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 next section. 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:

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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)

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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.

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.

Writing Exercises: Voice

I sure have missed blogging and interacting with you all over here. Though I can’t commit to posting regularly (my course load for my MFA is now much higher than before), I do still want to make this a place where writers can get new or at least renewed resources. Why else subscribe? Besides getting access to my free downloads, I mean.

Speaking of downloads, I added a link in the navigation so you can find them all in one place! Get there under Writer Resources in the main menu or by visiting larawillard.com/downloads

So I decided to start posting writing exercises every Friday on Twitter @LaraEdits and Facebook. I don’t want to post that often here on my blog, but I’d like to do a monthly roundup for you.

Here are the writing exercises from the past couple of weeks and the rest of October:

1: Latinate & Anglo-Saxon Diction

Switching between Latinate and Anglo-Saxon roots for different connotations:

Write down a list of 5–10 adjectives describing yourself or your protagonist. Look them up in the dictionary and see if they are based on Latin/French roots or Germanic (or Old English) roots. Then come up with a syllable that comes from the other family.

Source: Latinate vs Anglo Saxon Diction

2: Rewriting

Rewriting makes better writers, just like repainting makes better painters (see Hokusai below) Today’s is a long assignment, so feel free to just do number 8!

Assignment: Diction & Rewriting

Reference:

3: Reimagined Lyrics

Pick a song with memorable lyrics. Look up those lyrics. Rewrite the song by swapping out the words and imagery for those of another character’s point of view. Some ideas:

  • One of your characters
  • Romeo, the lovestruck Shakespearean teenager
  • A pothead (e.g. one of Cheech’s, Chong’s, or Seth Rogen’s portrayals)
  • A proper British lady trying desperately to impress her in-laws
  • A man who has been cryogenically frozen through several decades and just woke up
  • A seven-year-old who wishes to be a princess
  • A toddler

Source: What Pop Songs Teach Us about Voice

4: How old is your voice?

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

  1. Take a scene or paragraph from your character’s point of view and see if it “sounds” the right age by checking it against these guidelines: https://larawillard.com/2016/02/25/when-voice-and-genre-dont-match/
  2. Then rewrite it as if the character were in a different age category.

5: Pirate Voices

Go to your local library and find a picture book—fiction, not nonfiction—about pirates. Read it aloud in a pirate voice. I recommend Pirates of the Sea by Brandon Dorman or  Pirate Pete’s Talk Like a Pirate by Kim Kennedy. Can’t find a pirate book? Read Owl Babies by Martin Waddell and see how each of the baby owls has a different personality based on their dialogue.

You can stop there or write Talk Like a ___________ for a different profession. What would Talk Like a Podiatrist sound like?

6: Characters in Costume

Are you dressing up for Halloween? Would one of your characters? Take that costume, turn it into a character, and write a Trick or Treat scene from that point of view. Dressing up as a strawberry? Write it from the POV of a strawberry. What kind of observations does that character see? Is the weather foreboding or gleefully dreary? Does the character’s age affect how they see the event? Are they a creature or inanimate object? Use all five senses.

What Pop Songs Teach Us about Voice

We’re going to play a game: Name that tune. Can you name the songs listed below? No cheating! I picked a variety of decades and artists. See if you can name them all.

  1. You may say I’m a dreamer / but I’m not the only one
  2. A singer in a smoky room / a smell of wine and cheap perfume
  3. Hanging out the passenger side /of his best friend’s ride / trying to holler at me
  4. Gold teeth and a curse for this town were all in my mouth.
  5. We count our dollars on the train to the party.

What Pop Songs Can Teach Us about Writing Voice

That first song has a line which grabs your attention.

The second line sets the scene with sensory details.

The third comes from a song that defined a term for a generation. But it doesn’t tell us the [Urban] Dictionary definition straight out—it shows us through a scene.

The fourth song uses a handful of similes and other fresh imagery.

The fifth song characterizes the singer and her friends.

Together, these five songs show how important a unique voice is—and how popular a strong one can become.

How do you improve voice?

The opposite of strong voice is a generic, impersonal one. To create a strong voice, do the following.

  • Be relatable and understandable. (Don’t write in a way that the reader can’t follow. Don’t try to spell out dialect or accents phonetically.)
  • Use sensory detail that your character would notice.
  • Show what you mean using people or situations unique to your character’s experiences.
  • Use similes and metaphors. Revise cliches into fresh imagery.
  • Characterize through specific word choice.

Writing Exercise—Fifteen Blinks

Option One: Read this to find out what a Fifteen Blinker is. Choose five to ten specific words or images from one of the songs below and write a Fifteen Blinker using those words.

Option Two: Pick a song with memorable lyrics. Look up those lyrics. Rewrite the song by swapping out the words and imagery for those of another character’s point of view. Some ideas:

  • One of your characters
  • Romeo, the lovestruck Shakespearean teenager
  • A pothead (e.g. one of Cheech’s, Chong’s, or Seth Rogen’s portrayals)
  • A proper British lady trying desperately to impress her in-laws
  • A man who has been cryogenically frozen through several decades and just woke up
  • A seven-year-old who wishes to be a princess
  • A toddler

Want more writing exercises? See my tag. Want some critique partners to exchange work with? Join the community at StoryWorldCon. Want a writing workshop tailored to your work and your budget? Choose your course at StoryWorldCon. Subscribe to my blog for course dates!

Answers:

Click on the links below to read the full lyrics.

  1. “Imagine,” John Lennon
  2. “Don’t Stop Believing,” Journey
  3. “No Scrubs,” TLC
  4. “New Slang,” The Shins
  5. “Royals,” Lorde

I’ve been listening to The Shins for years, but I never actually paid attention to the lyrics in “New Slang” until today. As I referenced above, they’re full of great imagery:

  • Turn me back into the pet I was when we met.
  • I’d ‘a danced like the king of the eyesores
  • New slang when you notice the stripes, the dirt in your fries.
  • Hope it’s right when you die, old and bony.
  • Dawn breaks like a bull through the hall

Every time “Royals” comes on the radio (which is very frequently), I am awed by the fantastic diction. This was written by a fifteen year old: 

  • I’ve never seen a diamond in the flesh / I cut my teeth on wedding rings in the movies
  • We’re driving Cadillacs in our dreams
  • And we’ll never be royals. / It don’t run in our blood, / That kind of luxe just ain’t for us.

What song has your favorite lyrics? I remember in tenth grade English needing to bring a song in to share with the class. I brought Fiona Apple’s cover of “Across the Universe.”