What is “Voice” in Screenwriting? How to Stand Out From the Crowd
“Voice” is a term that gets thrown around a lot in screenwriting. Ask enough agents and managers, and eventually you’ll hear that they’re looking for a “fresh voice.” But what does that really mean?
The FX TV series ATLANTA is a great source to look at for this question. It has an extremely particular “voice.” It’s funny, dramatic, often in the same scenes, and has a bizarre sense of humor, sometimes even a surreal one.
In episode 8 of Season 1, “The Club”, Earn, Paper Boi, and Darius go to a nightclub together. Darius has previously talked to Earn about NBA star Marcus Miles (who is at the club) having an “invisible car.” Earn, of course, points out that the car can’t be invisible, as that’s impossible. It’s clear that Darius disagrees.
This is part of ATLANTA’s voice. Darius isn’t kidding. He honestly believes Marcus Miles has an invisible car. The rest of the episode proceeds in a grounded fashion, as the club promoter rips the guys off, and Paper Boi has to intimidate him to get paid.
The guys leave the club, and there’s a shooting outside. Everyone freaks out and runs. In the background, we see a man fly, as if he’s seated behind the wheel of a car. His “invisible car” hits some pedestrians, who fly up from the impact.
Darius was right. The invisible car is real. It’s an extremely wacky joke. But the episode is otherwise 100% realistic. And much of the show, which deals with Earn’s poverty, his issues with the mother of his child, and Paper Boi’s burgeoning rap career, is also 100% realistic.
Yet the show will nonchalantly throw in this absurdist bit of humor, without batting an eye. The courage to do that is “voice.” It’s a specific choice that expresses ATLANTA’s unique combination of drama (the shooting) and oddball humor (the invisible car is real).
Whatever the strangest creative choice is you’re making in a particular script, that’s likely an expression of your unique “voice.” Don’t shy away from it, embrace it. Because that voice is a big reason that one script out of a pile of a hundred will stand out. And really all of screenwriting is about standing out from that pile (both in TV and features).
How do you project your “voice” in your screenwriting?