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.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Please don't cry...no, really. Don't.

So reading through another script and a character is chopping veggies and crying at the sink. What's wrong with this scene is that I have no emotional tie to the action in the scene. I didn't know the deceased (why the person is crying), there is no association to the chore of chopping veggies and I've just met this new character.

This is wasted writing because what you want is for the reader to cry, not the characters. The most powerful scenes you will find are those where the character is the last to cry and the audience is the first. However, for this to happen you have to set it up.

A couple quick examples that stick out for me. Return to Me is a good example of a quick setup. Shows the couple as a really great pair. Soul mates kind of love - in sync, happy and loving life. A few scenes later and the husband's life has been shattered - a car accident and his wife is dead. You have the same location (the house) and their dog who is obviously looking for the wife - not expecting him home alone. Although we all know (if we think about it) that the dog would not react this way, we are manipulated because of what we know - we're leaping ahead in the story because we're putting ourselves there. So, the dog misses her, his world is shattered, he's been in shock and now he's starting to come to terms with what's happened. At this point, the audience is probably already in tears (yeah, it's the dog without a doubt). It's at this point that he can break down - after the audience should have.

This scene works because it's been setup clearly and because the audience has the necessary knowledge the understand the ramifications and to feel for the characters. It's a great story that can do this in less than 10 pages.

The second example is from a television show - Buffy The Vampire Slayer. It's a long, long setup - years really - but the payoff has a very human touch point. The ill fated lovers (Buffy & Angel) have decided to be together. Screw the rest of the world, they'll just be in love. Cut to Angel finding out that if they do that, not only will Buffy die, but the world will go to Hell. Their love is just not meant to be. Buffy knows nothing about this - hint: this is the writers letting the audience in on the big secret before the character (Buffy). The other shoe that is about to drop is when he has to tell her that they have to resume their old lives and cannot be together. The kicker is that he doesn't tell her until their moment is up. One minute until everything returns to normal and their perfect world turns to crap again.

Here is where the audience feels it before the character. They know what's coming - they know there's only a minute left, they know he has to tell her - the whole scene rests on the actor's not crying before us. She does a great job as she's told that fate has screwed them both and she only has one minute left. What this says to the audience is "how would you feel if your perfect world was about to end in one minute? How would you feel?"

Like the first example, it plays well, not only because of the actors but because of the setup given to the audience before the moment takes place.

Thus, next time you think a character needs to cry, think about if your audience will be crying before you or after you. If it's afterward, cut it and try again or look for where and how you need to set the story events up to have the audience ahead of you.