How Revision Changed JAWS (1975)

Jaws is the property of Universal Pictures.

Well, I finally watched Jaws.

(It was never on TV or streaming when I could watch it!)

Like all the big films I’ve been watching this semester—two other finally-watched 70s classics were The Godfather and Chinatown—I was taking notes while watching it, which includes having the screenplay up on one half of my screen while I take notes on the other half.

I pretty quickly realized that the script I had up was not the final one. Scenes were different, dialogue was different.

Quint was very different.

If you’ve read my guest post on The Better Novel Project, you know that I really geek out over dialogue. And if you’ve read other posts on my blog before, you know that I am very passionate about voice.

So of course Quint’s language in the film struck a chord with me like a hammer on piano wire.

And I want to share his first monologue with you. But before I do, I want to share what the original script had him say, because comparing the two is such a great lesson in rewriting to strengthen voice.

I’m going to number the sentences for easier comparison.

Quint’s First Monologue in the Original Screenplay

  1. You all know me.
  2. You know what I do for a living.
  3. I’ll go out and get this bird for you.
  4. He’s a bad one and it’s not like goin’ down the pond chasing blue-gills and tommy-cods.
  5. This is a fish that can swallow a man whole.
  6. A little shakin’, a little tenderizing and down ya’ go.
  7. You gotta get this fellow and get him quick.
  8. If you do, it’ll bring a lot of tourist business just to see him and you’ve got your business back on a paying basis.
  9. A shark of that size is no pleasure and I value my neck at a hell of a lot more’n 3,000 bucks.
  10. I’ll find him for three.
  11. But I’ll kill him for ten.
  12. The bastard is costing you more’n that every day.
  13. Do you wanna stay alive and annee up the ten or play it cheap and be on welfare next winter.
  14. I’m gonna kill this thing… just a matter of whether I do it now — or at the end of summer.

Not bad, right? But not explosive, either. And Spielberg likes explosive.

Here’s the revised version:

Quint’s First Monologue in the Finished Film

  1. Y’all know me.
  2. Know how I earn a livin’.
  3. I’ll catch this bird for ya, but it ain’t gonna be easy…
  4. Bad fish.
  5. It’s not like going down to pond chasin’ blue gills or tommy cots.
  6. This shark—swallow ya hole.
  7. Li’l shakin’, li’l tenderizin’, down ya go.
  8. Now we gotta do it quick, that’ll bring back the tourists, that’ll put all your businesses on a payin’ basis.
  9. But it’s not gonna be pleasant!
  10. I value my neck a lot more than 3000 bucks, chief!
  11. I’ll find him for three, but I’ll catch him… and kill him… for ten!
  12. Now you gotta make up your minds.
  13. Gonna stay alive and ante up?
  14. Or ya wanna play it cheap, be on welfare the whole winter?
  15. I don’t want no volunteers; I don’t want no mates.
  16. There’s too many captains on this island.
  17. Ten thousand dollars for me by myself.
  18. For that you get the head, the tail, the whole damn thing.

Doesn’t this read differently? Same content for the most part, but edited and refined. THIS is explosive diction. THIS is what makes nerdy writers blog even when they should be writing essays for grad school … (oops.)

Go ahead and look between the two and compare sentences.

Then, since we are already getting our nerd on, making sentence graphs and everything, why don’t we count the breath units? (Those are the number of syllables between breaths or punctuation points.) It’s OK if you want to skip ahead to the video. No judgment.

Intense Geekery: Breath Unit Comparison

Here they are in the original version: 4, 9, 9, 20, 11, 16, 11, 3, 37, 26, 5, 6, 13, 25, 6, 11, 7
(Average breath unit: 12.8 syllables)

And since I’m a visual person and numbers start to lose meaning after, like, four of them, here’s a visual:


And in the final film: 3, 7, 6, 8, 2, 16, 2, 4, 4, 6, 4, 7, 7, 14, 8, 14, 5, 4, 3, 2, 8, 9, 7, 8, 8, 5, 10, 10, 6, 2, 4
(Average breath unit: 6.5 syllables)


While the first graph looks more like a roller coaster, which emotionally or intuitively might feel better for a writer to come up with, the second graph is tighter and shows a more natural and consistent flow in a character’s speech.

Why the breath units again?

If you can’t explain why something doesn’t sound right, check out the breath units.

Is counting syllables tedious? Sure. Eventually you’ll train your brain and your ear to hear a more natural rhythm.

Do all of your sentences have to be short? No. But if you look at the differences between the rhythm of the first graph and the second graph, you can see that the more natural-sounding speech doesn’t go from three syllables to 37, just like that. And if you try to say 37 syllables in a row without breathing, your lungs will feel how unnatural lengthy breath units are, simply because humans need to breathe. Twenty-five syllables or more might not look impossible on the page—and sometimes, when we are nervous or anxious, we can spit out a lot of syllables breathlessly—but readers and actors will pick up on dialogue that is unspeakable.

Rewriting Jaws

We know that Robert Shaw, the actor who played Quint, rewrote his major monologue near the climax of the film:

In addition to being an Oscar-nominated actor, Shaw was an award-winning writer of novels, plays and screenplays, and when he took a crack at polishing up the monologue, he made it into something unforgettable. Spielberg asserts that the monologue was a joint effort between two screenwriters and Shaw, while others say that Shaw did the heavy lifting to make the monologue so perfect.

—Linnea Crowther, “Robert Shaw as Jaws‘ Quint: 8 Facts

I assume that Shaw is responsible for this monologue’s rewrite as well.

Written out, the monologue might seem unrealistic, even silly: “Bad fish.” But in the hands of a master actor, it feels natural.

How did Shaw rewrite it? It wasn’t just that he was an award-winning writer. It’s because he spent so much time listening to a real local fisherman, Craig Kingsbury, a resident of Martha’s Vineyard. After listening so intently to a real-live person, Shaw was able to bring that authenticity to his work.

And here it is:

For more tips on writing realistic dialogue, read my guest post at The Better Novel Project.

Do you have a favorite voice in fiction or film? Share in the comments or tweet me @LaraEdits.

Tony Stark’s Motivation and Vices

Following the superhero theme from last month’s posts on Batman and Harvey Dent, I wanted to revisit fear and motivation with Tony Stark—A.K.A. Iron Man—in a quick character study.

This is a man of many vices, but Tony Stark’s cardinal sin is sloth. He is afraid of failure, so he doesn’t apply himself. His goal is to be “safe” and comfortable. Some people might say he’s afraid of losing more people (like Bruce Wayne, Tony Stark is a billionaire orphan), so he wants to be in control (greed).

But he doesn’t actively try to be in control.

He wants Pepper to take over the business so he can tinker in his basement.

Tony is afraid of committing to her, and he’s afraid of committing to others, which is why his coming out and saying “I am Iron Man” is the conclusion to his first arc. He’s finally committing himself, and he’s committing himself to the entire nation.

See how you can use the “seven deadly sins” as inspiration for character motivation in this post from the archives…

Lara Willard

Welcome to Fiction Friday! We are currently in the middle of the Character Series. Last week I posted the Character Worksheets and included a little schpiel on the Cardinal Sins (Seven Deadly Sins). Today I’m going to go into each with a little more detail to illustrate how they can be used as a way to view character motivations. Why the Cardinal Sins? No, I’m not trying to prognosticate here. Two reasons I like this method of summarizing motivations: 1) as a part of popular culture, the idea of the seven sins is familiar to many people, both religious and wholly secular. 2) It’s a reminder that no character is a saint. Few things are more yawn-inducing than a character that is perfectly perfect.

As long as you consider the motivations of your characters, and as long as their actions come about because of what motivates them on the inside,

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Which Hogwarts House Do You Belong In?

Neville Longbottom Funko


Do you remember when Bustle offered “The ONE Question That Will Determine Which Hogwarts House You Belong In”? This one:

If you could take on huge risk right now, and undo it if it didn’t end up with the result you wanted, what would it be?

It was a horrible question, completely non-canon. Artists kept getting sorted as Slytherin, because our answer involved taking risks for the sake of art, A.K.A. “our career.”

Should we really trust a sorting hat method created by a Slytherpuff anyway? (I’m totally kidding. I’m married to one.)

The Sorting Hat Is All You Need


If Hermione were in charge of sorting students, she’d go to the primary source: The Sorting Hat. Not even Pottermore, which is what caused existential crises in all of us when THAT first came out.

Example: I’m a Gryffindor. If you’d have asked in 2012 which Hogwarts I would be in, I would’ve said Ravenclaw. They’re brilliant, and they live in a tower. (Those conditions were the only aspects I considered. Clearly I’m not as brilliant as I think.)

Then Pottermore sorted me into Gryffindor, triggering an existential crisis.

Now I totally get it. I’m like a hybrid Minerva/Molly/Hermione.

You can view everything the Sorting Hat says sings on the subject of houses here, but read on for the defining characteristics of each.

Images belong to Pottermore. Become a member to take their sorting quiz.


Ravenclaws are CLEVER. They might be wise, or they might be “smart” (as in, “Don’t be smart with me!”). They are more concerned with self-betterment than measurable success; they are motivated by improvement, not competition with others. They need to be informed … and to inform others.

The Ravenclaws who kept hiding Luna’s things can show the dark side of Ravenclaw: removing whatever makes oneself look less than best.


Gryffindors have NERVE. Bravery—maybe. Willingness to talk back to teachers, sure. Standing up to bullies / defending others? Definitely. They aren’t afraid to break the rules for the greater good.

Taking risks isn’t necessarily a defining factor of Gryffindor! You can be a scaredy wormtail and still end up in Gryffindor. You might avoid risks if the stakes are personal (like failure or rejection) but be braver if someone else is at risk. Neville showed a ton of courage in The Deathly Hallows, but do you think he tried out for the Quidditch team? I’m thinking No.


Slytherins have AMBITION. They are the most valuable allies and the most formidable foes because they will fight/sacrifice to achieve their goals. Slytherins get things done.

You don’t have to be a liar or a cheat to be in Slytherin, but if you are, then at least all the other sorting tests based on superficial stereotypes will confirm that you’re in the right house. *shrug*


Hufflepuffs are TRUE to self & others. Loyal, kind, and hardworking if they believe in the work. Hufflepuffs are the most altruistic, possibly the most practical, definitely the most fair.


Why isn’t Harry Potter a Slytherin? He totally could’ve been, except that he was prejudiced against them by the Weasleys, who considered evil, racist Death Eaters as being representative of the Slytherin house. #NotAllSlytherin

Why weren’t Hermione Granger or Minerva McGonagall Ravenclaws? Because they both have a lot of nerve—they’re willing to break rules.

But Hermione wasn’t willing to break the rules when she was first sorted! I think the Sorting Hat is either into divination—it saw how Harry and Ron would rub off on her—or it felt the need to inject some wisdom into Gryffindor to balance out the Weasley brothers.

Why isn’t Neville Longbottom a Hufflepuff? Neville is very loyal, but more than that, he’s willing to lose house points (and their good sides) to stand up to Harry & co. He’s a Gryffindor.

Why wasn’t Snape a Gryffindor? He was brave and sacrificial, but ultimately his actions were motivated by obtaining his goals: becoming Dark Arts professor or (spoiler: [acting out his love for Lily]).

Why wasn’t Luna a Gryffindor or a Hufflepuff? Simply put, she’s the cleverest of all Harry’s friends. You might say she’s a rule-breaker, but she can’t really break rules if she marches to the beat of her own drum.

Do you have any more examples you’d like to add? Based on the defining characteristics above, which house would you be sorted into?

When Voice Doesn’t Match

Have you ever gotten feedback that your book is too literary?

Have you ever been told your protagonist is too old for his or her voice?

But my book is is full of sex and violence! How could you say it sounds middle grade?

Even if your content matches your age category and genre, your voice needs to match, too.

How do you make your voice match genre and age category?

First, determine whether you are using enough Anglo-Saxon or Latinate English.

See my post on the difference between the two by clicking here or on the image below.

diction anglo-saxon latinate-01

Second, make sure your tone and subtext reflect the outlook of your protagonist’s age.

Here are a few observations for three age categories:

A Middle Grade protagonist is concerned about her abilities. She will observe what others are doing and how she fits in—because she does not want to be perceived as babyish or unable—but she still has fun without much effort. A MG voice uses more “can,” “could” and “will” language, probably because preteens think about what they can do currently and what they’ll be able to do in the future.

A Young Adult protagonist is concerned with his identity. What kind of person is he? Who influences the way he thinks? What circles is he in, and how does he act within each? How can he still have fun without wrecking relationships? Others’ perceptions might be more important than self awareness. Writing a YA voice isn’t about injecting slang, which is too easy to do wrong—it’s about implications and subtext that imply tone and feelings. It’s about generating emotional reactions. A teen is also thinking about the physical world in a relational context, so he/she is more likely to talk about body parts than MG or non-romance adult literature.

An Adult protagonist is concerned with purpose and priorities. She’s also going to be more concerned with practicality since she’s got to take care of herself (and possibly others). Work is important, her relationships are important, and she’s still learning more about herself. She’ll be more concerned about consequences than teens or children, so when figuring out personal pursuits, she’s more likely to question whether she’s shirking responsibilities. An adult is more likely to be nostalgic about his or her childhood, looking to the past to inform the future. He or she might also have more regret. Words like “would” and “could” are more likely to creep in.

See Kyra Nelson’s post on her linguistic studies of YA literature and how it differs from children’s and adult lit. It’s fascinating!

Do you agree with these observations? Disagree?