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Theme & Scene: The Magic of Nuts & Bolts Week Six “We live in an age where quantity is seen as preferable to quality, and many people tend to work in a horizontal line: next, next, next. But if you do that, you never investigate the vertical line – the depth of the piece.” -- Simon McBurney The ideas popping up in the class re the full-lengths are wonderful. I’ve encouraged you to explore your ideas before diving into any particular structure. Content dictates form. Material has a way of informing you of the best way to give it a home. In turn, home is structure or the vehicle for the story. If you race to squeeze your content into the wrong structure, it’s like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. The material will rebel. It’ll scream out for a different structure in the same way that line will scream out for a cut in rehearsal. There are numerous structures available to you, some more conventional than others. These days, artists are experimenting with diverse structures to tell story. I assume that everyone is familiar with conventional three-act film structure, two-act play structure or 4/5act one-hour drama TV structure. Since this isn’t a class about any one type of structure or medium, I’ll provide a brief overview and references for further study. Since plotting can be rather complicated, I’ll need two weeks (two parts) to cover the concepts efficiently.

Lecture Six: Advancing the Action Part I I. II. III. IV. V.

Spine of Story The Quest Dual Story Tracks Advancing the Action Principles of Composition

I. Spine of Story In the lecture on character, we read how director Elia Kazan mapped out character spines for Blanche, Stanley, Stella and Mitch in Streetcar Named Desire. Definition The spine of the story (also known as the “Super Objective”) is the protagonist’s fierce desire to achieve his/her goal. It is the force that drives and unifies all of the elements of a story. The protagonist can have both a conscious and an unconscious desire. These two desires are at odds with each other, causing an internal conflict within a complex character. A simple character, such as James Bond, only exhibits a conscious desire. Action flicks can get away with simple protagonists, because the audience is more focused on the next derring-do.


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Within each scene, characters may exhibit specific objectives. However, these smaller objectives fall into line with the super objective. Think of your own structure. You’ve got muscles, blood, organs, bones, glands, nerves, and hair, etc. All of “you” would sag into a heap of flesh without your spinal column. Below are excerpts re story spine. You can also explore the new section I’ve created for articles on craft. If you find any articles on craft that are particularly compelling, feel free to email me the piece for a post. §

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The Five S's of Screenwriting (excerpt) by Kate Wright (Please note that this article also includes a mapping of the twelve sequences that can help you get past the second act blues in a screenplay. As well, there is a template on the sequence approach uploaded in the templates section.) On Spine: ”Just in case screenwriting seems simple, please allow me to introduce you to the world of advanced screenwriting, the world of spine. This is an abstract world where (even veteran) screenwriters labor in pain, sometimes without professional breakthrough, sometimes without financial reward. When the breakthrough finally happens, however, there is magic on the screen! Spine begins with discovering what your story is about through character behavior. It is about creating a unifying depth within your story, character by character, action by action, sequence by sequence, layer upon layer. The surprise is that once you discover what your story is about on a profound level, there are an infinite number of insights and details you can infuse into the material through character behavior, actions, and images. The challenge is to discover this unifying idea or principle that synthesizes what the story is about in simple terms. The genius is to be able to create characters as ideas that morph into character behavior, revealing what the story is about in every frame of the picture. One of the best examples of spine is Tootsie, the Academy Award winning screenplay written by Larry Gelbart and Murray Schisgal, starring Dustin Hoffman, directed by Academy Award winner Sydney Pollack. The original screenplay went through numerous writers, and it wasn’t until Sydney Pollack came aboard to work with the immensely talented Larry Gelbart that they were able to discover what the story was really about. It wasn’t enough to do a comedy about a man becoming a woman. Putting on a skirt is good for a few laughs, but not enough to sustain a movie. The challenge was to create a story about a man struggling with his (chauvinist) flaws, who is forced to become a woman, but by becoming a woman, he becomes a better man. With this paradox as the spine of the story, each and every frame of this marvelous movie feeds the heart of the story.” §

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Hollywood Screenwriter Chat with Shawn Lawrence Otto (excerpt) In an interview with Screenwriter's Monthly you mentioned "Character Drives", can you tell us how important those are in finding the spine of a novel when adapting? SLO: The character drive is what propels the spine. Drives cause choices. Choices cause acts. Acts create plot, and plot makes story. I think of spine as both character driving along toward a goal, and the emotional progression or change of state the character goes through pursuing that goal, even though the ending place of the character is often very different from their goal. Take THE GODFATHER. The kid's goal is to be a straight lawyer and disavow his family's dark side. Bit events conspire against his goal. Those events change him through an emotional progression or a "character arc" into the man he becomes in the end -


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THE GODFATHER. His emotional progression causes a change in goal. That emotional progression is the spine.”

II. The Quest “Quest” is derived from the Latin quaestio, which means both a seeking and an asking. While the spine of a story concerns the protagonist’s primary desire (inward), the “quest” is the sum of actions taken to fulfill that desire or attain his/her goal (outward). Think of the quest as everything on top of the page that we can actually see and hear. Some folks call it the superficial plot. That term might be a little odd since nothing about the quest is “superficial” per se. Just be aware that you might hear that term. §

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On Screenwriting with Lawrence Konner (excerpt) “The advantages to a main character-driven piece, however, is the opportunity to take a character, learn who they are, develop it, and then put them in a situation in which they have to conquer these obstacles or go on this quest. I think the most important thing is to create some sort of internal conflict for the character and then to try to tie the internal and the external conflict together in a way that "Die Hard" does very well or "Hamlet" does brilliantly. I think the best example of an action movie is "Die Hard". Here's a guy who's fighting the bad guys and fighting his own internal demons which is that other story about his wife and his sense of commitment. The fact that those two things are brought together in that story is one of the reasons it's a successful action movie.”

III. Dual Story Tracks The story runs on dual tracks: the exterior plot line and the interior character arc. This duality is best expressed with situations from real life. I’m not sure how many people have been in therapy, but I’m counting on more than one. Human beings constantly choose external relationships and situations to mirror the internal conflicts in their lives. They will dive into sticky thickets in order to replay old conflicts over and over again until push comes to shove… something has to change. This is why we tell stories. We want to know—witness and experience!--what forces human beings to undergo profound change. Story

PLOT – EXTERIOR THROUGHLINE CHARACTER ARC – INTERIOR THROUGHLINE

Whether you realize it or not, the combination of a superficial, exterior plot/quest and an interior character spine/arc (all of these terms become interchangeable…as long as you understand the basic concepts), provides you with enormous room to innovate and play with structure. That is, you can fragment and rearrange the components of the external plot as long as the interior through-line progresses.


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Our growth rarely occurs in a straight line up. If only, yes? The human experience encompasses dreams, fantasies, memories—all of which fragment, inform and deepen our daily, mundane lives on the surface. And we fail. We forget. We ignore. We deny. We wallow. We despair. In the next lecture—“Advancing the Action, Part II”--I’ll cover key plot points—that is, inciting incident, reversals, crisis, and climax, etc. I will also cover more conventional structures in each of the mediums. However, I have to assume that all of you have had a screenwriting or playwrighting class—that is, some grounding in these structures. I’m unable to cover all the bases in ten weeks, I’m afraid. IV. Advancing the Action Advancing the action is “plotting.” You’re sitting around a campfire. Grandpa tells a ghost story to a gaggle of 10-year-olds. He pauses before the creepy ghost has slipped into the chimney chute, and refills his pipe. The kids stare at him, fidgeting in anticipation. Inevitably, one kid will blurt:

“What happens next?” That is the question you continually ask yourself when you’re writing a story. A character’s life is filled with a score of events. How those events are laid out, one after another, is what amounts to a story. Definition Structure: the composition of events from the life of a character(s) that leads to an outcome expressing a point of view on the human condition and also meaningful change in the main character(s). V. Principles of Composition You can learn a lot about story structure by listening to music (classical, that is). How composers sway human emotion via sound is similar to how writers use dialogue, character, visuals and sound to affect us via story. Many of the same principles re composition come into play. << Excerpt of a piano-vocal score from the opera William Ratcliff, by César Cui. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mus ical_score) A composer makes music using the tools of trade: harmony, rhythm, melody, tone color, and dynamics. A choreographer creates dances using his/her tools--position, movement, music, etc. In the same way, a writer crafts a story using the tools of his/her craft. Definition Composition: the selection, ordering and linking of scenes (unit of action) to craft a story. a) b) c) d)

Selection Organization Progression Unity/Variety


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e) f) g)

Pacing Rhythm/Tempo Transition

a) Selection What events from a character’s life need to be included or excluded from the story? In the same way that a lawyer selects evidence to argue a case, the writer chooses scenes in order to illuminate theme and prove the premise of the story. Excluded scenes can be as important as those scenes that appear on stage or screen. CHARACTER’S LIFE: EVENTS event

event A

event event

event

event

event

E

B

G C

event

event

event

D

event

F

I

event

H

event

event

J

event

event

event

STORY EVENTS E

B

A C H

D

I G

J F

During my research, I read about a spat between Oppenheimer and Ernest Lawrence over the left-wing activities of Oppenheimer’s students in the Radiation Laboratory. I scribbled in the margins: “Scene.” It doesn’t have to be a conflict to qualify for an event in the story. I also found out that these brainy physicists would get drunk and play tiddlywinks on their hands and knees. The activity was so deliciously idiosyncratic/ironic that I scribbled…“Scene.” Plotting relies heavily on instinct. A bell will go off in your gut that signals an important moment or event in your character’s life that pertains to the story. Listen to your gut; it’s usually right about 99% of the time. 

Organization

Events usually have to be ordered in some way. As Godard put forth, a story has a beginning, middle and end, but not necessarily in that order. In the majority of dramatic narratives, we assume…

linearity (re: time) and causality …that is, one event leads to another in through time. Once we select the events, we link them together to not only achieve rising action but also placement of key plot points—inciting incident, reversals, climax, etc.


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STORY EVENTS E

B

A

D

C

I

H

G

J F

ORDERING THE SELECTED EVENTS A

B

C

D

E

F

G

H

Because each scene’s event at the climax results in a change in the character’s value, the next scene must begin with that incremental change in the character. This is the core of dramatic narrative and yet it is probably the most difficult skill to master—i.e., advancing the action. If the scene repeats the protagonist’s value/condition, then it needs to be cut. A common mistake in storytelling is to repeat the same scene (details may be different but the emotional underpinning is the same); the effect is that the story loops back on itself. The action remains static in the same way that you get static action within the scene re beat structure. A master of advancing the action is John Patrick Shanley. Each scene in his plays (Doubt, A Dirty Story) starts with the character in a different emotional state than in the previous scene. In turn, you can reverse the order as long as the emotional thrust of the characters continues to move forward. This is tricky, but it can be done. REVERSING THE ORDER OF SELECTED EVENTS H

G

F

E

D

C

B

A

In Betrayal, Harold Pinter dramatizes the birth of a love affair by starting the play at the point of dissolution—a stunning piece of drama in my opinion. He is unraveling the mystery of why the affair fell apart and yet, at the same time, the main characters grow more innocent or more in love (the forward thrust) on an emotional level. In MEMENTO, the protagonist’s external journey proceeds backwards in time. His internal journey is forward-moving as he discovers, beat-by-beat, who he really is. You can completely fragment structure. Toss the scenes up into the air and watch them scatter. Temporal continuity is disrupted (nonlinear time) via flash forwards and flashbacks. The audience scrambles to sort out how to interpret the order of the events. However, the characters usually experience a forward thrust on an emotional level—a gradual revealing of story that the audience can follow. ANTIPLOT – RANDOM, SCATTERED EVENTS F

D

B

E

A

G

C

H

Tricky storytelling…but it can be done. Flash forwards might be mixed with flashbacks, and so on and so forth. In a sense, the antiplot mirrors life and memory in a more realistic way.


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In The Impostor (stage play) I fragmented the narrative and used an organizing device—i.e., a Thanksgiving dinner scene that threaded through the play. This ensemble scene served as an anchor for the structure: ANTIPLOT – RANDOM EVENTS WITH AN ANCHOR SCENE F

D

B

E

F

G

C

F

F: THANKSGIVING DINNER SCENE (BROKE IT APART)

Progression

Action has to rise. This can either happen if the conflict fans out in terms of breadth or if the conflict deepens and the character’s personal investment in the situation takes on greater and greater weight.

It doesn’t have to be an either-or situation. It can be both. The conflict can fan out and deepen. In the play that I’m writing about my grandfather, the friendship between the two physicists—i.e., Oppenheimer and Powell—may or may not survive the wider societal implications of the weapon they are working on. It’s one thing to study mesons in cloud chambers. It’s quite another to build the first WMD. 

Unity/Variety

If Grandpa tells the story in which the ghost suddenly turns into the nine-tailed demon fox, the kids would jump out of their seats. “But what happened to the ghost?” they would protest. Unity means that the key plot points—inciting incident, reversals, crisis, climax, etc.—are logically tied together. If, at the climax, a different antagonist suddenly shows up, then all is for nought.


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Moreover, if Grandpa tells the ghost story in a monotone… “The ghost creeped into the attic”…and then, the “ghost slid into the air vent”…and then, the “ghost creeped into the kitchen,” the kids’ eyes would glaze over. Grandpa is striking the same note repetitively. It’s as if you went to a concert and heard the C-note all night long. It’s essential that you vary the types of scenes within the overall structure—e.g., comedic relief, ferocious one-upping, quiet car rides, pounding dance floor excursions, entrances, exits, and so on. The through-line in BABEL in which the Japanese girl, CHIEKO, struggles to overcome her mother’s death encompasses a variety of scenes (note: partial recount):           

Chieko plays volleyball game - mouths off to Referee, flips the bird – thrown out of game Chieko arguing with teammate in locker room after loss – Cheiko’s fault! Chieko in car ride with father – both unable to communicate (crux of the situation is between father and daughter) Chieko chatting/dining with volleyball teammates in café – post game get-together – deaf-mute girls eye the boys in the cafe Chieko pulls panties off in bathroom Chieko returns to café to show her “pussy monster” to the boys Chieko tries to seduce the dentist – he kicks her out of his office Chieko - private moment at home to dress for night out Chieko takes a drugged-up journey with friends through water fountains and swings to… …a throbbing dance floor and where she spies the boy she likes making out with her best friend Cheiko walks through Tokyo alone

…and so forth. Only a half-hour of storytelling and yet the variety of scenes is breathtaking. 

Pacing

The arrangement of a variety of scenes establishes the pacing of a story. As in life, you’ll buckle if you under stress for too long a time. Hour after hour, relentless work pressure or constant friction at home will wear you down until you flame out. On the opposite side of emotional spectrum, if you spend every hour, every day, basking on a beach with pina colada in hand, you’ll grow weary of the “good life.” Life vacillates between the two poles—tension and relaxation. This same rhythm is captured on stage and on screen. If you study the scenes from BABEL, you’ll see:             

volleyball game (stress: competition, a losing game) locker room (stress: teammate blames protagonist for the loss) car ride (stress: father and protagonist-daughter in silence, unable to communicate) café (relaxation: protagonist chatting with other players from game) bathroom to pull panties (relaxation/stress building: protagonist wants attention) back to café to taunt boys (stress building: protagonist putting on a show for the boys in a public place) dentist (stress point: protagonist tries to seduce her dentist and he kicks her out of his office) home to dress for night out (relaxation: private moment) best girl friend picks her up for fun-night out (relaxation: panty-joke) drugged-up journey with friends from water fountains and swings to… (rollicking fun: the girls get high with new boys and have rip-roaring fun) the swing: protagonist on swing alone (ecstasy: relief from the pain/grief) a throbbing dance floor and rejection (ecstasy flips to disillusionment: protagonist abandoned by boy she likes who is making out with her best friend…NOTE: SCENE TURN HERE) walk through Tokyo alone (stress building: private moment amidst the crowds, alienation, loneliness)


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Not only is there a variety of scenes in this thread of BABEL, but also the arrangement of scenes provide effective pacing. The audience holds their breath at the volleyball game, frowns at the lack of communication between father and daughter, smirks at the “pussy monster,” sits up in their seats when the dentist kicks the protagonist out of the office, and smiles when the protagonist is up in the swing. (Note: The crucible between father and daughter is not well done in the climax. Choice: Does Chieko throw herself off the balcony or return to the arms of her father? Live or die. We never see the moment of truth. The thread ends in a dribble. Until that point, this thread is quite remarkable in terms of its profound understanding of human nature and its dramatization on screen.) Thus, the story-journey isn’t a repeat loop around a track in which we reach for higher and higher speeds ala the Indy 500. A story is a twisty rollercoaster with pit stops and occasional refreshments. 

Rhythm/Tempo

The rhythm of the story is established by varying the length of the scenes. If every scene in a film was 1page, page after page, it’d run like a two-hour-long MTV video—a phantasmagoria of images and sound flashing before your eyes. If every scene were 8-pages, it’d run like an elephant on Qualuudes. In plays, you can have one long scene that serves as an entire act. However, rhythm is often established by the entrances/exits of characters. Despite the lack of change in space/time, the shift in dynamic due to addition/deletion of characters varies the rhythm of the material. The tempo of the story is measured by how much activity there is within the scene. A scene where a character mulls over job listings, coffee-in-hand, will slow the tempo down. Not much is happening. The eye has one place to focus. The Tokyo nightclub scene in BABEL accelerates tempo. We’re tracking many characters and their interactions in a crowd. And it’s not as if the crowd is standing still, waiting for a bus. The crowd is moving; music is pounding; visual effects are streaking past us. In sum, lots going on. THE BUILD TO THE CLIMAX Unlike the break of a wave, climaxes are most often drawn out in order to provide the character the room to experience deep change. If it happens too quickly and explosively, the audience may not catch it… and neither will the character. If the logic in the climax is: confrontation, revelation, choice presented, action taken, change… there’s quite a few beats to chart the necessary build in a climax. Hence, the scenes leading up to the climax are abbreviated (“telescoping rhythm”) and made denser (“spiraling tempo”). Pace is accelerated until we hit the climax. At the moment of maximum conflict, the audience wants the action to stretch out. Time expands. Result: enough room for the BIG SCENE. If you lengthen the scenes and thin out the activity within each scene before the climax, the big scene will flatten out like a badly baked soufflé. It’s as if you slowed the runner down towards the end of a race. 

Transition

In the same way that you craft transition beats within a scene so that an actor can move from one intention/emotion to another, you provide “glue” between scenes so that an audience can follow the story with anticipation. In language, you use linking words—and, but, therefore, not only, moreover, etc. In film, you can use any ingredient in the scene and use it as the link. The link either continues the idea/through-line or presents a counterpoint:


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Transition Element Setting Character

Action

Visual Symbol Dialogue Sound Light Concept Movement

Ex. On Point Bubbling brook to ocean Calm person to a wordless meet between two strangers or a group of people in silent prayer Pep talk before a basketball game to the opening game tip-off Swastika to goose step Quip to echo of quip Tapping of drums to pitter patter of rain or a soldiers’ marching Person’s shadow to nightfall Person’s death to the scattering of ashes or a farmland drought Dancer’s leap to a deer hurtling through the forest

Ex. Counterpoint Bubbling brook to active volcano Calm person to a child’s violent tantrum or a fistfight Pep talk before a game to a player’s anxious silence in the locker room pre-game Swastika to Star of David Quip to sworn oath Tapping of drums to the sonorous wail of a woman giving birth Person’s shadow to fireworks Person’s death to a butterfly breaking out of its cocoon Dancer’s leap to a prisoner restrained in a straitjacket

There is a plenitude of imaginative ways to link scenes. However, you can’t underestimate the need for powerful transitions between scenes, both on screen and on the page. It’s what keeps the script reader, who vets your script for that stamp of “recommended,” on the edge of his/her seat. (Talk to Jeff about what makes a great read.) As well, transitions are often what keep the audiences from walking out of the theatre. Beyond simple linkage are advanced ways of leveraging transitions: Excerpted from “Eight Ways to Hook the Reader: Effective scene transition add energy and mystery to your script” by Karl Iglesias, also UCLA Extension Instructor -- www.karliglesias.com, in Creative Screenwriting, Vol. 13 #4. (Note: Karl sent me the article in PDF form, but it’s blurry. I’ve written down his key points below.) “Many writers make the mistake of writing scenes that end relatively well but don’t compel the reader to move on. They may be amazing scenes on their own, with a clear beginning, middle and end, but there’s nothing to push the reader into the next scene. The reader is forced to regain the momentum in the next scene, rather than being propelled into the new scene by the previous one. Always end your scenes at a point where the reader has no choice but to want to continue reading, eager to see what happens next. You simultaneously want to give the sense that the scene has ended but also a sense of anticipation, urging the reader forward.” 1)

END WITH A QUESTION This is a straightforward question where your last line of dialogue is a question that gets answered in the following scene. Example. Jack Crawford’s first scene with Clarice Starling, he says of Dr. Hannibal Lectre: “Never forget what he is.” Clarice’s response is: “What is that?” The answer to that question comes in the next scene with Dr. Chilton, “He’s a pure monster. A pure psychopath.”

2)

USE DIALOGUE HOOKS This technique is similar to a traditional setup-and-payoff hook, except here you use dialogue as the setup, and it doesn’t need to be question like in the example above. One line of dialogue ends the scene, and the payoff to that line, usually an image or an action, begins the next scene.


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Example: The best example is in Tootsie where Michael’s agent says, “No one will hire you.” Cut to Michael (Dustin Hoffman) disguised as Tootsie, walking in a crowd. 3)

GIVE AN ORDER This is where you end the scene with an order or demand to do something, which arouses anticipation in the reader. Example: The opening scene, where Clarice trains in the woods, ends with her instructor saying, “Crawford wants to see you in his office.” (Next scene, she’s in Crawford’s office.)

4)

INTRODUCE A NEW REVELATION, TWIST OR CLUE There’s nothing like a good old twist or mysterious clue to arouse curiosity in the reader. Example: Clarice’s discover of the severed head in the jar forces the reader to turn the page to learn the meaning of that shocking image. Discovering the moth cocoon in the victim’s mouth in a later scene has the same effect.

5)

FORESHADOWING: PROMISES PLANS, AGREEMENTS, & WARNINGS Another great hook to end a scene is a foreshadowing, making the reader anticipate a future event. This includes making promises, appointments, announcing arrivals, scheduling departures, and issuing ultimatums. Example: Clarice’s second meeting with Lecter ends with him telling her, “I’ll help you catch him, Clarice. He’s probably waiting for that next special lady.” There are actually two hooks here: a promise and a dialogue hook, as the next scene introduces us to that next victim, Catherine, for whom Buffalo Bill patiently lies in wait.

6)

CREATE A CLIFFHANGER In media res is Latin for “in the middle of things,” which means to end the scene with a cliffhanger. It’s also a great way to start a scene. For instance, rather than wasting time establishing location, character and goal, you start the scene in the middle of the action, which creates curiosity and tension as we wonder what’s going on. (The first few seasons of J.J. Abrams’s television show Alias was famous for its first scenes starting in the middle of an action scene, a technique he and writers Alex Kurtzman and Bob Orci carried over to this summer’s Mission: Impossible III.) (Note: This is not a “new” technique that was discovered by Abrams. It’s par for the course in theatre. In media res has been used for thousands of years.) Cliffhanger…Buffalo Bill kidnapping Catherine, which ends in the middle of an action when he asks her, “Are you a size 14?” The same hook is used in Lecter’s escape sequence, which ends with the ambulance scene where Lecter unmasks himself—and then we cut to Ardelia running from the dangling phone to warn Clarice.

7)

USE A SHOCK OR SURPRISE One of the most powerful ways to hook the reader into the next scene is with a strong sense of anticipation and tension. Shocks and surprises are all about setting up a particular expectation and then ending the scene by reversing that expectation. Example: Two memorable examples from Silence are the ambulance scene discussed above, and Crawford raiding the wrong house in the cross-cutting climax. In the first, we’re led to believe that the body in the ambulance is the injured guard, only to be shocked when it’s revealed to be Lecter. And everyone recalls the emotional impact when, after Crawford discovers he’s raided the wrong


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house, Buffalo Bill opens his door to reveal Clarice in another city. 8)

ESTABLISH DRAMATIC IRONY When Clarise enters Jame Gumb’s home, we know something she doesn’t, that she’s found Buffalo Bill. This technique is called dramatic irony, or reader superior position. This is one of the most common ways to engage the reader through tension and anticipation. Who can forget the next-tolast scene of the film, where Lecter calls Clarice at her graduation party. That scene ends with the witty line, “I’m having an old friend for dinner,” which propels us into the final shots of Lecter following the paranoid but unaware Dr. Chilton. This is a classic example of dramatic irony, and a great hook to send us into that imaginary scene of Lecter avenging Dr. Chilton’s petty torments.

“Your goal is to always keep the reader emotionally engaged from scene to scene. When you use any of the scene hooks discussed above, you’ll arouse several of the key storytelling emotions: anticipation, curiosity, tension and surprise. Not only will your scenes be stronger, but the overall reading will be smoother and more enjoyable.” Rule of Thumb: There is no recipe or formula for any one play, film or television show. The more organic the process, the better chance you’ll have re writing material that resonates for an audience. Below is just a rule-of-thumb event count in each medium.

Medium Novel Film Television Play

Number of Events 60 or more events (no running time) 40-60 events (2 hours running time) 20-30 events (1 hour) 2-40 events (2 hours)

Writing Tip: Jot down one scene per index card. This gives you the ability to identify builds and breaths in the action, vary the scenes, and add or delete scenes to complete the story. It’s amazing how much more the eye catches when using index cards versus writing a linear outline on a flat computer screen. In many ways, a story is like a jigsaw puzzle. Your mind forms a coherent picture from a mountain of jagged pieces.

“I had a very linear story line for this particular play, and I wanted to open the piece up a bit, so I started doing that with my writing. I would describe fragments of scenes on index cards…then move the card around to see how it changed the piece.” -- Philip Kan Gotanda


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Week Six Assignments ASSIGNMENT A: Please note: I’m shifting around the scene assignments to coincide with material in the lecture. Next week, I’m covering how to motivate exposition. Since other states of consciousness—e.g., memories (flashbacks), dreams, fantasies—are often used for exposition reasons, we’ll dive into that kind of scene during Week 7. The Ensemble Scene Thus far, scenes have been limited to 2-3 characters. Creating the ensemble scene (three-plus characters) where everyone has an agenda and no one reacts similarly in the given set of circumstances engenders a leap in complexity. Since many of you have been squeezing extra characters into your scenes, now’s your chance to tackle the ensemble scene!   

Write a 5-7 page scene with an ensemble (note: you can go longer if necessary) 4-6 characters Stage or screen format

ASSIGNMENT B: Identify the idea for a longer work. Whilst you’ve gotten feedback on your ideas, please go with the idea that is gnawing on your insides… not the one that everyone “likes”…unless it’s the same idea for both. Write a 1-2 pp. synopsis of your selected idea with a beginning, middle and end. Try and formulate the thematic statement, premise, and logline (film only). NOTE: Since we are not all using the same hardware or software, please make sure to post your submissions in Rich Text File or PDF. Good luck! Dakota

Lecture_Six___Advancing_the_Action___Part_I  

I. Spine of Story II. The Quest III. Dual Story Tracks IV. Advancing the Action V. Principles of Composition In the lecture on character, we...

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