been abandoned, and we haven’t been given enough information yet to deduce this either. So let’s just separate the two clauses in this sentence.

Shop windows and cars on either side covered in dust. The place seems frozen in time.

Now let’s make the first sentence grammatically sound by creating the participial phrase are covered, and the second sentence deliberate by replacing seems to with is.

Shop windows and cars on either side are covered in dust. The place is frozen in time.

Since the subject of the line that precedes these lines is the wind, and not the street, the referent of either side needs to be specified as the street. So let’s do this. And while we’re at it, let’s replace either side with both sides, as either is used for comparisons (as in “either this or that”) and both is used for inclusions (as in “both this and that”).

Shop windows and cars on both sides of the street are covered in dust. The place is frozen in time.

There is no movement.

The previous sentence states that the place is frozen in time; thus, the statement that there is no movement is redundant. So let’s remove it.

In the very middle of the road one can see... sand.

Since the middle of anything is an absolute position, qualifying the middle of the road with very in this sentence is meaningless. So let’s remove this qualification. Let’s also maintain consistent terminology and replace road with street. And let’s improve the mechanics of the sentence by adding a comma after street, to distinguish what precedes it as an introductory clause, and removing the ellipsis.

In the middle of the street, one can see sand.

The use of second person in this sentence (one can see) is inconsistent with the first-person “we-see” writing of the script thus far. So let’s replace one can see with we see.

In the middle of the street, we see sand.

A bizarre incongruity, a long pathway about a shovels width runs the full length of the street with offshoots into open doorways of some of the shops.

Since this sentence explains the previous sentence, let’s connect them with a semicolon. Also, if the pathway of sand is bizarre and incongruous, then it will be so to readers even without describing it as such. So let’s remove this description. And if the pathway runs the length of the street, then it needn’t be described as “long” or running the “full” length of the street, as both are implied by its running the length of the street. So let’s remove these redundancies.

a pathway about a shovels width runs the length of the street with offshoots into open doorways of some of the shops.

Let’s improve the mechanics of this sentence by adding an apostrophe to shovels, to indicate possession, and a comma after street, to separate clauses. And let’s also remove the specification of “open doorways,” as this specification is, if not irrelevant, then at least implied by the offshoots running into some of the shops.

a pathway about a shovels width runs the length of the street, with offshoots into some of the shops.

We hold for a long moment:

Since it’s not clear what we’re holding on or why we’re holding on it, let’s remove this sentence.

Edited Text

We hear a breeze.EXT. UPSTATE NEW YORK — TOWN — MAIN STREET — LATE AFTERNOONWe PUSH IN on a still, unilluminated traffic light. We HOLD ON the light until it bobs and sways. We slowly RISE UP the light to reveal that a small bird has landed on it. We CONTINUE RISING to reveal, behind the bird......wind blowing through gargantuan evergreens that are encroaching on the town. Shop windows and cars on both sides of the street are covered in dust. The place is frozen in time.In the middle of the street, we see sand; a pathway about a shovels width runs the length of the street, with offshoots into some of the shops.

Revised Text

The authors of this script have chosen to write in the “we-see” style. And this is fine, except that this style is redundant (for what else would we see if not that which is described?), and it tends to be repetitive, clunky, and inconsistent. To my ear, the edited excerpt is better, but it lacks flow and coherence—which may mean either that we over-edited it, or that our edits revealed its lack of flow and coherence. I’ll let you decide. Nevertheless, my suggestion to the writers would be to employ a more objective, literary writing style — for example, to describe what they see instead of how they see it. I would encourage the writers to simply describe what is — to state facts — and to let readers take care of the rest. Such a version of the script would both enable and encourage readers to participate in the story simply by leaving room for them to do so.

Consider the following revision that employs such an approach:

EXT. UPSTATE NEW YORK - GHOST TOWN - LATE AFTERNOONAn old traffic light hovers above the main street of the town. A bird lands on the light, and the light bobs and sways under its weight. Behind the bird, wind sweeps silently through an imposing forest of evergreens.The town is covered in dust. Cars line the streets, abandoned, and shop doors remain open, as if in expectation of regular business. The place is frozen in time.A pathway of sand about a shovel’s width runs through the middle of the street, with offshoots into various shops.

This version is straightforward, clear, consistent, coherent, and concise, all of which makes the experience of reading it both easy and enjoyable.

I hope this demonstration has been useful to you, and that it furthered your understanding of editing as well as enabled and encouraged you to improve the quality and efficiency of your own work. See you next time.

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Mitchell Ferrin

Mitchell Ferrin

Editor. I write about writing and editing and also share occasional thoughts on current events. mitchellferrin.com

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