Leave it Out


"Play it again, Sam."

That's probably the most famous line from a movie that actually wasn't in the movie.

So many people who have seen Casablanca remember Bogart saying that to Dooley Wilson. What he said was pretty close to that, but a surprising number of us remember Bogart walking over to the piano in Rick's place and delivering the line through a cloud of cigarette smoke.

It didn't happen.

I've been thinking about lines, speeches, and lines left out of books, television shows, and movies lately.

Kim and I are rewatching "West Wing".

I have a lot of friends who feel strongly one way or the other about the series. Some love or hate the subject matter. Some love or hate the way Sorkin writes.

One friend, in particular, hates how much Sorkin overwrites a scene. He finds the dialogue to be heavy-handed when it comes to exposing two sides of an issue.

I'm a fan of Sorkin's. My favorite series of his was Sports Night which was cancelled too soon. I liked Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. That was cancelled much too soon. I recognized all of the things that bothered people about his writing in the HBO series The Newsroom and enjoyed it anyway.

So Kim and I started to watch West Wing. It reminds us of an earlier time. It reminds us of characters, actors, and stories we enjoyed years ago (we'd rather re-watch Murphy Brown but that doesn't seem to be available).

I have friends who re-watch shows with much more substance. If you've been reading this blog for a while you know that I'm just not that deep as a person.

So we're watching West Wing and mostly I've been watching for the scenes that he doesn't write.

The show will be building to a scene and you'll see the character enter the door where the scene will take place.

Fade to black.

The scene isn't written. Or maybe it was written but not filmed. Or maybe it was filmed but lays on the proverbial editing floor.

Kim and I look at each other sure that we remember the elided scene. We don't remember it taking place off stage.

That's because it didn't. It took place in our heads.

When Sorkin is at his best he gives you all that you need to see the scene he doesn't write.

When Sorkin is not at his best, he doesn't trust you to supply the obvious and everything my friends say about him is right.

Later in the week we'll talk more specifically about how to leave the things you need to leave out of your prose.

Here's the main idea though.

If your audience can finish your thought for you, if they can supply the line that you're building towards, then maybe, just maybe, ...