Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Mystery of Suspense with a side-order of Sex

Writing 101.

The concept called Dramatic Irony sounds complicated. It isn't.

It's when the audience knows something one or more of the important characters in a story doesn't know. As in Hitchcock's bomb under the table[1], if the audience doesn't know it's there and it explodes, that's a surprise. If the audience does know it's there and it doesn't explode... the fact the audience knows is dramatic irony, the effect it causes is suspense. Though it only causes suspense if it's got consequences, the bigger the consequences the better the suspense.

Bombs generally have consequences.

Suspense is a very good thing, it keeps the audience on the edge of their seat. It enforces their participation and without audience participation a story is worthless.

Mystery is the opposite of suspense, being just something the audience - and one or more important characters also doesn't know. Hopefully the audience wants to know, but they don't and the story hinges on it, then it fails.

I'm getting interested in this stuff because I've nearly finished Winter and I'm heading into the "let's analyse the story scene by scene using screenwriting tools and see how we can make it better" stage.

In Winter I'm reasonably happy with the suspense factor - even though it's based on a mystery. The audience knows that the protagonist has a major secret, it's a mystery although it's almost certainly something bad (good things are seldom any use). The audience also knows that this secret is going to make something bad happen to one of the other characters. Eventually.

And I wrote my first sex scene which was an interesting experience. It only occupies half a page (this is a script after all) but it does the job it needs to do.

But what's even more interesting was how to get the two characters from strangers to making love in 30 pages. For that I did some research and found the 12 Steps to Intimacy[2] which, like all things, are guidelines rather than rules.

Have you written your first sex scene yet? How was it for you?


What's on the turntable? "Spare Some Love" by Renaissance from "Prologue"

Sunday, November 13, 2011

When I say "Oh dear"...

I realise my empty last posting needs some explanation. I mean I could delete it but where would the fun be in that?

Fun? Not feeling very fun-ny today I must admit. This is not because anything bad is happening in my life, it isn't. Just had a bad night a combination of the weather suddenly turning hot and humid (just for a couple of hours), people just down the way having friends round and making just enough noise to prevent sleep, cats deciding to take objection to other cats, and our dog taking exception to the cats taking exception to each other.

Very sad. So I'm tired, hence the unfunny feeling.

The "Oh dear" was because I was going to make a comment about how I had completely failed to make any further posting about the London Screenwriters Festival. But the inter-tubes in the place I'm staying decided to behave badly and that was as far as I got. Except I managed to post it.

Not very exciting at all.

London Screenwriters Festival

I went to others of the sessions of course, nothing truly major stuck in my mind. Ellin Stein's session on editing down scripts was interesting enough; and the one on a new way of analysing scripts was passingly interesting, though the speaker was primarily selling his products - and his clientele is directors rather than writers.

I can sum up what he said: The key moments of a script are when a character perceives something different in their environment.

I think, on the whole, it's a valid tool for directors, is it a valid tool for writers? No idea. I'll have to try it out.

I had a go at the Pitch Factor on Saturday evening. It was fun and I was rubbish - but considering I wrote the pitch on the back a cigarette packet half a  minute before speaking that comes as no surprise. (I'm lying professionally here. It was a note pad, and I wrote it half an hour before.)

I also had a Speed Pitch session booked, which was also a bit poo. But I was similarly unprepared. No surprise there then.

I went to the Writing Fantastical TV session which had a good panel and the overwhelming advice was - smuggle it in. Of course, as I read elsewhere, it's ludicrous if TV commissioners say "oh that last SF TV series really bombed we won't do any more of those". After all, do they, when a cop show bombs, say "We won't do any more cop shows?" No, they don't.

There was also the Writing for Comics, another good panel and something I knew nothing about, so I was suitably enlightened. Interesting.

And, of course, I met new people and generally had a good time. So I'll no doubt do it again.

Family Drama

So, the Boy has been doing exams (his school push them through early GCSEs) so it's been a bit a stressful time for him. But he has come out the other side safely.

For the drama exam (part of English Language) they had to write their own 5min script based on Saving Private Ryan. Scripts is something we know something about so he got the job in his groups. (Actually it makes no sense, this is a drama exam so he gets nothing for the writing - surely they should just give them a script?)

Anyway, without going into detail, there was much to-ing and fro-ing with this script. He wasn't sure what to do, so we discussed conflict in scenes. His first version barely made 90 seconds. Then he got something sorted that was long enough. Then he found that his part was too short so had to add a completely new sequence into the scene, but we discussed what could be done and came up with something he liked and he wrote it.

I'm currently working away from home during the week so the Teacher (okay, that's potentially confusing - when I say "the Teacher" I mean my wife, not his schoolteacher) helped him clean up the spelling and grammar. And then she wanted to put some additional instructions into the action lines and the Boy says "No, mum, you can't do that, that's director stuff."

There humour. (For the sake of completeness, yes, I know, in stage work the writer is god, so "director stuff" would be fine - but that wouldn't be funny.)

Anyway it all went off well and he got the equivalent of an A grade for the drama part - I'd have given him the same for the writing, but I'm a bit biased.

Winter Blog

I am also instigating yet another blog - just a sucker for punishment - this one is specifically about writing the web series Winter which is going very nicely and I have some observations to make (well, I think they're interesting - others may differ.)

What's on the turntable? "The Third Hoorah" by Jethro Tull from "Warchild"