Friday, May 28, 2010

TODAY'S NUGGET: "Her Face is Flat"

Today I watched one of those cake competitions on TV.  One competitor recreated Snow White's face in sugar.  She said as an aside, "Her face is too flat. I should've gone more dramatic."

"Hmmmm," I thought, "Flat is a good word."  It made me think of the flat character descriptions I've encountered.   How do you round out a character?  Especially when you only have a line or two to be dramatic?

My #1 recommendation: Make sure every action does double duty, i.e., one movement reveals both character/thought and conflict.  

[Commercial break for the Everlasting Critic (EC).

EC: Well, duh.  But conflict?  Are you kidding?
Me: Does this face lie? Wait a minute. You can't see my face.
EC: What about sitting? 
Me: Yup.
EC: I do not mean squirming. I mean sitting still.
Me: I said YUP.
EC: Prove it.

ex. "Salty slouches in the porch rocker, apparently dead... except his trigger finger was itching for that jackrabbit to dare cross his lawn."

I win!

End of commercial.]

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: The world is round, not flat. Ergo, people should be round, not flat.

[I didn't take Logic in undergrad. So sue me.]

Friday, May 21, 2010


One of the things with which I struggle is expressing the character's stakes.  How does one show the character's motive? This is ultra important because it's the reason the character really goes on the journey.

Today I read a spec script that helped me. 

It was about a man whose wife was violently attacked by a stranger.  The devil appears and offers the man a choice: do you want revenge on the stranger, or remain helpless?  If I help you with the revenge, then you must do me a favor in return.  Of course the man accepts, and off we go on the adventure (and we're only on p. 12).

The script did a nice job of setting up my expectations & building to the decision moment: 

- First, we're lulled into a sense of security. This couple are shown really connected, loving.  They "get" each other and are so sweet together that we can't help but root for them...yet we know it can't last b/c it's only p. 2-3.

- She goes out one night without him.  Bad move. But good for us, as the tension is ratcheted up.  We know something bad is going to happen to her.  This is around p. 5.

- She goes to her car alone. Ooooh, you know Oprah always warns us not to do that.   We expect her to be assaulted.

- Yep, the violence happens and we're conflicted.  On the one hand, we're relieved we know what happened.  But on the other, we're outraged that it happened to such a nice person. 

Notice how this sequence has positioned the reader at a different level of tension. 

We're involved now.  We're invested.  We need to know how this is going to resolve.  The writer did a nice job of showing us why we should care and keeping us engaged.

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: I was convinced that the man would go to the ends of the earth for this woman because of what I saw between them from p. 1-4. 

Boy, those moments of hope are really key!  Without them, I'd wonder if the devil's bargain would be worth it.
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