a pro script reader ponders movies, reading, writing and the occasional personal flashback

Friday, May 19, 2006

When To Hide and When To Reveal

So I did buy a HP laptop, with plenty of memory power that I probably don't need, and auxiliary ports all over the side that I have no idea what to plug into -- there are more unfilled holes in this thing than a convent full of nuns.

The good news is that I'm using it to drive me to write more. Every night I go down to the dining room (well, it's not really a dining room, it's just the part of the living room with the table on it that we actually never eat on, because we're always eating in front of the TV), turn the laptop on, and just do the screenwriting thing.

It feels good.

I've moved my still-untitled supernatural thriller back up the front burner, and I'm back to reworking the first act. So far, so good. The main thrust here is still on eliminating the whole early sequence that establishes the main character and her unique situation, and instead dropping right into the story, and letting the audience wonder what the hell is going on with this woman, as information slowly emerges in dribs and drabs.

On the plus side, it kicks the story off a lot faster; the backstory sequence wasn't bad, but it didn't kick ass, and it ate up 12 valuable can't-start-the-story-yet pages. As it is, from the info we learn along the way it's pretty easy to guess what happened, and the audience's imagination of these events may well be better than what I actually came up with.

So the whole sequence, and all of its characters that never turn up again, are now in the metaphorical dumpster, where hobos can shove it aside as they search for apple cores and pizza.

The downside, of course, is figuring out when to reveal stuff. When I'm critiquing other people's scripts, this is often an issue that comes up.

Too many people try to make too much a mystery early, so the audience doesn't have anything to ground themselves in. Unless you are telling a very specific kind of story, it's not good to have the audience confused and uneasy for that long.

I'm a big fan of making the audience fairly comfortable with a situation as it is unfolding; give them enough info so that they don't feel lost, or that you're just jerking them around by hiding things from them. Then layer in the reveals.

But still, the idea of giving your character some mystery, something that is learned along the way, has to be balanced with this.

So in my first pass at the first act, I cut the backstory bit, and then promptly drop a big speech into my character's mouth in which she tells another character the whole story.

Ugh. Particularly inappropriate for this character, who is really not very talkative early on here.

So now I'm writing deeper. Figuring out ways to bring the audience along into the story, to give them little aha moments where they can see my character going through something and learn about her backstory that way.

The great thing about showing and not telling is that it really emphasizes the need to make your story more dynamic. It's not about talking heads, it's about action revealing character, it's about trusting the audience to make the logical jumps and appreciate a story that exposes more layers as it goes on in interesting fashion, rather than just having characters contrivedly blurt out chunks of backstory exposition.

In theory I know all this stuff, but every tale is different, and it's nice to be able to wrestle with my own script and really being able to spot what's not working and what needs to be reworked.

And to always realize that there's a lot of other ways to tackle a sequence, and that you should play with as many different of these ways as possible, just to see what will happen. Because good enough ins't really good enough.

But no complaints so far about my laptop, which is a delight despite the fact that I still have no idea what it can do. But I'm going to figure it out.


At 10:27 AM, Blogger Dave said...

Other uses for your laptop include a coaster, a paperweight and hammer when necessary. I've used mine as an unintentional gravity validator (although I wouldn't recommend that usage either).

Glad to hear you're working on your stuff some. The actual writing part is the fun part for me.

Just read a good article (in latest Scr(i)pt I believe, about how dialogue can move the story forward as action (cited Harry Met Sally and a few others that are heavy on dialogue).

Might be worth a read if you're heavy into removing expositional dialogue now... although, now that I say it - that's an excuse to go read instead of write isn't it?

Depending on your writing places - you might pick up a small usb flash drive and create a backup to copy all your screenplay stuff to the flashdrive. Then you have a) a backup and b) you can take it anywhere and work on your stuff.

At 10:49 AM, Blogger Chesher Cat said...

"-- there are more unfilled holes in this thing than a convent full of nuns." ????

Exactly which dark chasm of your brain did you pull that analogy out of?

I will never be able to look at my laptop the same again. From now on it's going to be, "My convent has eleven nuns. How many does yours have?" Yes, writing is best when it's a religious experience.

At 11:06 AM, Blogger Scott the Reader said...

It just popped into my head. I'm not sure what twisted part of my soul it came from.

Either I'm a writer, or I'm possessed by the ghost of Buddy Hackett. I'm not sure which is better for my screenwriting career.

At 11:23 AM, Blogger Chris said...

I love being mobile for writing. In theory it shouldn't make a difference whether I'm sitting at my desk or one foot over on my bed. But for some reason it can. Wierd.

Do you have your internet connection running through a wireless router, so that you can roam and still remain connected? Not sure if that would be a blessing or a curse. I would probably be more productive if I didn't surf-n-draft at the same time. But then there are also a million little research questions that pop up along the way, and it's handy to be able to have the answer (literally) at your fingertips.

And when you have a wireless router, with a printer that has an ethernet port, run the printer into the router for sweet wireless printing. It rocks.

Also, assuming it's bluetooth enabled, a wireless keyboard and mouse means the laptop can function for all intents and purposes as a desktop in your writing space at home. Ergonomically, you can put your laptop on a stand at eye level and do all the typing/mousing as you normally would do with a desktop.

In the ultimate slack move, I put my MacBook on the stand, on my bed, and type on the bluetooth keyboard on my lap when I'm sitting on the bed.

At 11:57 AM, Blogger Systemaddict said...

Great Stuff Scott-

Hope the nuns don't get ahold of your blog, or your may very well never be able to fill all the holes...but the option is nice.

At 12:00 PM, Blogger Scott the Reader said...

The laptop has wireless, but I actually don't want to use it yet -- I find the Internet a huge distraction when I'm writing, and porpusely plan not to be on the Internet during writing periods.

At 12:00 PM, Blogger Julie O. said...

Sounds like you're doing great work, Scotty -- I bet the gradual reveal will be much more engaging.

At 3:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

there are more unfilled holes in this thing than a convent full of nuns.

Great line. Might have to borrow that.

- Allen

At 11:25 PM, Blogger A. M. said...

Beware of page 30-60 becoming the designated "Backstory and Exposition Dump". Though that allows to action-fill Act I, it makes for a sagging middle. ;)

Compare the traditional Act I of Zaillian's vs. Mamet's draft of Hannibal, both are available online. See which one you like better and why. I did this a while back and it was very educational

At 3:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What else do you fill convents with?

At 8:06 AM, Blogger Thomas Crymes said...

You have to shovel the backstory and exposition somewhere. Might as well put it in Act II where it might be overlooked!

Scott, the internet is a time sink. It is so easy to become instantly obsessed with finding information on goat herding rather than tackle that sticking point in Act II.

At 8:08 AM, Blogger Thomas Crymes said...

Oh, and get a USB thumb drive like Dave suggested. They are cheap and much better than a floppy or a rewritable CD.

At 10:30 AM, Blogger Scott the Reader said...

I'm so paranoid that I'm pretty sure I'll be saving scripts onto as many things as possible.


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