Friday, September 16, 2005

Conf 96: Rewrite notes

No. of frustrating weeks: 1

Very annoying week. Distractions came from every angle, much time wasted applying for jobs that didn't exist and seeing ugly houses that stank of trainers. Had a call telling me of local office job 10-3 at just about acceptable rate of pay, so went over to other side of town for interview only to find that

a) the rate they quoted on the phone was the 'experienced' rate . The rate I'd get to start was the kind of figure a teenage babysitter would turn her nose up at.

b) the job had strangely 'just gone' but they did have another vacancy 150 miles away.

I thought I was too old to fall for such cons, but sadly, no.

Finally got back to novel today. Almost ready to start writing the second draft. Will leave first draft of ending until I get there. Have done a scene by scene list for close examination & new character breakdowns. Shortened nitty gritty descriptions to:


And made various notes from longer notes, thanks to Robert McKee and Alan Ayckbourn, some relating to screenplays but liked them anyway:

If the scene is about what the scene is about, you’re in deep shit – old Hollywood saying (McKee)

Good actors will not step in front of a camera without a sub-text.

Turning points must be imagined, discarded and reimagined then played out in text and subtext. Study thoughtfully but write boldly.

Climax built around a turning point is the most satisfying of all.

Story climax – Meaning produces emotion

Act one: wind up the spring
Act two: tighten the spring
Act three: let it go

Plant important information as casually and effortlessly as possible in order to close off the corridors of coincidence.

Begin at a point when story is already up and running but not so far advanced that you can’t fill audience in as you go.

People are secretive, in making characters reveal themselves, they must be given a cause, a motive – drunk, desperation, anger, deliberately to hurt, no idea they’re doing it.

Creating an emotional response often has little to do with describing the emotions or feelings themselves. Everything to do with reader relating to the event.

To describe the feelings first action and words eg slap face. Second, appearance of character in situation, eg tears, eyes blaze with fury. Third, internal conflict within character.

The more difficult the problem, the more difficult the resolution, the better the plot idea.

Giving the setting a role: choke on the dust; temperature of waves; noise – character must respond to place
Heard, smelled, saw, felt, sensed, tasted

MUST want something, MUST make decisions, actions MUST effect change. Most memorable characters have an unconscious desire – audience senses it, perceiving inner contradiction. What she believes she wants is the antithesis of what she actually but unwittingly wants.

What is the risk?
What does character stand to lose if she does not get what she wants? What’s the worst thing that’ll happen to her if she does not achieve her desire.

If answer is ‘like back to normal’ the story is not worth telling.

The higher the value, the higher the risk.

Ultimate values, risks: freedom, lives, souls.

STORY ARC – value charge of character at beginning, at end. Final condition must be ABSOLUTE and IRREVERSIBLE. Throughout minor/moderate/major change but conceivably each of those could be reversed.

Movies are about their last 20 minutes. The story’s ultimate event is the writer’s ultimate task. If you fail to make the poetic leap to brilliant culminating climax – all previous scenes, characters, dialogue and description become an elaborate typing exercise.

CHARACTER is revealed in the choices a human being makes under pressure – the greater the pressure the deeper the revelation, the truer the choice to the character’s essential nature. At the heart of her humanity what will we find? Loving or cruel? Generous or selfish? Strong or weak? Courage or coward?


CHOICE UNDER PRESSURE – strips away mask of characterisation, we’ll peer into inner nature and with a flash of insight grasp their true character.

The revelation of true character in contrast or contradiction to characterisation is fundamental to all fine storytelling. What SEEMS is not what IS. People are not what they appear to be. A hidden nature waits concealed behind a fa├žade of traits. No matter what they say, no matter how they comport themselves, the only way we ever come to know characters in depth is through their choices under pressure. Shallow non-dimensional people exist – but they’re boring, boring, BORING.

James Bond goes on and on because the world delights in the repeated revelation of a deep character that contradicts characterisation. Underneath lounge lizard exterior is a thinking man’s Rambo.

The revelation of deep character in contrast or contradiction to characterisation is fundamental in major characters. Minor roles may or may not need hidden dimensions, but principals must be written in depth. They cannot be at heart what they seem to be at face.

Never include anything the audience can assume has happened. You don’t keep audience’s interest by giving it information but by WITHOLDING information.

Nothing moves forward except through conflict. Conflict is to storytelling what sound is to music.

Conflict is the soul of the story. Story metaphor for life and to be alive is to be in seemingly perpetual conflict….

The understanding of how we create the audience’s emotional experience begins with the realisation that there are only two emotions – pleasure and pain Each has its variations = joy, love, happiness, rapture, fun, ecstacy, thrill, bliss and the other side, anguish, dread, anxiety, terror, grief, humiliation, malaise, misery, stress, remorse and many others on the other hand. But at heart life gives us only one or the other.

The key to true character - desires come when character comes to life the moment we glimpse a clear understanding of his desire. Not only conscious, unconscious desire as well.

Bye bye, thanks for visiting, come again soon.

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