Friday, January 28, 2011

Dialogue, or Talking about Talking

I gotta write more scripts.  I like the format.  When I first started writing on the bus, on my shiny new halfling-size laptop, the first thing I did was a short radio play.  Now, after struggling with the novel format, my blog is late this week because I’ve been happily writing a web-comic strip.

The radio play was especially fun because there was no stage action – the whole story had to be told in voice.  I like dialogue.  I hope I’m good with it.   And in scripts, dialogue is the primary way in which character is revealed.  And dialogue and action together pretty much make up the whole story.

In novels, the author can get inside the character’s head.  Thoughts, feelings, musings… all can be presented easily.  You’d think novel writing would therefore be easier – more tools for the author to build the tale. 

But there is something to be said for the challenge of working on a limited canvas. (Is a limited color palate a better analogy?)  It forces you to be deliberate, to make meaningful and powerful choices in order to get the best use out of the tools you’ve got.  Or, to continue the analogy, to use bold colors.

Even in the novel format, dialogue is a powerful tool.  I have noticed that good authors reveal new information in dialogue as well as in text.  Despite having access to a character’s thoughts, sometimes we don’t learn their conclusions until the character tells someone else.  More dramatic that way.

I think part of the appeal of dialogue is it’s how we learn about people in real life.  We judge others by what they say and do.  It’s all we’ve got, really.  So we learn from the time we’re children to decipher words and phrases, to listen for double meanings, to see when people’s words don’t add up, to decide who to believe.

Dialogue therefore commands our attention.  It’s our life.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Time Compression and Narration

I understand that a typical mistake made by amateur movie makers is showing too much establishing footage.  Filming a guy leaving his house, shutting his door, walking to his car, pulling out his keys, getting in his car, driving away, sitting in traffic, arriving at his destination.  Audiences only need to see that last bit – the arrival.  Maybe, if continuity is an issue, we can see him driving away from home.  But anything more is a waste of time and the viewers’ attention.

So I’m writing this supposedly short web comic script for my sister-in-law, and I’m still fighting the expanding page-count. I’m on page eight and I’ve finally gotten to the meat of the story.

One of the problems I had was having the main character arrive outside an apartment window while the next scene requires her to be inside.  The question is – do I need to show her climbing through the window?

I decided that entering the apartment was a necessary bit of continuity to avoid confusing the reader.  But it is an unfortunate necessity, using up page space and making my artist do more work.

The trick, it turns out, is making each panel do double duty.  So while the characters are doing uninteresting things like climbing through windows, I have them thinking (hopefully) interesting and revealing things.  Thank heaven for first person narration.

An interesting reversal actually occurs here – once I decide what information to reveal during these necessary transition panels, I have to make the panels large enough to contain the new data. 

It’s like the film maker above intentionally extending the driving sequence in order to make time for an important voice-over.  But that’s no longer a mistake – it’s an intentional control over the flow of time.  The movie takes time to think because the character does.

But none of this makes my script any shorter.

Friday, January 14, 2011

A Matter of Character

A writing friend of mine recently mentioned the old idea that the difference between story and plot is character.  Really, of course, it’s a matter of how the terms are defined – ask ten writers, you’ll probably get twelve definitions.

But the underlying point is valid.  I recently saw a good example in Disney’s latest princess movie, Tangled.

Without giving too much away, there is a scene where the lead character is emotionally conflicted.  She is happy about something she’s done, but unhappy about how she had to do it.

There is an entire scene devoted to her emotional conflict that does not advance the plot – that is, the sequence of events leading to the resolution of the story – at all.  Just the opposite, actually – the presence of this extra scene slows the advancement of events.

But it is a great scene.  It’s funny.  And it tells us about our princess and helps us care about her.  And it is by caring about her that we give a damn about the story.  ‘Cause otherwise it is just a sequence of events.

So I guess the best plot is the world falls short if it doesn’t happen to someone.  To look at it another way, perhaps a great sequence of events that don’t involve the audience with the characters should be called something other than a story.  Like a history, or a saga, or something.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

After what came before…

For today, a couple of unrelated thoughts based on my previous post.  If you need to, you can go back and read it. I’ll wait – the Internet is patient.

My first thought is that comic book format creates interesting challenges to pacing.  At the request of the person I am writing for, I’m trying to avoid too many words per panel.  I’m also trying to avoid too many panels per page.  Otherwise, you know, they get really small and cramped.

Unfortunately, the original plan also included not having too many pages of story as well.  And the way I’m working now, it takes five pages to move the story an inch.  I suppose economy of storytelling is an issue in any media.  Brevity, wit.  It’s a fun, but occasionally frustrating challenge.

My other thought was about the classification and demystification of magic that I ranted about in my previous post.  Particularly as it pertains to my work-not-so-much-in-progress, The Illusionist’s House. 

I’m thinking the solution may be to go ahead and let the people in the story try to classify magic.  Maybe even let them think they’ve succeeded.  And then have them be wrong.  Let them learn that some things defy pigeonholes.

The limits of what can be known is becoming a theme for the story anyway.