Write on Wednesday – What You See Is What You Get – October 24, 2018

An establishing shot in a movie or teleplay script tells where the subsequent action takes place. What you see is what you get. The New York City skyline shown at the beginning of Blue Bloods lets the viewer know the action takes place in New York City. Because I watch this show, I also know that when I see a shot of the brick facade of a traditional style home in an upscale neighborhood, the subsequent action is taking place inside Frank Reagan’s home in an unnamed suburb of the city.

NYC skyline

In a novel, if there is a Welcome mat and a wreath on the front door, you must tell the reader. Is the door painted an unusual color? Is the mat clean and new or ready for the trash bin? Is the wreath on the door seasonal, letting the reader know it’s Christmas or Halloween or Spring?  Does the shrubbery outside the front door indicate Spring while the wreath on the door says Christmas?

In narrative fiction you tell or show the reader where the action is taking place. If you don’t the reader gets confused and readers don’t like that. If they get confused too many times they’ll give you a bad review on Amazon.

In the revisions of my novel this is coming up over and over again. Apparently when I wrote the novel draft I was in screen play mode. I knew where the action was taking place — in my head. But sometimes I forgot to tell the reader.

In a screen play or teleplay you write in the words Establishing Shot: New York City and you’re all set. The viewer will get visual cues.

In narrative fiction you establish the setting with words. The visual cues are in the authors mind and must be put into words. This also provides an opportunity to expand information about your characters. Here’s an example:

“Martie wrestled a bag of groceries from the back seat of her vintage Candy Apple red Beetle–an expensive custom paint job she had come to regret. As she headed for the suburban home’s front door she noted the weeds in the flower beds along the brick walkway and realized she needed to call the gardening service in her sister’s address book. She opened the door with the key Julie gave her six months ago. Just three days before her sister disappeared.”

In a screen play the director figures out how to show the information in this paragraph or the writer puts it in dialogue. Phone dialogue between Martie and the detective assigned to her sister’s case could fill in some details. There could be a close-up shot of a calendar with the date of Julie’s disapearance circled in red.

As I revise my novel I have to keep reminding myself that what the reader reads is what the reader gets. It’s my job to make sure they have enough, but not too much. Enough so they can be in the scene, but not so much that it makes the writing ponderous.

If the paragraph above was the beginning of a novel I’d better make sure that a Candy Apple red beetle is important to the story. As I reread what I wrote I immediately began spinning off into another story. Focus your squirrel brain, Mala. Focus! You have a Caribbean novel to finish.



We Go to the Movies

We were in Key West for two weeks and one of the things we do is go to the movies – a lot.  Maybe it’s the Oscar nominations that pushes us to get out of the rental condo. After all, if you write scripts going to the movies is research.  Here’s what we saw and what I thought.

45 years movie

My husband and I have been married for forty years. All of us who have been married that long could recognize parts of ourselves in this couple. Not necessarily the big secret the husband carried, but the everyday work of keeping a relationship alive. Pollyanna me was hoping for a more hopeful ending; it was a depressing movie. Sex scenes with saggy asses hit too close to home. That being said, the actors gave amazingly nuanced, Oscar worthy performances.

joy movie

Until fifteen minutes into this movie, I didn’t know it was about Joy Magnano. Heck, I have a bunch of her products bought on HSN in the middle of the night when my husband was asleep next to me. And they are clever products I like and use.

I hope her parents are dead because they were portrayed as flawed users. As someone who writes scripts, I know that the genre historical fiction means you have to push the edges of what really happened. Laura and I did that in our script Loverly, the story of Alan Jay Lerner and how My Fair Lady came to Broadway. We had to fudge the date of Lerner’s father’s death. The date of his actual death inconveniently didn’t work with the plot arc.

I like movies where the underdog wins, especially underdog women, so I liked Joy.

danish girl movie

“Wow” is all I can say about The Danish Girl. The script was flawless as were the performances. If Redmayne doesn’t win an Oscar for best actor, something’s wrong. Don’t miss this movie. Watching him come to terms with his inner gender and trying on feminine mannerisms was so well done. This script is based on a book by the real Danish Girl. How horrible it must have been to be transgendered before anyone knew what it was. Spoiler alert: some full frontal male nudity that was not gratuitous.

Brooklyn movie

This was a beautifully done movie. It spoke to the choices that we make and how they effect our lives moving forward.

big short movie

I left The Big Short feeling totally pissed off. Why are none of the people who created this economic crisis in jail? And it sounds like they are doing it again. Both Laura and my husband had read the book and wondered how it could be possibly be made into a movie. So kudos to the script writers and how they made incredibly complicated financial issues understandable. Awesome performances by Christian Bale and Steve Carell.

We haven’t seen The Martian or Room, and I passed on The Revenant and Mad Max Fury Road.

Watching movies is research for script writers. I’m so glad it’s part of the job!

Turning The Santa Diaries Into a Movie Script

Laura and I are turning The Santa Diaries play into a movie script. This story was always meant to be a movie, but the opportunity to write the play showed up and we jumped on it. It got the story arc in place. For the past couple of weeks we have been working on the screenplay and the transition from play to movie script has been challenging.

A play has to be written differently because the audience can’t see facial expressions as well (no close-ups in a play). Thus more of the play’s story has to be in dialogue. More telling and less showing. For the screenplay we can “show” more and have significantly shortened some of the dialogue chunks. For example, in the play Josh was always on his phone doing business with New York and LA. On stage we couldn’t jump to LA without doing a scenery change. It would have slowed down the action.

In the movie script we can easily cut to another setting so we have added several new characters that inhabit an office on a movie lot in LA. This spices up the movie. Being in the same place all the time gets boring. Where we relied on the play’s audience to fill in some visual cues using their imagination (“…the ninja assassins have become vampires. The director wants lots of blood.”), we can now show vampires and spurting blood – in a humorous way. This is a Christmas movie, after all.

Movies can close in on faces so some scenes in the play that had something of a slapstick quality are being toned down. We don’t have to answer every question because the expressions of the actor hold the answer when the camera zooms in.

The process is feeling quite liberating.

We worked for several hours on Friday, called in a lunch order and sent my husband to pick it up. That gave us an extra half hour. Laura had to go back to her office to work at her day job and I rejoined her a couple of hours later to work some more. We should be finished in a few more days and the script will be ready for some fresh readers who will tell us what still needs work.