Saturday, March 24, 2007


One thing I find repeatedly, both in my own writing and with clients, is that there's a huge tendency to explain what's going on. This is especially true when the script is emotionally intense. Bob can't just sign the divorce papers in the third beat of act II. No. Bob, driven by his irrepressible rage at his unfaithful wife while subconsciously also allowing himself to begin thinking about Maizie, the sincere but homely doughnut shop clerk, in a new way, heads to the lawyer's office, almost gets in an accident, where his rage bubbles to the surface, and then he suddenly realizes he's at peace.

It goes without saying that the first is easier to write. And easier is always better.

But there's a deeper reason for STICKING WITH THE CONCRETE. That's what's on the screen. That's what the audience sees. Not only does the human mind gauge actions and characters. It does it better than you can explain. And it does it instinctively.

When you explain the internals in the synopsis (or, horrors! in the action lines), you're working against yourself. You're actually sapping energy from the structure of your story.

But it's right there on the page!

But the movie viewer doesn't have your
script in his lap.

Take a look at Joe Buck and Ratso Rizzo. What do they do? Not a lot. Steal some food. Go to a party. Try to get paid for sex. What we all do everyday, right?

We're drawn in by what they don't say. There's a series of actions, and they're written with a strong through-line. This tells the writer how they'll react. It tells the actor how to approach the part. And it tells the viewer how to look at the movie. The single biggest reason Midnight Cowboy works is that we know what drives the characters. Once you get that nailed down, step back, and just let the characters steal fruit, or sign the divorce papers, or flirt with the doughnut girl. It's a whole lot easier.

It's hard to let go of that level of control, of course. That's why I'm going to talk about the actor's job in the next post.

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