Saturday, April 3, 2010

TODAY'S NUGGET: Don't Put Me on Hold

I covered a script recently that immediately A) set my hackles up, and B) told me this was an amateur writer.

What did the writer do?  He put me on hold.

Here's the story: I was reading merrily along & following the protagonist.  I was amassing story pebbles in my bag. The sun was shining, there was a good twist, the lead character was facing some juicy conflict...then it happened.

Without any notice or warning, the writer jerked me around & took me to go see the antagonist.  WHAT the hell?!?!

Yep, it was like the writer put up a stop sign & said, "I need you to keep holding these previous thoughts for me while we go on this bumpy detour."

But I'm a polite reader.  I only give what's in front of me my full attention.  I'm not a half-assed audience.

The only polite thing to do is to put down the protagonist's half full bag & give the antagonist my full attention.

So I forget all about the protagonist & wonder why the antagonist isn't the main character.  This is a bad bad thing.  Never leave your protagonist behind for long. Otherwise, your audience will get confused.  (Yes, I was lost & ended up not liking the script much.)

What's the morale of the story?
1) A pro writer leads me down the path & warns me there's a switch coming as the scene ends.
2) If there's going to be a switch, the writer sets it up fairly early that I NEED to go see the antagonist, i.e., that I need some information from the antagonist. 
3) TRANSITION TRANSITION TRANSITION well.  Transitions aren't just at the very end of every scene.  A good transition is how you set me up in Scene A that drives me into Scene B & C.  The throughline of the story is clear that A leads to B, that leads to C.

Ex. of a bad transition:
Scene A - The protagonist leaves to go to work & accidentally runs over his dog
Scene B - The antagonist plots to blow up everyone at work
Scene C - The protagonist grieves over his dog

The problem is that Scene A doesn't drive to Scene B.  The info in B is unnecessary at this point & doesn't build the story.

Ex. of a better transition:

Scene A - The protagonist leaves to go to work & accidentally runs over his dog
Scene B - The protagonist rushes his dog to the vet, who refuses to help b/c the antagonist has put a ban on anyone helping the protagonist
Scene C - The protagonist confronts the antagonist in grief & anger

See how the conflict in A flows into B, then what happens in B drives us naturally to the conflict in C?  This is good storytelling.

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: If you put me on hold, you may get a dead tone.

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