Yet Another Overused Word in Screenwriting
Stupid Screenwriting Shit
Overused words are a never-ending subject in screenwriting classes, workshops, conferences, and any other forum in which screenplays are analyzed and discussed. As a reader, we encounter words at such a frequency that they begin to burrow into our cerebral cortex and clamp onto the ganglia like extraterrestrial, invasive mutant larva. Here is another such candidate: "clocked"
I’m sorry, but when and why did this word ever become more commonly used than “look,” “walk,” and “run”?
Past or present?
For one thing it uses “ed,” i.e. the past tense. Kind of a no-no in screenwriting. And not a no-no in the sense of don’t use flashbacks and don’t use voiceovers, but in the sense that this is not a fucking novel we’re writing. This is some present-tense shit, even if it does linearly occur in the fucking past.
So at first glance this appears to be a verb being used in the past-tense, right? Which is pretty distracting. It’s hard to even think of verbs that use “ed” in the present. I damn sure can’t think of even one. But, trust me, in our nonsensical language, “clocked” in the screenplay context has become for no apparent reason present-tense. For now, though, let’s ignore that bit of grammatical wrongness, and just keep going.
Who says this?
The other thing: who says this in daily life? Maybe I live under a pile of granite, but I never hear this from any walk of life. Not from my low-life friends. Not from my high-flying, Instagram-influencer level amigos. Nadie.
I’ll give you an example in case, like me, the first time you saw this you struggled to use your elementary school reading skills and use context to figure out just what the fuck “clocked” meant.
“Melvin clocked Maggie walking to the mailbox.”
What the hell does it even mean?
So in my day the intransitive verb form of “clock” meant two things: you got decked by someone. You got hit. You got punched hard. So in my opinion this line reads like Melvin may have just domestically abused Maggie or at the very least attacked her unwarrantedly.
But, no, the unschooled of us would be wrong. This means with more context–including when Maggie doesn’t strike back or fall to the sidewalk bleeding–that Melvin took note of Maggie walking to the mailbox.
So sitting back down in my grumpy screenwriter armchair, what relevant information does this really even provide? I guess if I put more text around it, that could help, but to me every line should stand on its own. Economy of fucking words.
To me, it’s just a break from the word “look” — and “look,” as all too many scripts prove, is usually just a filler word rarely doing anything in a script but giving the writer a chance to take a break and give the reader a signal that the script might not be going anywhere.
Lowers confidence in the writer
I hate to say it, but when I read the word “clock” in a script it is always a bad sign. Words say a lot, but mainly I start to lose trust in the writer. It is like cracks in the pavement. And usually I am proven right. The script often doesn’t go anywhere: the characters are flat or the concept is problematic. There is probably some memorable dialogue and a scene or two, but ultimately the script gets a pass.
As a writer, I am certainly guilty of using crutch words too, but these should not go in the draft you send out to readers. It’s perfectly fine in a writer’s draft. That’s yours. But I am talking about scripts that right now are floating around H-wood and are chock-full of “clocked.”
Probably here to stay…(sigh)
I am so probably in the minority on this. I mean, as I just said, scripts are floating around this town–which means they are getting read–and this word is employed in many of them. Getting read is good. Besides, what the hell do I know anyway?
So, go ahead. Clock away. Don’t listen to me.
FOR FURTHER INFO: Origin of using “clocked” to mean “noticed”