Writing On Spec

An award caliber procrastinator discovers a new and dangerous pursuit to keep him from actually writing another script. Why another Blog? I love to talk screenwriting. I love to talk story. I live in Richmond, VA. It's almost easier to get produced than find another screenwriter here. We are the anti-LA.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Give "em what they want

One of the big deals with writing a scene is that character A has to want something and something or someone (Character B) has to be keeping it from them. They may or may not get this thing they want/need at the end of the scene, but they do either need to get it (at some unexpected cost) or they need to not get it. If they don't get it, then you need to keep the tension up and if they do, it's time to get creative 'cause if they got what they want, the drive is over, so it's time for them to discover something else they really (really) need.

Typically, in the romantic comedy, it's the drive of the story - they need to get together, but something is keeping them apart. Well, I'm gonna rave about one of my favorite writers (yeah, Aaron Sorkin again) and mention Studio 60. While opinions differ on the quality of the show, I believe it's one of the better ones because of the writing. I know some folks dislike his injection of his beliefs into story and character lines, but if you ask me, isn't that the privilege, heck the *job* of a writer to instill stories with life? What better way than to inject emotional issues or people from your life.

Anyway... back to the point. Early on they introduce friction between Danny & Jordan. Then, in one episode they introduce Danny's feelings for Jordan. This starts about a 3 episode "mini romantic comedy" where Danny pursues Jordan. End of episode 1 Danny proclaims his desire for Jordan. End of episode 2 Jordan tells Danny to stop pursuing her (to which he replies NO). End of episode 3, Jordan returns his affections.

Part of what makes Sorkin's writing so fulfilling is he is able to give us a character, show us what they want and then make them do, and here's the kicker, what WE would want to say or do in that given situation. For the most part, it's not even remotely realistic (which is often a criticism of Sorkin's stories). However, this is entertainment. By having characters do or say things that not only are beyond typical expectations in order to get what they want, it gives a life like (or big screen) feel to the story.

Little Miss Sunshine has a great moment in it when Dwayne freaks out in the van. The family's reaction to this, especially Olive's is a touching moment. At the end of the story, it's almost embarrassing to watch. They make complete fools of themselves (albeit in a good way and for a good reason), but these are two kinds of dramatic moments that engage the viewer.

With both of these scenes, I believe that the actions are right for the characters, but I don't believe that the audience is thinking I wish I could act that way in that given situation.

In contrast to a couple of Sorkin's moments, albeit quite a different movie. A Few Good Men. Few scenes can top the moment Tom Cruise gets Jack Nicholson to admit his ordering the Code Red. A smaller moment is when Tom Cruise is playing softball and discussing the case of a private caught with a dime bag of oregano. His attitude, logic and smooth talking make you want to root and cheer for this character.

It's these kinds of moments at which Sorkin excels. Not only does he give the character what he wants, but he does so in such a way that we, the audience, is a cheerleader for the cause. When they finally achieve the goal, we almost feel the emotions of the character. We're proud of the way the obtained the goal.

Obviously, you can't do this for every scene, but using this to your advantage is a powerful tool in your writing. Make sure the audience is behind the goal, not just the characters.