Saturday, July 19, 2014

Good news, bad news.

One of my favourite writers on the subject of screenwriting is Bill Martell, he's a dedicated writer of action scripts and is the go-to guy if you want to learn how to make your action sequences worthwhile and memorable.

The following is all gleaned from his daily script tips and the applied to some prose writing I've been doing recently (in fact I've been writing stories almost exclusively for the past year - it's all part of a cunning plan).

So, I've been serialising a Steampunk story, set in 1874, on Google Plus (my social medium of choice), and it's been getting good feedback. The writing itself is a bit rough in places because I'm essentially publishing a first draft. I write it on a train on Friday afternoon, it gets read over by me and my alpha reader and published within 12 hours (usually less). Luckily, my first drafts aren't totally appalling.

The episode I wrote yesterday was an explosion of action after weeks of building the tension as the first three men in space, discover they aren't and board an apparently derelict spaceship, only to find evidence of fighting and finally someone alive who pulls a gun on them.

What happens next is the good news-bad news approach to action sequences, as delineated by Bill Martell. You can read what he has to say here: Reversals in Action Of course this uses movies as examples because, well, Bill is a screenwriter.

But this works perfectly in prose writing as well, it should it's about suspense and engagement.

The following is a description of the action good news-bad news. If you haven't read it then this will completely spoil it. You can read it here first.

Our protagonist has just thrown his helmet at the man who has his gun trained on the three crew, exploring the apparently derelict ship, to distract him.

Good news: He's distracted! And fires off a random shot.

Bad news: There's an explosion in the hull and the air starts rushing out into space.

Good news: The bad guy retreats, presumably to get his own spacesuit on.

Bad news: Protagonist's helmet is being pulled towards the ruptured hull.

Worse news: He's hanging in the air weightless, with no way of moving.

Good news (phew): The Captain deliberately bumps into him to push him to the wall.

Bad news: It's going to be a close thing but

Good news: He launches himself to get his helmet.

Bad news: He misses and comes up against the window.

Worse news: Our protagonist looks through the window and sees three men in spacesuits, and guns.

Good news: The Engineer grabs his helmet and blocks the escaping air with his body.

Better news: Protagonist gets his helmet.

Awful news: It's got a hole in it from the random gunshot!

Good-ish news: The engineer starts to remove his own helmet to give it to him.

Bad news: The engineer is shot by the men outside.

And that's it. This also illustrates the importance of stakes. We've been with the protagonist for a few weeks and, though he's a bit of a wimp, he's a decent guy in a strange situation. I knew this scene was coming so I spent the previous two episodes building up the engineer, because until he'd been something of a non-entity. And we needed to care more about him so that this scene had more impact.

I hope that's valuable.

What's on the turntable? "Second sitting for the Last Supper" by 10cc from "The Original Soundtrack"

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