Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Your Time Is Up

We’ve talked previously about watching movies to study the use of dialogue and visual clues. Some of my favorite movies to study are Pride and Prejudice (the Keira Knightley version), Notting Hill, Pretty Woman, Speed, the Bourne Trilogy, Good Will Hunting -- I could go on but I won’t. These movies may not have won more then a hand full of the industry’s highest awards between them but I enjoy watching them. Again and again.

Movies have a short span of time to enthrall you. The conflict or action starts immediately and keeps going until the credits roll. There is not a lot of opportunity to provide a history of the characters. Then again, I don’t need to know how James Bond came to be a member of MI6, how Vivian Ward (Julia Roberts) came to be a hooker, or how William Thacker (Hugh Grant) came to own a small travel themed bookstore. I care about the present and the immediate future.

Screenwriters have a saying: enter late and leave early (ELLE). I’ll admit I know precious little about screenwriting but in doing a little research I found out white space in precious in a script. No space for a lot of backstory, or “fluff” as I saw it mentioned. Each scene needs to be tight with a beginning, middle and end in the quest of propelling the drama forward. A cut to the chase mentality is needed with each scene. Get in, get busy, and get out.

The Romance Writers Report published by Romance Writers of America arrived in mailbox this week. This March 2009 issue has a feature article by Patricia Kay entitled Scene and Sequel. It is a very informative article, especially for a newbie like me. Goal plus conflict equal disaster. End scene with hook and extend story to next scene. If you do it right it means your story won’t put the reader to sleep. Of course, Patricia Kay explains all this more eloquently then I can. You’ll benefit greatly if you read the article, especially if you’re at the same stage in your writing as me. Meaning I know very little in the grand scheme of things but I’m willing to learn.

So it seems to me writing romance and writing screenplays have a thing or two in common. There needs to be a goal, a roadblock, and a question. And just when the characters start to figure things out you need to throw something else at them. Threads of backstory or past history can be woven throughout different scenes in different ways but in bits and pieces. It’s all about the conflict, baby. The ultimate goal is having someone state, “I couldn’t put it down”.

“It starts with the writer--it's a familiar dictum, but somehow it keeps getting forgotten along the way. No filmmaker, irrespective of his electronic bag of tricks, can ever afford to forget his commitment to the written word.” ~ Steven Spielberg

Are you intrigued by the notion of screenplays? Have you ever been tempted to write one? Do you apply the enter late leave early concept to your writing?


Anonymous said...

in another life as a grad student, i worked on student films and took a few writing classes and short script classes. end result: about three halfway decent short scripts

the key in all the classes was to "start" in the middle of action and story. i was always told backstory was boring. best to hit your audience first with whiz bang action of some sort.

i tend to be a person who wants to fill in that back-story. always a struggle because i want to explain and tell instead of trusting my readers intelligence. they WILL get it if i set things up well.

scriptwriting can be fun. i found it helped me with dialogue.

Karen said...

Hi nm8r67,
Thanks for the important reminder. I'm going to remember your line, "..I want to explain and tell instead of trusting my readers intelligence." I like that approach. I think too often I forget to do that.


Jana Richards said...

Hi Karen,
I don't know much about screenwriting either, but like you, I find it fascinating. I've heard that selling a screenplay is probably even harder than selling a book.

I bought a book by screenwriter Blake Snider called "Save the Cat". Although it is essentially about screenwriting, it has a lot to tell novelists about plot and conflict. I believe Blake Snider spoke at the 2008 RWA National conference. Unless you've got good writing, you won't have a decent movie.

I liked what nm8r67 said about backstory as well. Sometimes I stick in backstory without even realizing it is backstory, especially in the first few pages. I usually have to remove some backstory in edits. My mantra should be "Resist the urge to explain".


Hayley E. Lavik said...

Karen, I often find the late-start approach helps keep me on track, ELLE as you call it. It helps avoid the 'wake up, stretch, brush teeth' details. Where I find I have problems sometimes is getting over-critical and thinking "well, I should just jump to the next bit -- and the next -- no the next" which could eventually result in the novel equivalent of "giant explosion!... scene ends" instead of the build-up. So I try to remind myself it's okay to do whatever on the first draft, as long as I trim it later :)

I can also relate to nm8r67's comment on trusting the reader's intelligence. Sometimes I just have to stop and think "these people should be smart enough to try and put the pieces together for themselves ... and if they aren't, they wouldn't be reading it anyway"

Hayley E. Lavik said...

Also, I hope you'll forgive the terrible high-school-quality pun, but I have to say it...

Enter late, leave early may be great for romance writing, but wouldn't go over well in romance.

Har har har... :|

Anita Mae Draper said...

Great post, Karen.

Hopefully we can all learn the in's and out's of screenwriting when Kate Bridges guest blogs here in Oct. She teaches seminars to regular writers like us because the process is such a benefit.

Yes, Hayley, it's a very big help with dialogue and as well as portraying emotion with words so the actors can feel what you're trying to say.

Karen, I'm trying to do 3 things at once here before rushing into the city and I hit the preview button, clicked over to another tab to answer an email on FB and when I clicked back here, these big letters announced, 'YOUR TIME IS UP'. Just about gave me a heart attack. LOL

Karen said...

Hi Jana,
I like your line too. I may have to steal it.

Just the other day I was reading about Blake Snyder and his book Save The Cat over at Writer Unboxed (I think). I may have to look into getting it.

Karen said...

Hi Hayley,
Or the 'nice to meet you details'.

I think that's what a first draft is for - stick in information and catch the added backstory details on the second or third revision. Sometimes I need to include it to remind myself. I don't know whether that's good or bad.

Karen said...

(snort) It would certainly take all the fun out of it.

Karen said...

Hi Anita,
I saw that today in the emails. I'm excited for Kate Bridges to be here.

I love movies with great dialogue, lots of emotion and action. I enjoy books that include those three things too.

Sorry I didn't mean to give you a heart attack ;) but I did mean to get your attention.

Janet C. said...

Fabulous post, Karen. I was going to mention Blake Snyder, but Jana beat me to it. It's on my list of writerly research books to purchase (and that list gets longer every day).

I like the ELLE acronym - and will print it off to keep close to my work space. But, like you and Hayley talked about, that's something to keep in mind after that first draft. That first draft can get bogged down, offer frustration and blockage, even fail to get to The End if we worry about all the technical stuff while we're trying to get the story down.

And, if I could Hayley, there's not much romance in high school :)


Karen said...

Hi Janet,
Just back from the Globe Theater's Wingfield's Inferno. It a one man play with few props. Oh, the dialogue! I had to remind myself to just sit and enjoy the play instead of mentally taking notes on the writing.

So many great writerly research books, no little time.

High School - romance, its all relative.