Tuesday, November 20, 2018

On the nose

Writers love lists. This writer loves lists of tips on writing, and I came across my latest one thanks to Billy Mernit. It was written by William Goldman about screenwriting, in his book Adventures in the Screen Trade:

1.     Thou shalt not take the crisis out of the protagonist’s hands.
2.     Thou shalt not make life easy for the protagonist.
3.     Thou shalt not give exposition for exposition’s sake.
4.     Thou shalt not use false mystery or cheap surprise.
5.     Thou shalt respect thy audience.
6.     Thou shalt know thy world as God knows this one.
7.     Thou shalt not complicate when complexity is better.
8.     Thou shalt seek the end of the line, taking characters to the farthest depth of the conflict imaginable within the story’s own realm of probability.
9.     Thou shalt not write on the nose — put a subtext under every text.
10.   Thou shalt rewrite.

I am still trying to work out what number 7 means, and I always have trouble with number 9. I am not good at writing subtext in my dialogue. For non-writers, subtext in dialogue is the underlying meaning or motivation behind something someone says. When you write something straightforward with no subtext it's called writing on the nose. When I was working on the screenplay of But I Told You Last Year That I Loved You, a friendly writer critiquing it for me said the dialogue was 'too on the nose.'

After much thought I realised that if you live with someone with Asperger syndrome for 50 years (in my case, Dave) and you have other people in the family on the autism spectrum, you learn to talk in a straightforward and unambiguous way, otherwise you are misunderstood. Even then it can be tricky, because some of these aspies look for subtext that isn't there and read all kinds of things into what you say that you really did not mean. But that's another problem. 

In addition to being programmed over the years to be straight-talking, I am basically a frank person, and am sometimes criticised for being too frank by certain members of the family - ironically the two main critics are the ones who often look for subtext that isn't there. 

But the crucial thing with my screenplay difficulty was that the story is about a marriage in which the husband has undiagnosed Asperger syndrome, so the long time wife had learned (as I did) to talk without subtext. What's a girl to do? it's a conundrum.

Subtext in dialogue is a huge problem for me, and it's one of the things I am currently wrestling with in the rewrite of FRIENDS, LOVERS AND TREES.

Now for something for everyone - whether or not you're a writer. I came across an idea on a blog yesterday. It's the reverse advent calendar. I am a little late with this, as you're supposed to start one at the beginning of November. You collect an item every day of November - an item for a foodbank - and then hand it in at the end of the month, so the items can be given out by the foodbank in December.  Isn't it a cracking idea to do with children? I would do it if I had kids still at home. As it is, I just put something in the foodbank collection basket every time I go to the Co-op.

And now, one more list that popped up on Twitter:

p.s. Dave just explained to me the difference between complex and complicated. Hurrah!


Sally said...

Always brightens my day when I see you've posted a new blog!
Tell me, did your screenplay for But I Told You Last Year... ever get made into a film? As I would love to see it.
I am a prolific writer of 'to do' lists.I even add tasks already accomplished for the sheer joy of ticking them off! Crazy? Maybe, but hey, if it makes me happy & gets stuff done why not?! 😁

Sue Hepworth said...

Hi Sally, no it never got made. I wrote it as a comedy drama and a big TV company said the writing was good but it was a 'before the watershed' item, which they did not do. So then I made it into a sitcom and drew a blank there too. sometimes you have to keep plugging away for years with a project and I was not prepared to do that at this late stage in my life.
I add things already done to lists and tick them off - it's so encouraging when you have a great long list of jobs that are boring or tedious.

Sally said...

Glad I'm not the only one regarding list eccentricities!
I think your book would have made entertaining & thought provoking viewing.