TIP OF THE DAY: The Magic of the Prelap - Writer's Digest

TIP OF THE DAY: The Magic of the Prelap

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Someone once told me that if you hear something three times, it means the universe is sending you a message. Well, I haven't heard this three times yet, but a question came up in my writers group last week... and then I got an email yesterday asking almost the exact same question. And since I was never good with numbers, I figure two times is as good as three. So here ya go...

In my writers group, my friend Tony-- an up-and-coming screenwriter who optioned his first script last year-- was working on a new project and having trouble tying two scenes together. Here, take a look...

MR. JACKSON
Sure, sure. Well, see you next
Saturday.

Daniela, precariously balancing her mother-load of hot dogs, shoots Trevor a less than pleased glance. (The problem was: we see Daniela's "less-than-pleased glance" here...)

INT. TREVOR'S APARTMENT - NIGHT

The place is totally seventies. Not hip, retro-cool seventies -- but musty, smells like Grandpa, seventies.

Trevor opens the door, pushing aside a pile of mail.

DANIELA
Trevor, you promised you'd meet my
dad next Saturday. (...but don't
get an answer till here about what
she's less-than-pleased about.)

TREVOR
Sorry, I forgot. How bout this --
you invite your dad to come to my
game. Huh? Afterwards, we'll grab
some grub... maybe a beer... maybe
two?

Although there isn't a huge amount of time between Daniela's "less than pleased" glance and the line that explains the glance, there's enough time that readers were saying, "Wait-- what? Why is she less-than-pleased? Did I miss something?" And even though they get their answer in a moment, any red flag, is enough to bump a reader out of your script.

So Rick, one of the other guys in the writers group, and I suggested using a "prelap" to move up Daniela's line.

Here's the thing about prelaps... I love them. I could write a whole script of prelaps. I have no idea who invented them, but I think I first discovered them while reading a Joss Whedon script a few years ago. And since Joss gave us Buffyand Angel, I'm perfectly willing to credit him with inventing the prelap.

The crazy thing is-- there's nothing all that special about them... except they do a great job of making a script feel genuinely cinematic, and when used correctly, they add shades of emotional nuance and foreshadowing.

Basically, a prelap uses a line of dialogue from one scene to end the scene preceding it, allowing the first scene to flow seamlessly into the second.

So here's what Tony did...

MR. JACKSON

Sure, sure. Well, see you next

Saturday.

Daniela, precariously balancing her mother-load of hot dogs, shoots Trevor a less than pleased glance.


DANIELA (PRELAP)

You promised you'd meet my dad

next Saturday.



INT. TREVOR'S APARTMENT - NIGHT

The place is totally seventies. Not hip, retro-cool seventies -- but musty, smells like Grandpa, seventies.

Trevor opens the door, pushing aside a pile of mail.

TREVOR

Sorry, I forgot. How bout this --

you invite your dad to come to my

game. Huh? Afterwards, we'll grab

some grub... maybe a beer... maybe

two?

Because the second scene's conflict now begins in the first scene, it carries you into the next. The scenes are tied together with the prelap, letting one flow right into the other without bumping the reader. Screenwriting magic!

(I know, I know-- I tend to get excited over little things, but come on-- you gotta admit: that's pretty cool.)

(Oh, and by the way-- no real comment on Sunday's Oscars. I'm still upset that no one put down The Bourne Ultimatum as a write-in nominee for best picture.)

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