where the writers are
Beginning Scriptwriting ~ Notes/Reflections II

On the second session of class, the chairs were arranged differently, two rows were angled, so that when I sat at the last row, I faced in and could see all the other desks, the sides of people’s profiles. Once the instructor arrived, he asked us to make a large circle with our desks in order to see everyone. He said this is how all the classes going forward would go, unless perhaps we viewed a movie, then we may have to rearrange. I like this format much better.

It appeared that we lost some people from the first day. They must have decided that this wasn’t the class for them.

From our discussion of character, we moved on to Structure. The instructor tells us that “Structure will take care of itself if the characters are written well.” It seems to be then that the characters really hold a movie together. I must admit that there are a few movies where I got so lost in the characters, I didn’t even care if there was a plot or not. Somehow it worked for me. I suppose too that in certain instances, a movie has a different purpose and the characters go to the background. The one film, and it’s been a long time since I’ve seen it, that comes to mind is Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams. A visual masterpiece.

The instructor bestowed us with words of wisdom from Baudelaire about “being drunk.” It was pure synchrony that I had just read these words a few days before in a little inspirational book I found at the library:

“You need to become drunk. It all depends on this, it is the only key to the problem. In order not to feel the terrible burden of time weighing you down to the point of oppression, you must unremittingly get drunk. But on what? Wine, poetry, or virtue—the choice is yours. Yet drunk you must be…In order not to be slaves or victims of time, you must get completely drunk!”

It was perfect and I feel drunk just being in this class because I get to continue learning and writing and struggling and loving it!

We revisited the five elements related to character:
I.   Inciting incident [Call to adventure]
II.  Progressive complications [Descent to the underworld]
III. Crisis decision [Character resurfaces]
IV. Obligatory scene (climax) [Back to the surface—a new them]
V.  Denouement (French for unraveling) [Gift in a sense that they give the world]

He pointed out how these five elements run parallel to Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey. I’ve put the phrasing the instructor used in brackets.

We learned about beats of action. “Action always means an intention.” He said to think of a beat of action as “bits of action.” I had a difficult time wrapping my mind around a beat of action, but I think it makes more sense since I’ve had time to think about it. Since I’m a week behind in my reflection, I do know from this recent Monday class that we will be talking more about beats of action, as well reviewing them in movies next week. By then it should be more clear in my head.

Back to last week. The instructor gave us our assignment. It was to write a scene in five beats of action that would open a movie. We were to write it with no characters. No people; animals were OK. No letters, no words. No moving cars. We were to create characters without the characters actually being there. I raised my hand and asked if this scene should have movement. Yes, he said. It should begin to lead us somewhere. My naiveté, but I was struggling with it. I didn’t want to revert to the usual scenes that my mind would venture to create, yet what else is there? At least this is how I was internalizing it. He said this would prove to be a challenge when we sat down to write it and he suggested we go sit for an hour or however long it took, but to take our time to think of a situation before writing the scene.

He closed with some reminders on writing. Use the present tense. Active, not passive. Be precise in noun and verb choice. Show, don’t tell. Stay away from adjectives and adverbs. Some of the usuals.

I took his words to heart. I know that in order to break rules, we must first learn or relearn the rules, which he reminded us of. I knew that he wanted tight word pictures for our scenes, so I attempted just that. I knew he didn’t want a lengthy piece.

For the whole week, I mostly held the assignment in my thinking box and knew that I didn’t want to describe someone’s room. I knew that I had to choose something with meaning or it would fall flat. I felt stuck, but knew that inspiration and meaning would join. I did have a strong image of a real place and I jotted down how I saw it with a few words in my notebook. I thought it would be the start of the scene. After much thinking and thinking, on the day of class, before work, I sat at the computer and the scene started coming to me, except it didn’t begin with that one image. My emotions and soul were pouring out because the image I painted was of the French Quarter in New Orleans, but only certain portions that left a deep emotional, visual impression on me. I then added a few elements that were not in my original thinking. I was pleased. I printed it and cut out a line and ended up adding the original image as my final one. I read it aloud and made sure each word belonged and furthered the imagery along. It was done. I could do nothing more. I had my five beats.

When I arrived to class later that afternoon, I must say, I was grateful that I had taken public speaking in the summer because from here on out, we would be reading and speaking aloud. I didn’t feel nervous. My heart didn’t pound. I don’t think I’ve ever read aloud something creative that I wrote, at least not to a classroom. The speech yes, but this was different. It felt good. Each student would read their scene aloud and each one of us and then the instructor would give feedback. We were to listen only and not try to say what we may have tried to convey because it was all in the listening. We would then know if our audience was receiving our scene as we intended. If not, what would we have to change? For one woman in particular, she wanted to keep explaining her piece. It was a challenge for her to just listen. She finally did allow herself to hear the feedback and take it in and make literal or mental notes. When it was my turn to give feedback, the instructor had to keep telling me to speak up, so I still have to work on that.

I started doubting myself because what everyone else wrote was much longer than what I wrote, and their scenes were all so good. Some folks were very detailed, but I knew a couple of student’s pieces in particular, although quite good, were bordering on beginnings of novels. It was too much for scriptwriting. Once scene had empty tables with plates to create the character without them being there. Ah, so that’s one way of doing it. There were cats, birds, butterflies, mountains, beetles. Lot’s of interesting details. Bedrooms, photo darkrooms, mines. Each person brought a little bit of their worlds to the stage.

It was great hearing each and every scene and how people created these scenes that came to life with visual images. And hearing all the feedback was just as enjoyable. Finally it was my turn. I edged up in my seat because I can talk louder this way. But of course, no sooner do I start than I’m asked to, “Speak up, please. Just go ahead and pull a Dizzy Gillespie.” I chuckle lightly and begin again and this time my voice did come out loud and clear, maybe like one of those horns. I held my page in my left hand and had my right hand’s fingers curled under the desk. I made sure to try and not read the scene too quickly. I had broken it down in its five beats of action. I finished, put my page down and brought my eyes up slowly to await who would begin the commenting. I honestly wasn’t sure how it went. I didn’t know if they would see the images I had painted with my words. But as I heard the feedback, I felt an emotional stirring inside of me. They saw it and it reached them, just as it had moved me inside. It meant everything to hear that they thought the images were beautiful—that I was able to convey this scene that I felt with my soul and meant something to me. After everyone had chimed in, the instructor then took off his glasses and said that he doesn’t usually care for the literary, but that it worked here. He said he appreciated the economy of the words. However, he said it did seem to be more than one scene and that it moved too fast. Otherwise, he also was able to visualize the scene and its movement. If anything it was a great first reading. I most definitely felt drunk with joy after class and treated myself to a pot roast dinner and a beer at a local restaurant and wrote all about it in my notebook and just felt so good inside.