The poet WH Auden said he would always back a would-be poet who loved language over one with a profound message.

In screenwriting we don’t talk much about language, and it is true that essentials such as structure and genre are crucial. Yet, once these have been sorted,  what do we have other than words? The greatest writers are surely those who have a passion for finding the right words, the best way to express themselves, the precise language that they need.

One of the best ways to learn about language is to read – read scripts, read novels, read poems.

But we also need to understand how language works at its deepest levels – to understand the deep grammatical structures – for it is these that profoundly affect the way we hear and understand – these deep structures can either create the strongest emotional effects… or ruin them!

What do I mean by deep structures? This topic is large and fascinating, and and mastering it will help any writer become enormously more skilful. Here is just one example:

The incomplete sentence.

Imagine a character (or a person) says “That’s useful.” The context may be clear, the meaning obvious, and yet the sentence is lacking. What is it that’s useful? Useful by whose standards? And perhaps most importantly: useful for what?

The reader/audience/listener must fill in the gaps from their own imagination. And this is good – because it draws them in, gives them role that is active.  In this short sentence, they have to work to create subtext, guess what the speaker really means, what their values are, and much more.

Sentences that leave something unsaid in this way give richness to language by asking you to complete them.

You might also say: “To be or not to be.” (Who is to be? What are they to be? What are they not to be?) or “An offer you can’t refuse.” (An offer of what? Can’t refuse or what?)

These are just a few examples – you might think it good to look back through this article and discover many other examples that I have used. Then try the pattern out for yourself and see how powerful it can be.

Once you start looking at scripts and listening to people speak you’ll find it used again and again. You will also find there are many other deep patterns that are just as effective.

They can be used to make scripts richer. They can also be used to make your pitches stronger, your ability to collaborate and argue your point more powerful and even to deal with criticisms and verbal attacks.