Monday, November 2, 2015

TODAY'S NUGGET: True Grit (2010) - Playing Fair With the Audience

[Quick Summary: To avenge her father's death, a young girl and her hired gun chases the killer across lawless country.]

As a new writer, I tried very hard to be smarter than the audience by withholding surprises, adding unforeseen twists, or springing gotcha! moments.

Don't do that. It's not playing fair with audiences.

(And worse, it's poor storytelling.)

- DO lay out all the clues. (However, misdirection is also fair.) 

- DO avoid deus ex machina. (This always feels like a cheat to me.)

- DO keep your characters true to their traits.

In this script, the writers play fair by laying out all the character traits early, even the contradictory ones.  Later, when we see the same behavior, it seems consistent.

For example, Rooster Cogburn has his own code of honor. 

In the early scene below, we see that he fudges the truth, but when pressed, is honest.

Later, he shouts to the fugitives to surrender, but then he shoots one of them in the back. This seems contradictory, but is consistent with his code.

ex. "MR. GOUDY: ...In your four years as U.S. marshal, Mr. Cogburn, how many men have you shot?

MR. BARLOW: Objection.

MR. GOUDY: There is more to this shooting than meets the eye, Judge Parker. I will establish the bias of this witness.

JUDGE: Objection is overruled.

MR. GOUDY: How many, Mr. Cogburn

COGBURN: I never shot nobody I didn't have to.

MR. GOUDY: That was not the question. How many?

COGBURN: ...Shot or killed?

MR. GOUDY: Let us restrict it to "killed" so that we may have a manageable figure.

COGBURN: Around twelve or fifteen. Stopping men in flight, defending myself, et cetera.

MR. GOUDY: Around twelve or fifteen. So many that you cannot keep a precise count. Remember, you are under oath. I have examined the records and can supply the accurate figure.

Beat.

COGBURN: I believe them two Whartons make twenty-three.

MR. GOUDY: Twenty-three dead men in four years.

COGBURN: It is a dangerous business."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Play fair. Don't hide clues. Lay it out for the reader.

True Grit (2010)
Adapted by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen (draft dated 6/12/09)
Based on the novel by Charles Portis

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