Surprise, Surprise!

October 28, 2009 at 1:31 pm (Reviews, Writing) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Happy Wednesday!

How’s it going out there, peeps? Today it’s bright and sunny here in Dundee, which is most unusual. But enough with the tedious formalities! Here’s part 6 of my notes from the writersroom seminar…

SURPRISE

When you are writing a screenplay, you want to write something that is fresh and original, but there are only a finite number of basic plots that you can work with (I’m going to do a blog on these basic plots later too) so you need to know what’s different about your version. What unique perspective are you bringing to the story? What’s your original touch? How are you going to surprise the audience?

When you watch a movie, or read a great story, there should be a sense that the ending was totally inevitable, but at the same time unpredictable. What I mean by this, is that, once the dust clears, you should be able to look back and see that it was obvious the story would end like this. Everything should “add up”.

A good example of this would be the movie “The Sixth Sense”, by M. Night Shyamalan. The story is about a child psychiatrist (Bruce Willis) who is working with a young boy that claims he can see ghosts.

If you haven’t watched it, don’t read any more as there is about to be a terrible spoiler…

…at the end of the movie, it’s revealed that Bruce Willis’ character (the main character throughout the film) is actually a ghost. This is a great plot twist in the movie, as, when you look back over the film, you can see that it really was quite obvious, but not (to my mind anyway) predictable. Now, not all stories need to end with such a mind-blowing twist to be a success, but they do need to come to a satisfactory resolution that has been built up over the course of the plot. Many movies start off strong, but lose it at the ending. This is usually because the writer simply hasn’t done enough to suggest this kind of conclusion to their story.

An example of a movie that (in my opinion) utterly fails in this principle, is the film, “Vanilla Sky”.

Don’t be fooled by the great trailer. This movie uses the technique that children are taught never to use in writing class, the “and then I woke up” lazy-ass ending. The writer has created all these confusing yet interesting situations/circumstances and twists in the plot, but then, instead of rewarding the faithful viewer with a great resolution that explains everything, they cop out by saying it was all a dream. Awful stuff.

So, that’s all for this section. Many of you may disagree with my thoughts on “The Sixth Sense” and “Vanilla Sky” (as there is potentially some case to be made in suggesting that Vanilla Sky does, in fact, point towards its ending), but hopefully you can see the principle behind what I mean anyway.

L.

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If You Want To Make It As A Writer, You’ve Got To Have Character(s)

October 22, 2009 at 10:00 am (Reviews, Writing) (, , , , , , , , )

Yo! Welcome back! This is part 4 of my notes from the writersroom seminar. Check out the other parts in our last three blogs. 🙂 Today we’re talking about…

CHARACTER

One of my favourite TV shows ever is “The Shield”, a police drama about a police station that is right in the middle of LA gangland. The main character, Vic Mackey (a corrupt cop), is an incredibly interesting character. Not at all a likeable person, but SO entertaining to watch. You’re always wondering what he’s going to do next. Here’s a scene to show you what I mean, but be warned, it’s pretty gross and the language isn’t suitable for kids. Mackey is the bald one…

Whenever you’re writing a character, you really need to make them compelling on an emotional level. No amount of fiddling with the other details of your script will help if you don’t have compelling characters.

There’s no real way of being “taught” how to do this, but you can examine the characters you’ve written and if you can’t connect with them, or they seem dry, or stereotypical, or if they all seem to have the same “voice”, then you know you need to work on them some more. They need to be somebody that you want to spend time with, not necessarily somebody that you like, but somebody who makes you want to know what they’re going to do next and what’s going to happen to them.

Part of this is making sure that you take your characters on an “active journey”, and by this, I mean that the character is motivated by desires or needs, and that they face obstacles or come up against dilemmas that get in the way of these desires. How they deal with these situations is how you reveal the nature of your characters and make them identifiable.

Another part of it is making sure you don’t play into the trap of using stereotypical characters, but instead create them as individuals. The last thing that Paul Ashton (of the writersroom) said about character that really, really struck me was, “what does your character see when they look at the world?” It seems so simple, but if you can get your head into the character, and think about how they view the world/people around them, you can think about how they see it differently from everybody else. This will make it easier to write for them – they will become more “alive”, interesting and individual.

That’s all for today, peeps. Catch you tomorrow.

L.

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Stuck "In The Middle."

October 20, 2009 at 10:28 am (Reviews, Writing) (, , , , , , , , )

Good day to you.

Here’s part two of my notes from the writersroom session last week…

GET THE STORY GOING

When you’re writing a script, you need to “hit the ground running”. When readers are going through a script for the first time, they make a decision based on the first ten pages. This is because television isn’t like cinema; if people lose interest they will simply turn over or turn off. Obviously the script has to be just as engaging after these first ten pages, but if you spend too long setting up the story, or introducing characters, people won’t bother waiting to see what happens.

I attended another writer’s seminar, not that long ago, that was taught by the successful playwright, Colin Teevan. He spoke about the same thing, and called it “the ticking clock”. You shouldn’t have a story that begins on page seven. It should already have started by page one! You need to find out where your “ticking clock” begins and ends, so that your story doesn’t start too late or finish too soon.

The best thing to do is to start off “in the middle” of something, and show your characters in action. You can give backstory and character depth, but do it as the story moves, not before. Also, you should beware of doing too much backstory and exposition (explaining things). The audience is much more intelligent than they are often given credit for, and don’t like to have everything spelled out to them.

To show you what I mean, here’s a clip of the opening scene from “The Matrix”…

This is a great example of “hitting the ground running.” We begin with a phonecall between two unknown people, and are simultaneously aware that another, separate party is running a trace on their call. In this first conversation, one of the characters talks about how they are going to kill someone, and the other talks about the potential importance of this person. Suddenly, they become suspicious of a trace and end the call, and we immediately see that the police have traced the call and are about to bust down a door. An incredible action sequence follows.

There has been no explanation, no backstory, you know nothing about any of the characters. Who are they? What are their intentions? How are they able to do these remarkable things? Why is the woman being hunted? Who were they talking about on the phone? The audience have been hooked right into what’s going on. Straight away, you’re “in the middle of something.”

I hope you found some of that interesting/helpful. There’ll be more from my notes on the writersroom seminar tomorrow.

L.

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Form of an Ass

October 16, 2009 at 2:05 pm (Writing) (, , , , , , , , , )

I got today’s blog title from an exclamation made by a writer I follow on Twitter. I thought it was funny and it contains the word “form”, which is what I’m talking about today…

So!

Yesterday I promised I’d fill you in on some of the points from the Writersroom roadshow event that stood out to me on Wednesday. The main part of the talk was delivered by Paul Ashton of the BBC Writersroom, and he gave a rundown of ten things that they look for in a script.

Much of this stuff you can also find in other writing courses or in books on writing for tv/film, but it was still good to have it re-iterated and there were a few things Paul explained in a fresh way that I think will really help in some of our up-coming projects.

Today, I’ll just write about the first point…

FORM

Television shows always fit into a specific format, for example, half-hour sitcoms, serial dramas (two/three hour-long episodes, like jane austen), one-off sixty-minute documentaries, etc. So when you’re sending in a script to the BBC (or any other channel), you have to make sure you know what kind of show it is that you’ve written, and that the format is appropriate. Don’t send in a two-hour long episode of what is clearly half-hour sitcom material.

You also need to look at other shows in the same style as yours. Although you want to tell your own original story, people are used to a specific form when it comes to certain types of programme. If you’re doing a crime drama series, you should be watching other programmes of a similar nature, and figuring out how they work – how they tell their story.

When you’re writing the script, you need to always be clear about what you mean, what you’re trying to say. Script readers don’t necessarily have all the background information that you’re aware of, or all of the painstaking notes you’ve taken as you’ve worked on your story. If you don’t make sure all the important info is there, the chances are that they’re not going to “get it”.

Finally, it’s important that you don’t “direct”. Just get the dialogue and action onto the page. Leave all the camera moves and things up to the director. An example of this could be where you write about how a character gets a shock of realisation. In the script, you simply have to say something like, “We see a look of realisation on Kevin’s face.” It’s up to the director/actor how this is then shown on-screen. The script is the blueprint. The starting point that everything else is built from.

Alrighty. That’s all for today, but hopefully there was some interesting stuff in there for ya. Lots of it seems like common sense, but apparently the Writersroom gets inundated with a plethora (I love that word) of scripts that haven’t thought about these kinds of things. If you can make sure you bear them in mind, you’ll definitely stand out as someone who knows what they’re doing.

Adios for now!

L.

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