Thursday, November 13, 2008

A Hall Pass

By the very nature of the velocity and set of goals established in the story you are working on, it comes to you as no surprise that the next scene--or surely the one immediately following--will require four particular characters to appear together. Having made the decision to put them all on together, you are almost ready to begin, pausing for a moment to consider how each of the four feels about the others, which alliances or enmities have been forged. You have even given careful thought to what each of the four had been doing moments before appearing in this scene, when each would like to leave, possibly even with whom; you certainly have a sense of what each of the four would like to get from the scene in a substantial manner.

All of this seems in a way like the kind of party arranged for young persons by their elders: pin the tail on the donkey, a pinata, hide and go seek, musical chairs. In proper context, all these can be fun--not as much fun as, say, a mud puddle, or a garden hose, but fun nevertheless. As children being in such atmospheres and quite possibly as adults planning such atmospheres for young persons, we can relate to the sense of being managed and wanting to be managed, so much so, in fact, that it might be a bit of a surprise to hear a character in such a scene speak out his or her resentment at being managed.

Silences sometimes can be as dramatic as a statement of resentment or admonition or encouragement. You do want to play pin the tail on the donkey, don't you? may convey an edge of managerial concern, but so too is the response of silence, which could well produce a repetition of the question or the more heated don't you? followed by another silence and, indeed, another don't you? Anyone hearing this exchange will have little trouble discerning the attitude of two characters, even though one has said nothing. Silence becomes more than mere silence; it becomes a something.

Every moment in a scene has value in time. No moment should be allowed to go to waste.

Well, Bob said.

Well what?


Getting a sentence out of him is like pulling teeth.

There; four-part counterpoint.

Since you are the director,you get to chose the pace of a scene. You may do this with dialogue, with action, with a combination of dialogue and action. You may do it with one garrulous character and one phlegmatic or guarded character. You may do it with short, declarative sentences or with longer disquisitions. The important thing not to forget is that each character not only has a pace, each character has an agenda. You have to let the characters interact as they would interact--not as you would have them interact. This awareness turns the soap opera into the Arthur Miller or David Mamet stage play.

Characters, although spokespersons for you, do not merely rattle off soliloquy nor a laundry list of alibi or motive; they interact or pointedly do not interact, they understand or do not misunderstand one another. Always they do so in ways that allow us to see there is some response, some action or words or a combination that comes forth as a result of the character having been called forth to assemble here at this time, having just come from this, having agendas of that. The key is the spontaneity with which each responds to the other, the degree to which each is caught up entirely in the moment, is performing right now, on the cusp of a precariously thin edge. They are behaving as they would behave, which may be somewhat of a surprise to you, one you must permit. This hall pass for your characters is the way to let them respond to the surprises of your plot as they would respond to anything, with individual reflexive response as opposed to a mannered, studied effect.


Rowena said...

I am in a scene where I have an agenda: THIS information must be disseminated.

Crap. I hate it when I have an agenda. It may be my novel but it's the characters' story. So I am writing and writing on the novel trying to find their story.

I'll know when I find it... I think.

Anonymous said...

Mr. L forgive the intrusion. I just want to express my wish that you won't be hurt by the fire that is now ravaging Santa Barbara and environs.

Rudy Antonovic