a pro script reader ponders movies, reading, writing and the occasional personal flashback

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Evil Anagrams

In screenwriting trends that we can do without, I've read not one but two scripts this week that hinge on characters realizing that something is going on because someone's name is an anagram of another name.

In one, the villain turns out to be a grown kid from the main characters' childhood, the letters in his name rearranged. In another, the main character realizes that he is in some version of Hell because the names of everyone there are anagrams of his name.

The problem with this? It isn't really that clever, or plausible, and it doesn't really work on screen, where the audience (unlike someone reading the script) doesn't constantly have the names in front of them.

It's also pointless. In both scripts, the bad guy doesn't want the main character to learn the truth, so having this clue lying around doesn't make any sense. Neither script has the sense that the villain is using this to somehow taunt the main character.

(It does amuse me to think of the Devil sitting around, figuring out two dozen anagrams of the main characters' name for no reason, as if he has nothing better to do. Maybe he uses Scrabble tiles.)

So if you have something like this in your script, you've been warned. It's out there already, in ways that are dumb.

I think the Simpson's did it best in an episode, when Lisa goes to the house of a smarter girl and their intellectual family, who like doing name anagrams for fun. They give Lisa "Jeremy Irons", and she gives them a vague look, and says "Jeremy's Iron"?

I like word puzzles, but I think she should have beat them all with a tire iron. Jeremy's tire iron.


At 7:46 AM, Blogger E.C. Henry said...

Hey Scott, thanks for the advice on a trend in circles of writing that you don't see working.

Now I realize you didn't name the author, but why are you singling this person's script out? Isn't their some bond of confidentiality that you as a professional script reader must adhere to?

I know if the shoe was on the other foot, I WOUNDN'T want you to post critism of an aspect of an unbought scipt that I had written without first discussing it with me and getting my concent.

- E.C. Henry from Bonney Lake, WA

At 8:11 AM, Blogger Burbanked said...

When I used to read scripts, I'd get into the habit of analyzing a character's name if it seemed offbeat or strangely spelled, just to see if the writer was trying to work this oft-used-but-rarely-successful trick. You know, if his name is Joe Ceknapa and he happens to be a pancake chef!

This and the other cleverness - wherein the writer rearranges the letter of their OWN name - were always triggers that I was reading a bad, bad script.

At 8:17 AM, Blogger Dante Kleinberg said...

I guess it depends on the level of transparency and the quality of the work as a whole. I mean Lost does that kind of stuff all the time but people eat it up. It's like the old adage: You can break the rules if no one notices.

Speaking of bits that seem clever but don't actually work...

I remember an issue of Twisted Toyfare Theater that was satirizing the stuff in the Star Wars novels and side projects. I'm not a Star Wars guy, but I thought it still funny. Apparently Luke Skywalker has an evil twin named Luuke in some novel somewhere.

One guy: Hey Luke
Luuke: No, I'm Luuke
OG: What?
Luuke: I'm his evil twin that was cloned from his severed hand. Luuke.
OG: So wait, the only way to tell the difference in your names is to READ them?
(paraphrased from Twisted Toyfare Theater)

At 8:19 AM, Blogger Scott the Reader said...

E.C. -- These were both scripts from writers with agents, so they should know better. Plus I'm not really giving away major plot points. At all.

Burbanked -- Yeah, inevitably the names look really awkward and suspicious.

Dante -- Heh.

At 10:12 AM, Blogger Brett said...

I dunno... I think character names are one of those places where you have an opportunity to have some fun and score some bonus points, but that also means it's an area where you had better damned well repeat the old Hippocratic Oath ("first, do no harm").

Anagrams... seems a dangerously easy pun to play.

At 2:07 PM, Anonymous apextwin said...

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets: Tom Marvolo Riddle = I am Lord Voldemort


At 3:03 PM, Blogger Tom said...

Is it Rosemary's Baby that did the anagram trick first? Sad to say I remember this not from the film but the Mad magazine spoof of the film.

At 4:16 PM, Blogger Jim Endecott said...


With all of the books, blogs and seminars available to new writers of which any combination would surely give you enough knowledge to avoid at least 50% of the common pitfalls of a bad script, have you seen any "general" improvement over the years in the scripts you read?

Do you feel blogs like yours, dispensing small pieces of advice over time, are making a dent in the flow of new specs?

Thanks for your time.


At 4:56 PM, Anonymous eddie said...


Is that an anagram?

At 9:41 PM, Blogger Fun Joel said...

On a similar note, there is the famous Louis Cyphre character in Angel Heart. But since it is only one character, and you don't know to look for it when he first appears, you don't necessarily pick up on the play on words that it is. It actually worked pretty well there, I thought.

At 8:02 AM, Blogger Scott the Reader said...

Maybe my name is Chris.

Because if you unscramble the letters of my full name, Scott Richard Mullen, you get my evil genius name --

Chris L. Lemon-CatTurd

Which hurt my brain to figure out. And which is about the level of a lot of the anagrams I see.

As for Jim's question, I'd like to think that all the blogs in the "scribosphere" have been helping somewhat, but who knows. There are a lot of people writing screenplays out there, and a very small percentage have ever come here.

Still, I've met a lot of people I never would have met before. And I like to think I'm doing my part to keep the kids off the streets.

At 1:16 PM, Blogger Bill Cunningham said...

The exception to the rule of course being DRACULA and ALUCARD which was used in MONSTER SQUAD.

And then there was the infamous Al Ulysses Card, from the Dell DRACULA comic (the less said the better).


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