Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Props Manager: The Game

I'm not a big fan of writing games. There's one that's nearly unavoidable at screenwriting seminars. Drives me nuts. The guru du jour will walk among the lowly participants, asking us to close our eyes and imagine answers to questions like:

What's in your main character's pocket? Name five things.

What did your character have for breakfast?

Who is your main character's favorite person?

Et cetera. The guru then proceeds to have us read our lists out to the audience. While other writer's character's pockets are full of lockets with poems from their girls, bloody daggers, ransom notes, and secret codes for unleashing disaster, my characters have invariably chosen this day to carry a stick of gum, a bus transfer, half a movie ticket, some cookie crumbs. That's four things. And keys. Keys to unleashing disaster? No, regular keys.

The guru will then ask what my boring list tells us all about my character. When it's time for coffee and cookies, everyone oohs and ahs about how much they've learned about their characters. I stand aside, with my character smirking as I sneak a cookie into my pocket for later.

So no, I don't really like writing games. What I do like is work. Hard work. Lots of work. I don't think there's a way around it. Lucky for us, writing work is all about listening and noticing. It's about paying attention, getting it down on the page, then doing it again. It's about tweaking things until they work.

Think, tweak the scene, and LISTEN to what that tells you. And then do it again.

And so, a writing game, Scriptwrangler-style: PROPS MANAGER!

The goal of the game is to make the props guy on your set earn his keep.

1. Find a scene you're having trouble with.

2. Underline the PROPS (the objects in the scene).

3. Think about each prop. Come up with two alternatives, and tell your props guy to go get 'em! These can be the same object described with another word (say, 'six-shooter with mother-of-pearl inlaid handle' instead of 'gun'). They can also be completely new (say, 'banana' instead of 'wallet').

4. Now the important part: LISTEN to the scene. NOTICE what you've changed. Realize you do have the power to effect major changes with some fairly small moves.

You can do the same thing with verbs (call the game "Acting Coach") or adjectives (Art Director). And there's definitely a game called "Locations Managers".

One more thing. It's natural to help characters out by giving them the tools they need. But did you happen to notice that it can be a lot more interesting if you make it hard on them?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

great stuff... I am thinking my current character is wearing no underwear and he has his hand in his pocket, yeah, he's that kinda guy