Words to a writer are what notes are to the musician.
Last night, I enjoyed a wonderful storytelling experience, led by a master storyteller. Okay, it was actually a concert by performing legend Willie Nelson. But it felt like a great story. There was a beginning, middle, and end. There were surprises and supporting characters. There were highs and lows. Each song, though comfortable and familiar like an old pair of jeans, took on a new twist at the hand of Willie. I was excited to see where he would take his voice next. The emotional response is the same whether savoring a good concert, reading a well-crafted book or watching a superb film. When well done, a story engages us no matter what form it takes.
In honor of Nora Ephron, I was reading the When Harry Met Sally… script and watching the movie. Gosh, I love that movie; there are so many sensational scenes. One that really stood out to me in the reading was the scene in which a despondent Harry reveals that his wife Helen is leaving him. He tells his guy friend Jess all about it, as they sit in the stands watching a football game. There are some real zingers in the snappy dialogue, but the funniest thing is how the whole conversation is punctuated by Harry and Jess being repeatedly forced into participating in the “wave,” as Harry blathers on. It was really a masterful choice of how to put a funny twist on the revelation of all this exposition. This was a perfect example for me, because I’m trying to manage that very thing right now, putting humor into an otherwise somber moment within a comedy script. I will miss Nora Ephron’s voice in movies. She communicated so well the complexities in her characters. She has left behind such a wonderful legacy.
It hit me! Right before bed, like always. (Had to jot it down so I could get to sleep.) Inspiration for how to make a funny and tense scene even better. I needed to add more dramatic irony, where the viewer/reader is wise to something before a character is, giving the viewer a superior position. Like when we know a bomb is about to go off before the characters onscreen do, and we’re all emotional about it. So I traded a surprise for some extra drama in this scene, and I like it much better.
In other news, I was happy to read an update on Kelly Oxford from her blog today. She was the one featured in the LA Times article as an overnight screenwriting sensation who tweeted her way to the top. In Kelly’s blog post today, she says that this has not been a quick ascent to the top; she has actually been working hard at this for 12 years, thank you very much. I like how she offers the trick to her recent success: “Write. Write and write and f*cking write and when you think you’re done and you hate everything you are writing you are almost halfway there…”
So…I’m off to write!
“Economical and evocative.” Bitter Script Reader said that the ability to be this way is a necessary skill for script writers. He, along with two other writers/professional script readers (Amanda Pendolino and Nate Winslow) shared their insights on a twitter chat last night, organized by Scott Myers, of the Go Into the Story blog. Another pearl of wisdom on this topic was Nate describing the bad scene description he sees in scripts as not visual, purposeful, necessary, or good. This is timely for me, as I try to keep the current scenes I’m writing simple, yet engaging.
I read a related Wall Street Journal article today about bad writing that asserts, “Overwriting is definitely bad writing…” Food for thought.
Oh, and I have to close with wisdom from Amanda Pendolino who said, “I WOULD LIKE TO SEE MORE WOMEN, both as characters and on the title page.” Amen!
(To read more, the twitter #GITSChat should be archived later on Scott Myers’ blog site.)
On my kids’ behalf, I’ve endured quite a few tiresome activities. Withstood mind-numbing piano lessons, practices, and recitals. Suffered through back-breaking sporting events (any bleacher = back-breaking). To name a few. Now as I develop my characters, I feel I must accept their weird foibles and interests, as if they were my own children.
So I have a character in this comedy screenplay, who I am sure would be interested in the debate team. In fact, it would be the place for him to shine. Reluctantly I have been slogging through boring high school debate videos and information about structuring arguments in a debate, etc. Aaaaack! I just cannot get into this. Maybe I’m missing something, but it just doesn’t crank my tractor to see all this structured arguing and suppressed emotion. I’d much rather see some real debate drama, “You’re a liar!” or “That’s wrong! Wrong, I tell you!”
I am torn about letting my character have this activity that I know he wants and choosing something I already know more about. Just like with my kids, I feel myself caving on this one… I think I’ve run out of excuses.
I was fortunate to attend a wonderful workshop yesterday with Karl Iglesias, sponsored by the Austin Screenwriters Group. The topic was Writing for Emotional Impact, and he did address some of the topics in his book by the same name, but he spoke on several other topics that had been specified by the group as well. Very interesting. I enjoyed chatting with Karl at a gathering after the workshop too; he’s a very personable guy. He’s “chill,” as my teen would say!
One of the most appreciated subjects from Karl’s workshop was how to write loglines. He presented a few models. Here’s one formula he presented that set people to furious scribbling:
(Title) is a (genre) about a (description of flawed hero) who, after (inciting event), wants to/ must/ struggles to (outer goal) by (plan of action). [This becomes increasingly difficult because (obstacles and complications.)]
With Karl’s keen analytical skills, he was able to quickly diagnose script weaknesses by hearing some of the attendees’ loglines. It was amazing how script deficiencies became immediately obvious through weak loglines. Usually it seemed that the goal was too easily attainable or that a unique hook was missing. He emphasized that you must have strong architecture before you can work on the interior design and that a screenwriter would be wise to consider their logline before constructing his or her script.
Also thanks to Karl, I’m motivated now to take a look at my current script to see if I can include more subtext in my dialogue. He mentioned how dialogue becomes “smart” when you consider subtext. This is the way people talk when they have something at stake emotionally, when they have something at stake and are afraid to be direct in what they say.
All in all, some great tips yesterday. I told Karl that he set me back a few days on my work! But that’s a good thing. I have some fixes to make. I took away great new knowledge that I’m eager to apply.
I met with two writer friends last night, and we had a great chat about our current projects. Plus I indulged in a sinfully delicious dessert – strawberry shortcake, yum. Anyway, one friend had an interesting tip passed on to her from an accomplished writer. This wise writer asserts that we all feel the need to edit as soon as our words appear on the computer screen. Thus her method is to always put pen to paper in the initial stages of a project. I tend to agree with that. I like to collect my initial thoughts on paper, scrawl out a chicken-scratch outline, and then plan out an initial storyboard. By the time I start typing on the computer, I have typically already put a lot of thought into things and feel ready to face my inner editor.
I’m not married to one particular method; I’m always willing to try something new, but the style I’m using has been working for me recently. Everyone has their own particular ways of planning. I’m always curious to learn about the different approaches people take.
My recent research has me watching Spanish Soap Operas, Telenovelas. Specifically “Un Refugio Para El Amor” (A Shelter for Love). Even the title is funny. Love the characters; they are totally over-the-top! Too bad I can’t understand more of the Spanish. Ah, but love is the universal language. And neck braces speak for themselves.
WAY BACK WEDNESDAY
WARNING! EMBARRASSING CHILDHOOD MOMENT AHEAD!
Okay, I was talking about 6th grade yesterday, and it brought back a funny memory. I just have to post my award-winning poem from 6th grade. Even at that tender age, I realized (but perhaps a little too belatedly) that the subject matter was embarrassing. Still I couldn’t resist entering the poem in the city-wide contest, and it did nab me third place.
Butterflies in your stomach
Clumsiness day after day,
All are signs you are growing
In a very special way.
The growth is not of height or width
Nor of weight or mind,
It is a growth of care and love
For one of the opposite kind.
The only problem is, I’m still clumsy. I don’t think “Young Love” had anything to do with that, in my case.