Let’s examine a few related words to see what I mean: cute, attractive, pretty, and beautiful. And let’s do it with some of the cast of Glee.
“Cute” is the pert girl with the dimples, a ready smile, and a bubbly personality. She’s attractive, sometimes very attractive, but her features are probably not classic, and her beauty is as much a function of her effervescent personality as it is her physical appearance. Think Jayma Mays (Emma Pillsbury).
“Attractive” is a girl who is pleasant to look at, but who probably isn’t going to turn a lot of heads, or not for very long. She’s probably got a feature which isn’t classic, but it doesn’t disturb the whole visage enough to make her unattractive. Think Heather Morris (Brittany S. Pierce).
“Beautiful”? Well, I’m not sure there are any real beauties on Glee. No dogs, just no one who meets this high bar. Let’s just say Giselle Bundchen. Brooke Shields. Cindy Crawford.
You’d never use the words “cute”, “attractive”, or “pretty” to describe these supermodels. If you did, there’d be great confusion and a lot of misunderstandings.
Change a word in the script, and you can cause equal confusion without even realizing it.
I’ve had occasion, in writing these posts, to look for synonyms, and am surprised by how difficult it is, in the language that has more words than any other, to find good substitutes when I want to say something without using the same word I did in the previous sentence. There aren’t many true synonyms which can be used interchangeably without altering the meaning of the sentence materially.
“Oh,” I hear you say, “that matters for a lot of lines, but not for many of the simple, throwaway lines.” Okay. Let’s look at a simple exclamation: “Oh my god!” Here are some logical alternatives: “Oh my goodness!” “Oh my lord!” “Oh my gosh!” “Oh Christ!” “Oh lord!” and “Omigod!”
I’m not trying to get religious on anyone here, but I would suggest to you that seven different people would use each of these expressions in the same situation. That even “Oh my god” and “Oh my lord”, while probably the two most similar phrases, nevertheless reflect a different relationship with their Maker. That “Oh my god” and “Omigod”, while technically the same phrase despite a different pronunciation, nevertheless would come out of two very different mouths.
First, you have to respect these differences. The playwright chose the words he chose for a reason. Trust that, even if you don’t understand the reason initially.
Second, use these differences to help you understand your character better. When we talk more about script analysis, you’ll see why this is useful.