[00:00:00] Hello and welcome to The Storyteller's Mission with Zena Dell Lowe, a podcast for artists and storytellers about changing the world for the better through story.
[00:00:11] So, today's writing tip comes from something I learned over the course of my career as a writer and this applies to both screenwriters and novelists, although I will tell you it primarily is a tip for novelists today. Because this is an area that is particularly problematic for novelists.
[00:00:31] You see, in a novel, information comes to us through the character's head. It's what the character is observing in the world. It's what they are describing, what they are seeing. Even if it's third person, all of the information that we get in a novel is filtered somehow through the character's head. They're the one observing that world and then passing that information on to us.
[00:00:55] In a screenplay, it works differently. In a screenplay, all of the information that comes to us, comes to us through the camera lens. It's what we are seeing on the screen. That's what we're focused on. So it might not be coming through the character's observation.
[00:01:13] For example, the character might not see that snake coming to him and slithering closer. Or that character might not see the blood in the corner and they're missing that clue or they're missing that warning. Don't go in this room. But we, the audience, see it because that's what the camera is focusing on.
[00:01:34] So what happens is in a screenplay, because all of the information comes to us through the camera lens, you can never tell me what a character is thinking or feeling because you can't capture that on camera. You can't say to the actor, okay, think about your dead mother and action. Because what does that look like?
[00:01:57] If I'm the actor, I'm like. But how do I know, as the audience, that the actor or the character is thinking about their dead mother? I can't. I can't know that unless I show a memory, in which case it's still coming to me through the camera lens. So it's not coming to me in the thoughts.
[00:02:16] I can't film thoughts. I can only film behavior. I can only film what a character is doing. That's why we focus on behavior in a screenplay.
[00:02:29] Conversely, in a novel, a lot of times the information, in fact, all of the time, the information is coming to us through the character's thoughts and feelings. And so what happens is, it's an easy crutch to rely on.
[00:02:43] It's something really easy to do: describe what that character is feeling. You can have a scene where the character is rocking on the front porch and by God, we're just in their head. And we're figuring out all the things they're thinking and feeling.
[00:02:57] But it's not very interesting to us when all of the information of that story world is coming through just the character's thoughts and feelings.
[00:03:07] Which leads us to today's tip. Try to find a way to dramatize the information that you're revealing to your audience by placing it in the context of a dialogue or a conversation or some sort of exchange with another character. It is far more interesting than trying to reveal everything through the character's thoughts.
[00:03:33] For one reason, whenever you have a dialogue exchange, it makes it more difficult for the character to access that information. It makes it so that they're discovering it more and they're suffering more in the anguish of discovering it because they're trying to put it into words.
[00:03:51] In real life, whenever we are trying to put something into words and try to communicate it to another person so that they understand, it's much riskier for us. The stakes are higher because we might be misunderstood.
[00:04:04] We also haven't massaged it to make it so perfect yet and so articulate. So we might say things badly.
[00:04:12] But also, when it's in a dialogue exchange, that other person is inevitably challenging us. They're responding. They are reacting. They're adding to. They are taking away. They are being offended or affected by what we're saying, which causes us then to have to modify what we're saying or to switch things up or to think more clearly or whatever the case may be.
[00:04:36] All of a sudden you can see when there's two people involved, it automatically makes the information that you're accessing way more interesting to the audience because just by the very nature of it, a conversation makes it more risky. It makes the stakes higher.
[00:04:56] Now, here's the other thing. They may not necessarily articulate exactly what they're thinking or feeling.
[00:05:02] Sometimes it's what they don't say that ends up giving the audience clues as to what that character's internal emotional state is, what they're thinking or feeling.
[00:05:16] So it might be that another character says something and our character smirks. And now the audience has the pleasure of interpreting that smirk and trying to figure out what that means in terms of how they are feeling emotionally.
[00:05:31] Now this is a great, great tool that you can use because here's the thing. Your audience wants to participate. Your audience doesn't want to be spoon fed by having you share all of your character's thoughts and feelings.
[00:05:47] The audience loves the puzzle of trying to interpret what's really going on in the scene by putting the clues together because you're only showing us character behavior.
[00:05:59] When we get to try to interpret that behavior, to see what it means emotionally, or to see what it means in terms of how your character feels about the other character in the scene, we become more emotionally invested in the story ourselves.
[00:06:12] We become excited because we are now a part of it. We are invested. It's much more exciting. And the thing is, if you don't do that, you are actually robbing your audience or your reader of the joy of participation and also of their bragging rights. Because the truth of the matter is, when I am able to put together the clues of what I see in character behavior in a novel or in a screenplay, I feel smart.
[00:06:48] I feel like, Ooh, I know how he feels. He's really mad. He hates her and I get excited. But if you come out and then tell me, because he really hates her. Now you've robbed me of my bragging rights. I can't tell my friend. I knew that. I figured that out. I'm so smart. You robbed me of my bragging rights, which means you robbed me of my joy, which means you are probably going to lose me as a reader.
[00:07:16] So you want to give your audience the joy of figuring these things out. Again, it might not be directly stated. It could be. Even having two characters in a scene where you're actually trying to articulate what the character is thinking or feeling, or all those things. That's going to be more dynamic and interesting for the reader.
[00:07:36] But even if it's the stuff they're not saying, and it's the behavior, the clenched fist underneath the table, it's the slamming of the cup just ever so slightly when the other character says something, or the forced smile. Or the grimace, or the um, twirling of the hair, and um, or the cracking of the thumb, or whatever the case may be.
[00:07:57] Whatever the nervous tick is. No matter what, that is far more interesting than anything else that you could do in terms of telling us through the character's thoughts and feelings.
[00:08:09] I hope this has been helpful.
[00:08:11] Our goal is to help you reach your full potential as a writer, professionally and personally.
[00:08:16] Thank you for listening to The Storyteller's Mission with Zena Dell Lowe. May you go forth inspired to change the world for the better
[00:08:30] through story.