Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Trust the Reader

From a recent TS script review of mine:

I want to say a word on trusting the reader. An inevitable sign of growth in a new writer (and we all go through this arc) is in the area of trusting the reader. Newbies who haven't developed the discipline of trusting the reader tend to over-explain simple things in the action lines or they over-explain obvious reactions in characters or they indulge in on-the-nose dialogue to convey obvious emotions we all know that particular character is feeling. Over time, you'll learn that you only need to explain something once (or not even explain it at all) and then move on because you know very well that your readers are with you, will get it without needing your help, and will appreciate you more for trusting them and moving forward. An example of this might be, like on pg 62, you mentioned that the gang saw "an ocean of trees." Okay, great. But then you had to add, "Absolutely no sign of civilization, whatsoever." Yeah. We got that with "ocean of trees." Let's move on. Do you see what I mean? I also mentioned characters indulging in on-the-nose dialogue to convey obvious emotions we all know that particular character is feeling. This brings to mind the moment after Kevin sees [his best friend] Josh [kissing his girlfriend] Emily, and he's all pissed off and he later tells everyone off. Well, we've seen this a billion times before. We all know exactly what Kevin's thinking and feeling, and it's moments like these where a writer has to find ways to show us something totally unexpected from a character. What if he didn't tell them off? What if he embraced Josh? Why would he do something crazy like that? What if, when Emily kisses him, he doesn't push her away but pulls her in, and I don't know, has angry sex? You lower interest by having characters play out in ways that are totally expected and you make people more engaged when they do the opposite.

Also -

You should also consider multiple setups in one scene. I'm a believer in horizontal / vertical storytelling. I think a writer should work hard to give the audience a smooth, seamless, and efficient setup to the story. You establish many things in as few scenes as possible to quickly move us down that horizontal plane of storytelling. That is, until you get to those vertical moments, which is the reason we're all there to see that film and the time when the story could slow down or briefly stop. In an action movie, it's the action sequences. In a comedy, it's the big gut-busting moments. In a horror story, it's the suspenseful moments of horror. So when you finally get to those moments, like when the engineer transforms and you have Angie on her way to see him, that's when you should slow down, focus your creative energies in dragging out the suspense to excruciating levels. I recently posted a murder scene on my blog that was actually written by Alfred Hitchcock from an unproduced screenplay. One murder scene took up 12 pages. Mind you, it wasn't the greatest murder scene ever since Psycho but it was fascinating to analyze. It wasn't about getting a murder scene done quickly in order to move the plot forward. It was about the EXPERIENCE of the murder scene. It was about the characters and the question of "will he or won't he commit murder" dragged out to excruciating levels. That's what horror does. And I think almost all of your scary scenes, which were good, could have still been dragged out longer, could've been more intense to heighten the EXPERIENCE for the audience. It's not about volume of scares but quality of suspense.


Sabina E. said...

or... what if Kevin ask Josh and Emily for a three-way?!?!?

no, in all seriousness, great post. I've found a fantastic reader who's much older than me and he's always so brutally honest with me. It hurt my feelings at first, but now I love it. hah.

Anonymous said...

The relationship with readers is a very tricky one, as everyone who has had their work appraised will know. A key issue is how much attention your work will receive. Someone who is mentoring you, someone you are paying, will probably read your work quite closely, and hopefully appreciate its nuances. The reader who is tasked with looking at your spec submission will probably not do much more than that, look at it, hopefully lingering long enough on a page for most of the words to register, before they get distracted by their cellphone or worrying about what they're having for dinner that night. That creates a fundamental tension between subtlety and clarity, between how much you can expect them to take in and how much you have to ram it home.

If you are actually writing a script in the hope that it may get picked up, you get so few shots at making a good impression, it's a real problem, and I guess all you can do is make sure it is an easy read as possible without sacrificing too much.

Mystery Man said...

Punk Gurl - Thanks so much. I'm a believer in diplomatic honesty. But I will not shy away from what I would consider weaknesses in a story.

Terra - Great commments. Every detail counts. And really in the case of this script review, trusting the reader really meant I'm all about brevity and clarity. Avoiding redundancies.


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Taurus said...

I the first place, blogging is all about being listened to, to listen and learning along the way - therefore relationship with your readers is always a CONCERN.

Honey said...

Being brutally honest is good, it all depends on how you see it and of course on how it was delivered - let us just respect others opinion.

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