Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Story Vault: Analysis Awareness

It's been a blur since 1st September, not just 'cos of the RPP but because of sudden writing deadlines and script editing gigs. It's all coming together nicely and the RPP is getting nearer the second round shortlist as I type. It's still fairly hectic so here's a post from this time last year, about using self-analysis on your scripts. See you soon!

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After a few years of script reading, and an equal amount of effort trying to write scripts of your own, you begin to see things with a bit more clarity and focus than before. The skill of being a script reader starts to compliment the craft of being a screenwriter. It’s all about being aware of the specific reasons why you’re reacting, or not responding, to the characters and story in a script.

Most people will read a script or watch a film and give generic reasons why they did, or did not, like the material. Some of these will touch on the specifics of the story: “that scene was funny”, or “I really liked his character”, but, when pushed, will not be able to adequately describe or explain WHY they really liked the character, or why they thought it was funny.

To make yourself a better reader, and writer, you’ve got to be able to identify the key moments in a script where you’re beginning to form your opinion of the story. The next time you find yourself saying “I don’t like this” or “I don’t like that character”, ask yourself why, and more importantly, where. It could be the key to improving your rewrite, or shaping the film in the edit suite.

People make subliminal judgements on characters and their behaviour from the very first moment they meet them. One misplaced look or line of dialogue could throw them off, and if the plot proceeds in an awkward manner, or the characters behave inconsistently, you’ve lost the audience for good. To amend this outlook, it’s important to retrace the plotting steps to the moment where the characters are first introduced. What do they say, what do they do, and what kind of dramatic or motivational need is established for them at that point?

Does it set up a false expectation for the audience about who the character is, and what the story is about? You may not have noticed. What’s entirely clear for us as writers about our characters and their motives may be ill-defined and unfocused for a reader because of the impartial information and exposition they're gleaning from the words on the page.

Characters are usually the focus and centrepiece of whether or not a reader/audience will engage with your story but there are other essential components to consider too. Tone, concept, structure are all tangible emotional elements despite their academic connotations. If the audience is laughing one minute but thrown by a serious and grim development in the next scene, they may not feel comfortable or satisfied with your choice of direction. Has the concept been effectively dramatised and put into place? Are the audience still struggling to figure out what the film is about?

After thirty pages of a script, we can usually tell if we like the script and/or the characters. If we don’t, it’s beneficial to ask ‘why’: what scene or moment made me think this way about that character? And what was it in the scenes that followed that either confirmed my view or confused me even more? Get down and dirty with the storytelling techniques of the writer. It’s “analysis awareness”; realising what a scene’s purpose is, or what the dialogue is really conveying, and analysing its dramatic and emotional value.

As a reader, this helps to give valuable and constructive feedback in the report. The more specific you can be, the easier it is for the exec, and for the writer who may receive the coverage. As a writer, it’s preferable to be aware of the specific techniques that help us elevate our stories and characters into wonderful and unexpected areas. However, the infinite complexities of story and the subjective nature of opinion will always challenge and divide us, making the pursuit of excellence a never-ending endeavour. It's a bitch, basically.

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4 comments:

Lucy said...

"It's a bitch, basically."

My new writing motto.

John said...

Hi, Danny. Nice post! I'm in the middle of writing and when it comes to re-reading, that whole judging what's good/not good, too much/too little, is an endless head-cave. Still, that's why we love it too! Just gotta get on with it and trust yourself, I suppose. Do you have a better idea of when they're/you're gonna be asking for the full scripts for the RPP and if there'll be some time between asking for the script and when they expect to receive it? The RPP website just says mid-October. Sorry for asking, but I'm trying to get my full scrpt finished in time (ever hopeful!!) and it would be good to have an idea. i.e. knowing I've got one week or three weeks changes how I pace the writing, if you know what I mean. Thanks, Danny. Hope you're enyoying doing it!

Paul Campbell said...

I met your Mr Jordan this morning.

What a nice chap.

Danny Stack said...

I believe the term 'Diamond Geezer' was invented in Tony's honour.

Standard of submissions have been high, and it's proving extremely tough to finalise the 2nd round shortlist. I know every comp says this but now I know it's true (e.g I was told I made the final shortlist of the SW Screen comp, with Sam. We didn't win but 'the extremely difficult choice' line we got is much easier to understand and appreciate).

But we're nearly there on the RPP, it'll probably be another week or two. I'll blog about it as soon as, naturally.