Don’t Write Shoe Leather, Part 2.

Yesterday, I posted about shoe leather, which is basically the boring stuff in your script. Stuff that doesn’t advance the story or inform the characters. So shoe leather’s really just boring stuff that you just cut it, and if you remove it, it makes the story even better.

Some people commented, “Well, I really like the boring stuff.”

Really? So when you’re looking at your feed, whether Instagram or Facebook, whatever, you’ll sit through anything, doesn’t matter how boring or stupid it is. You’ll sit through whatever comes up. You won’t scroll past it. Is that you? I don’t think so. But if that is you, okay, you can sit this one out. I’ll talk to everybody else.

If your goal is to be a professional writer… television, books, whatever you want to do, you have an obligation to your reader or your viewer to entertain them. If you are not entertaining them, they will pick up that remote, click and find something else, something better. Right? No one is under any obligation to sit through something that’s boring. Only your mother. Your mother has to sit through it. Everybody else can just scroll past it and find something else to do. So the sooner you accept that, the more likely you are to become a professional writer, because you have to entertain in some way. It doesn’t have to be funny. I mean, drama’s entertaining too.

So what is shoe leather? I gave an example. Shoe leather might be… Here’s a real fast one. You’re watching a TV show, there’s a character in the kitchen. Knock, knock, knock.

“Who is it?”

“It’s me. Can I come in?”

“Oh, hold on a second. I’m making a bowl of cereal. Just one second.”

And the person crosses the door, puts the milk in the refrigerator, shuts the refrigerator door, crosses to the other door, undoes the latch, undoes the lock, opens the door, “Hey, come on in.”

All that is boring. It’s shoe leather. It doesn’t advance the story. It doesn’t tell anything about the character.

Are there exceptions to that? Yes, of course there are. What if the person on the other end of the door, the audience knows that person is a serial killer and they have a knife in their hand? Now you’re adding… That’s not shoe leather, it’s dramatic tension. “Ooh, don’t open the door. Don’t open the door.”

You need that time so the audience is like, “Oh, God. What’s going to happen?”

Let’s say for another example, the character is anorexic. And them making the bowl of cereal is all part of their theater. It’s all a prop that they’re going to put out so that everyone thinks they’re eating when they’re not eating. They haven’t eaten in days. So now that’s character stuff. Now you want to keep that in. So it’s not shoe leather. But if it doesn’t fit those requirements, you probably want to get rid of it.

Someone also said, “Well, what about Indie movies? There’s a lot of shoe leather in Indie movies.” Look, I can’t really respond to that unless you tell me which movie you’re talking about and what scene you’re talking about. My guess is, the movie would be better without that shoe leather. Things would probably move a little faster. Right? Don’t act like just because it’s Indie it’s handed from God, like it’s written in stone.

I’ve produced hundreds and hundreds of hours of TV. When I watch stuff that I’ve put out on the air, I can only see the problems. I can only see the things I wish we could have done better, but we couldn’t. And there’s usually a lot of reasons why. Sometimes, I would think, “Oh, I wish we could have cut that.” “I wish it was a different angle.” But there are budgetary constraints. With Indie movies even more so, because they always have to shoot on a budget. Often when I’m in editing, I wish I could cut a whole section that feels chewy. It doesn’t really advance the story. But I can’t because we don’t have the right camera coverage because we’re under time constraints. Often the director will have to make decisions. Like, “We can’t get that shot. We have to shoot it in master.”

When you have to shoot something in master, you don’t have the cutting elements that you need so that you can make certain cuts. This is all part of the reality of shooting a show. I’m certain that even in an Indie movie, it’s even more so because they have to shoot under budgetary constraints. So don’t just think everything is there. It’s there for a reason. Often it’s just the reality of you can’t make it perfect.

So for more tips on screenwriting, and how to be a better writer, you’re certainly welcome to follow me here, on Instagram @MichaelJaminWriter. If you really want to take it up a level, you’re welcome to sign up for my course. I have an online screenwriting course at michaeljamin.com/course.

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Michael Jamin, Showrunner, TV Writer, Author

Michael Jamin

For the past 26 years, Michael Jamin has been a professional television writer/showrunner. His credits include King of the Hill, Beavis & Butthead, Wilfred, Maron, Just Shoot Me, Rules of Engagement, Brickleberry, Tacoma FD and many more.

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