The other day I had a fantastic idea for a blog post. One of those light bulb, one in a million ideas which would greatly benefit the scriptwriting community and help raise the level of writing the whole world over.
Unfortunately … I’ve forgotten what it was. A bit like that time I invented time travel in the bath, but got distracted by some grout and forgot how it worked.
Time travel. Not grout. I know how grout works.
So instead, I’m going to witter on about the first thing which pops into my mind.
Maybe I don’t know how grout works? I mean, I’ve used it … but do I really understand it?
Meanwhile, back at the point:
Ooh! Got something!
So, one of the techniques I use when plotting out a script or writing a treatment or even rewriting an existing script is The Information Pass … which … I’ve got a sneaking suspicion I’ve rambled on about before but called it something else?
Never mind, I’m committed now. It’s this or a 10,000 word musing on the nature of grout and its impact on humanity.
Let’s go with The Information Pass.
Feel free to say THE INFORMATION PASS in a deep, booming voice. If you feel it helps?
Sometimes I find I get carried away with a story and miss out the crucial piece of information which makes the whole thing make sense. I find the art of scriptwriting is partly the art of parcelling out information.
Too much and the audience gets bored.
Too little and they get confused.
What I’m aiming for is the fine line betwixt boredom and confusion, the line of engaging mystery.
Feel free to say ‘the line of engaging mystery’ in a spooky voice, if it makes you feel better? I’d go for the same tone as ‘Have you ever seen a shirt make a phone call?’ in the Son of the Invisible Man.
So what I do is I go through the treatment or script or whatever and I try to clinically and coldly describe exactly what information I think a scene is conveying.
There’s a spaceship. Shooting at a bigger ship that’s chasing them. The people on the smaller ship look scared. There’s two sentient robots. Apparently there’s a princess somewhere who won’t be able to escape whoever’s on the bigger ship. Not this time at least, which implies she’s escaped a lot before …
And so on.
I am, of course, doing an information pass there on Kramer vs Kramer.
This helps me keep the story on track.
The downside of the information pass is it doesn’t really help me work out what the audience will be able to guess. I mean, it kind of does but it’s also limited. The idea is to imagine you’re watching the film cold, with no foreknowledge, and trying to piece all the clues together.
Certain events come with built in knowledge, like: someone crying over a grave.
I’d probably assume that person has lost someone they love, hence the tears. Depending on the age of the person crying, I’d probably make a stab and guessing who’s in the grave. A child … probably lost a parent. An elderly person … probably a spouse. Someone in the middle … could be anyone – parent, lover, offspring … who knows?
Being able to figure out what information the audience is likely to guess at helps subvert it or not make a mystery of things they’ve already guessed. I hate watching the protagonist, particularly one who’s meant to be a detecting genius, desperately trying to figure out something the audience guessed straight away.*
Understanding what information the audience have helps me work out what information they haven’t got … then all I have to do is figure out if they need it and when to give it to them.
I find it helps me to separate out the logic of structure and information from the emotional journey of the characters. Writing, like all arts, has a logical, ordered component which some people can do instinctively, but others (like me) need to think about in a separate pass.
I find it useful, if you don’t already do something similar, maybe you’d find it useful too?
* The caveat there being, if there are five suspects for a murder then a tiny portion of the audience will have decided each person is the murderer and then claim it was obvious who it was, when in fact it’s just an unavoidable statistic.