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Continues… Excerpted from "The Same Sky" by. Excerpted by permission of Random House Publishing Group. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. She is the author of the 1 New York Times bestselling Orphan Train, a novel about an unlikely friendship between a seventeen--year--old Penobscot Indian foster child and a ninety--one--year--old Irish American widow who was one of several hundred thousand orphans to be transported from crowded East Coast cities to foster homes in the Midwest during the late nineteenth and early twen-tieth centuries.
Your writing is vivid and immediate; you tell a complex story in such an accessible way. They are fully human. Tell me—-how did you pull that off? Amanda Eyre Ward: I know that some writers start with a plot or setting, but for me, everything begins with my characters. I see them in my imagination, and follow them wherever they want to take me.
I have learned from experience that trying to force them to go where I want them to is a futile and wasted effort. So when I wanted to write about unaccompanied minors and their journey to the U. Luckily, her voice came to me. CBK: How did you come to be interested in unaccompanied minors? AEW: I had been working on my fifth novel for two and a half years when my agent told me it was terrible. For months, I stumbled around in a haze of misery. As I tucked him in at night, I tried to visualize my own ten--year--old son bringing my six--year--old and one--year--old! It was impossible to imagine.
I met Alexia Rodriguez, whose organization, Southwest Key, runs many of the shelters at the border. Alexia brought me to Brownsville, Texas, where she introduced me to unaccompanied minors and I spoke to them about writing. I also talked to the children about why they had left, what horrors they had faced along the way, and what they hoped to find.
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One girl told me about watching her friend being attacked by an alligator and being forced by her - coyote to leave the ailing girl behind. I met a five--year--old whose parents had left him when he was an infant. They lived in New Jersey, and he was due to be reunited with them in the morning. I heard about boat trips, plane trips, and how hard it is to sleep on The Beast. And I met children who had been assaulted. Some of the girls were pregnant—-their eyes dark and flat, their hair clean from the shelter showers. They wore pink sweatsuits and told me stories I will never forget.
That night, I lay awake, unable to sleep. It was excruciating to think about the kids just a few miles away. They were so brave and so alone. They were filled with a faith I envied, the belief that God was with them and that they would find peace and be loved in America. I tried to think of what to do to help them but came up with nothing. In the middle of the night, I heard a voice, the first sentence of a new novel: My mother left when I was five years old. In the morning, the entire arc of the novel was clear to me. I could get one fictional girl to her mother, and that was a small something.
Carla and Junior come to this shelter in the book.
Father Solalinde Guerra said something that resonated deeply with me: these children have the spiritual capital that Americans need. I was very struck by this thought, and found it to be true. The children I met at the border, who literally have no material goods, have a sense of faith and hope—-a belief that they are and will be taken care of—-that I am often lacking. I wanted to create a character who has the trappings of the American Dream—-a successful business, a house, even a kind and supportive husband—-but who yearns for something else, something deeper.
She needs the spiritual capital that Carla possesses in abundance. The main characters in your novel Orphan Train come from very different backgrounds as well. In your mind, how do you see their stories as fitting together? But as I wrote my way into the narrative I could see that in addition to some biographical parallels—-both characters have dead fathers and institutionalized mothers; both were passed from home to home and encountered prejudice because of cultural stereotypes; both held onto talismanic keepsakes from family members—-they are psychologically -similar.
For both of them, change has been a defining principle; from a young age, they had to learn to adapt, to inhabit new identities. AEW: As I read Orphan Train, I was struck with the thought that unaccompanied minors have a great deal in common with the children you write about. Do you think? CBK: I do. There are so many parallels in these stories of the orphan train riders and the border kids.
When people are assimilated, they tend to forget that their ancestors or even near relatives were once poor, dispossessed, and alien. These stories force us to face that fact. AEW: I finished reading Orphan Train, closed the book, and continued to think about the strength those children found in the face of such profound disappointment. The unaccompanied minors I met were also incredibly courageous. How does that experience shape Carla, for better or for worse? Carla and Alice come from very different backgrounds, but their lives are ultimately connected.
What qualities or personality traits do they share? Where do you think she derives her strength and faith from? Jake becomes very angry about the way Alice handles the situation with Evian. Do you think his anger is justified? Why or why not? What do you think Alice learns from her relationship with Evian? How does it contribute to her broader outlook? Through the different experiences of Alice, Jane, and Carla, the author explores three unique attitudes toward motherhood. What resonated with you about the experiences of all three characters as they reflected on the idea of motherhood and its role in their lives?
At various points in the novel, Alice and Jake disagree about whether or not they should continue trying to adopt. Despite her best efforts to protect him, Carla is ultimately left with no choice about what to do with Junior. Do you agree with her decision? Can you imagine what you might have done in her shoes? Which sister do you agree with? Was there ever a point when you wished you could find out what was going on with the other character?
When did this happen and why do you think you felt such a strong pull? How do you think the author achieved that balance? In addition to undocumented immigration, The Same Sky deals with issues of love, motherhood, personal health, rape, adoption, economic inequality, and many more. Of all the themes addressed in the novel whether explicitly or implicitly , which was the most thought provoking for you? See All Customer Reviews.
Shop Books. Add to Wishlist. USD Sign in to Purchase Instantly. Overview From the acclaimed author of How to Be Lost and Close Your Eyes comes a beautiful and heartrending novel about motherhood, resilience, and faith—a ripped-from-the-headlines story of two families on both sides of the American border. Alice and her husband, Jake, own a barbecue restaurant in Austin, Texas. Hardworking and popular in their community, they have a loving marriage and thriving business, but Alice still feels that something is missing, lying just beyond reach.
Years ago, her mother left the family behind in Honduras to make the arduous, illegal journey to Texas. In this elegant novel, the lives of Alice and Carla will intersect in a profound and surprising way. Poignant and arresting, The Same Sky is about finding courage through struggle, hope amid heartache, and summoning the strength—no matter what dangers await—to find the place where you belong.
I devoured this book. She has spent the last year visiting shelters in Texas and California, meeting immigrant children and hearing their stories. This novel is inspired by them. Read an Excerpt 1 Carla My mother left when I was five years old. We ran.
I made a move to stand, but Camilla shook her head. Show More. Were you surprised by how things turned out for Carla and Alice? Average Review. Write a Review. Related Searches. Among the Ten Thousand Things. View Product. By Gaslight: A Novel. A literary tour de force of a detective's ceaseless hunt for an elusive criminalBy Gaslight William Pinkerton is already famous, the son of the Circling the Sun. Fans of The Paris Wife will be captivated Day Four: A Novel. Step aboard the cruise ship from hell Stephen King in this satirical scream of a Hundreds of pleasure-seekers board The Beautiful Dreamer cruise ship for relaxation and fun in the Caribbean.
For three sun-filled Doing Harm: A Novel. Doctors are supposed to save lives. But when a killer is on the loose-in a But when a killer is on the loose-in a hospital-all bets are off Chief resident Steve Mitchell is the quintessential surgeon: ambitious, intelligent, confident. Charged with molding a group of medical trainees into doctors, Everybody Rise: A Novel. The Fourth K. And he used simple language to do this.
Her two wicked older sisters are hanging sheets in the yard, one of many household tasks that used to be left to poor Beauty. The merchant and Beauty walk across the yard. Beauty looks like a princess. Her only piece of jewelry is a magnificent pearl necklace with a diamond clasp. The two sisters stare at her in disbelief. Felicie grabs it eagerly. It turns into a bunch of dirty twisted rags. She drops it. As it touches the ground it turns back into pearls. The merchant picks up the necklace and puts it on Beauty.
In the first shot, Beauty hands the pearl necklace to her eager sister. In the second, she hands Felicie the necklace of dried rags at the same pace, with an identical gesture. The transformation of one necklace into the other was effected by. So it makes good sense, when considering material for your short screenplay, to ask yourself early in the process the most important question of all: Will this story lend itself to being told primarily in images?
Each uses little or no dialogue and no voice-over, although their sound tracks play important roles in establishing mood and tone. Note that these are not excerpts from the screenplays but simply descriptions of scenes from the finished films. There is a long roll of drums, the hoot of an owl, a bugle call. Below, in the distance, we glimpse a wooden bridge, where a Union officer is bawling orders. We hear the sound of marching feet and get a look at a sentinel high above, a rifle at his side.
A line of Union riflemen marches across the bridge and comes to attention before the officer. A brutal-looking sergeant carries a length of rope toward a man in civilian clothes who stands at the edge of the bridge, hands and feet bound. In his mid-thirties, he is dressed in the fine. His broad, pleasant face is beaded with sweat. The sergeant painstakingly ties the rope into a noose, knots it securely, and tightens the knot. The officer watches impassively as the prisoner is pushed onto a plank extending out over the wide river rushing below.
The man gasps as the noose is dropped loosely over his head. The rope tightens as he looks wildly about. He sees the sentinel above and the riflemen all around him, and then the rope breaks. Between them is what appears to be a large crate. As they draw closer, we can see that the crate is actually a large, old- fashioned wardrobe, and that the figures are two slight young men. The youths come up onto the sand, gently set down the wardrobe, and begin to hop about in a comical fashion to shake the water out of their ears. He takes this off, wrings it out well, replaces it at a dashing angle, and checks his reflection in the mirror of the wardrobe.
The music shifts into a waltz. The two bow to one another and begin to waltz across the sand with exaggerated grace. After a few turns, they stop and begin to warm up as if preparing to exercise: The dark youth does a somersault or two and the fair one some sketchy calisthenics. Then, in perfect unison, they stop, lift up the wardrobe, and begin to stagger up the beach. Charmed by their liveliness and childlike ways, we quickly come to care about what happens to them as they journey through a savage and indifferent city.
As in our previous example, our empathy with the protagonists has been accomplished in a remarkably short time through the use of images alone. In The Red Balloon Albert Lamorisse, , we see a cobblestoned plaza surrounded by tall, gabled houses, in which a little boy of about five appears, carrying an adult-sized briefcase. He stops to pat a large cat, and something high on a lamppost catches his attention. He climbs up and untangles the long string of a red balloon caught at the top. We follow as he runs down a stone stairway, walks through the town with briefcase and balloon, tries to board a bus, and is rejected.
Finally he arrives at the big double doors of his school and gives the balloon to a passing street. We see a stern-looking man watching from an upstairs window as he goes inside the building. It is raining, and he shelters the balloon under the umbrellas of various passersby. He runs up the stone steps, across the square and—still holding the balloon—into a house, where a woman stands waiting at an upstairs window. A moment later the window is opened, and the balloon is thrust outside, where it hovers uncertainly. In another moment the little boy reaches out to pull it back inside.
One more moment goes by, and he puts it back outside. There is a dissolve indicating another time lapse , and the little boy emerges on the street, looking about for his friend. The balloon descends, keeping its string just out of reach, like a playful dog. The boy tries to catch hold of it again and again, then finally gives up and moves off down the street as the balloon follows along behind. We learn from the cut and quality of his clothes that the condemned man in Incident at Owl Creek is not only a civilian but a Southern gentleman; we learn again from clothing that the two youths are wearing in Two Men and a Wardrobe that they are probably workmen; from the well-fitting dark suit he wears and the big leather briefcase he carries, we surmise that the child in The Red Balloon is from an upper-middle-class family and that he is expected to behave like a miniature adult.
In Incident at Owl Creek, the face of the main character is the only pleasant one in the sequence—the sergeant looks brutal, and the officer and soldiers are as impassive as puppets. We can see that the captive is desperate but. In Two Men and a Wardrobe, both the look of the two main characters—amiable and slightly goofy—and their innocent exuberance on the beach quickly endear them to us.
They treat one another and the young woman they meet with old-fashioned courtesy, and the wardrobe they lug about with respectful familiarity. We first see him as a very small figure in a very large square, dominated by massive stone houses. His outsized briefcase reminds us of the sort of small humiliations unfeeling adults can visit on children. In addition, it lends the boy a somewhat comical air. The balloon, of course, is red— the color of blood, the color of life, the color of trouble.
Each of these sounds acts as a powerful stimulus to the forming of mental images. Together, they provide us with important information and set a tone of foreboding that will quickly be justified. We hear the owl and realize that although there is faint light and it is growing brighter, it is still technically night—and executions traditionally take place at dawn.
We hear a roll of drums and imagine soldiers marching; we hear a bugle call and realize that it must be reveille. Time slows onscreen, as it is supposed to at such moments in life. Yet when the prisoner is pushed out onto the plank, we see the river rushing along below his feet. Although we do not realize it at that moment, what has been set up with this single image is a possible route of escape. In Two Men and a Wardrobe, the main characters emerge from the sea with their wardrobe, like two children with an unwieldy suitcase, onto a.
The scene is shot and cut in a leisurely way, and the young men behave as though they had all the time in the world. But as soon as they begin their journey through the streets and back alleys of the city beyond the beach, the rhythm and tempo of the film change. We are bombarded with visuals in the editing style of an oldfashioned documentary, and the villainous inhabitants grimace and use broad, threatening gestures, as if in a silent comedy.
In The Red Balloon, our first glimpse of the little boy is of a small figure enclosed by towering houses. The images of a shadowy male figure watching him from an upstairs window of the school, and of the equally shadowy female figure watching him from an upstairs window of his house, serve to emphasize the lack of freedom in his life.
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Its brilliant red color, besides being emblematic of life and courage, serves to accentuate the dreariness of the stone-colored world through which the little boy ordinarily moves. Other examples, and a discussion of various kinds of formats, can be found in Appendix B. For a moment she examines herself, critically, but not without satisfaction. Then she begins to apply her makeup. One raises the blind and opens enough of a curtain to admit some afternoon light, another waits with a cup of chocolate steaming on a tray, a third carries a damp flannel in a bowl.
This intercutting of the elaborate dressing rituals of De Merteuil and Valmont continues, without dialogue. Essentially, as the script makes clear in the last shot of the sequence that follows, we are watching as squires gird two seasoned warriors for battle. He lowers the mask, and we at last see his intelligent, malicious features. The nature of the crosscutting indicates both that there is a parallel between the characters and that they are dressing to meet one another in a contest of some sort. We also realize that Valmont appears somewhat less eager—or perhaps just more indolent—than Merteuil.
Brief references to clothing, accessories, furniture, and setting establish that the story takes place in the. And all of this has been told to us in just two pages of film script! To do so may inhibit the flow of images, associations, and vague, floating ideas that are the raw material from which good stories are made. If the work is being done in a classroom, students might read the exercises aloud if they choose, but in our experience, the exercises work best when there is no analysis or criticism afterward.
Assignments, of course, are another matter. If you are doing the exercises on your own, you might want to read them aloud to a friend or friends—often, reading work to an audience enables you to find things in it you might not otherwise have been aware of. A further note: In doing the exercises, it is helpful to use a timer of some sort so that you are free to focus completely on scribbling as fast as you can. Let your pen or pencil do the thinking. Write down the following paragraph: Dusk. Sound of soft rain. Fully dressed, X lies on the bed, gazing up at the ceiling.
After a moment, X gets up slowly and crosses to the dresser against the opposite wall. Begin writing, stopping at the end of 10 minutes. Put the page aside without reading it. Take a couple of deep breaths and have a good stretch before going on to the next exercise. He then unravels that image, so to speak, and writes down what he discovers in doing so. If the results engage him, he continues; if not, he stops.
In the next exercise we will ask you to do something similar, working from your recollection of the previous exercise rather than what you have written down. Most of the questions you will ask your character are those actors often ask themselves as the characters they are playing before going onstage or in front of a camera. Where are you? What are you wearing? Why are you here? What do you want at this moment? What time of day is it? What season? What year?
What is the weather like? You have only 10 minutes in which to write down all the answers, so scribble whatever comes to mind, no matter how absurd it seems. You can always cross out later. Set your timer and GO! You should now have more than enough material for this assignment, which will require somewhat more time and thought than the previous exercises. It consists of two parts. The first is to rewrite your scene from Exercise 1, using whatever information you find useful or provocative from the answers in Exercise 2.
Give your character at least a first name; if this threatens to hold things up, go to the phone book, open it, and choose a column at random. Pick a name from that column that seems right for your character. The second part of the assignment is to revise the revision, keeping only those details that seem essential again, no need as yet to figure out why ,. Still, if you are going to learn by imitating and analyzing, as we suggest, then it makes sense to imitate and analyze the work of a master.
Dangerous Liaisons, directed by Stephen Frears, Incident at Owl Creek, directed by Robert Enrico, Orpheus, directed by Jean Cocteau, The Red Balloon, directed by Alfred Lamorisse, Two Men and a Wardrobe, directed by Roman Polanski, The great French director Robert Bresson, whose films are known for the quality of their visual images, is a master at extending the frame through sound. In his chapbook, Notes on the Cinematographer, he states that sound always evokes an image, although an image does not always evoke a sound.
Meanwhile, the camera steadily regards the man and woman facing us and also the young man standing just behind and between them. Another example, which uses offscreen sound to create a rising sense of unease in both main character and audience, is from an independent feature called The Passage, which was written and directed by Pat Cooper, one of the authors of this book. In the film, a ghost story, a writer called Michael Donovan has left his wife in New York and gone to a desolate part of Cape Cod to do research on 19thcentury shipwrecks.
He rents a handsome old cottage on a dune overlook The sequence that follows describes his first encounter with the ghost. As in his dream of the previous night, the door under the eaves is open in the reflected image. He turns to stare at it. He crosses to pry it open, and finds a long low dark space that runs the length of the room. He hauls it out into the bedroom and lifts the heavy lid.
He unfolds the shawl and finds inside it a black feather fan with a horn handle. He strokes the fan softly with his fingertips, then moves it slowly down over his face. Michael looks up, and around the room, but there is nothing. Shaken, he replaces the fan, folding the shawl carefully over it. He returns them both to the trunk and closes the lid, then straightens up to catch sight of himself in the looking glass.
He goes out of the room, closing the door after him. In it, the heroine has inherited a curse by which she is transformed, when agitated or jealous, into a panther. It is night, and the young woman is walking down a deserted city street when she realizes that she is being followed. As her footsteps quicken, the branch of a nearby tree sways ominously under the weight of an invisibly moving something.
The woman breaks into a run, sees an open door ahead, and dashes through it. The building turns out to be an almost-empty YMCA. With the invisible panther padding along behind her, growling, she races to a large swimming pool in the basement and throws herself in. The entire sequence has the disturbing quality of a nightmare, and the images that we as the audience conjure up for ourselves are at least as terrifying as the actual visual of any live panther would be.
Well-thought-out images and carefully orchestrated sound do it all. Sometimes the long wail of a locomotive reminds us that our character lives near railroad tracks;. Sound used as metaphor can create a whole dimension of meaning not immediately apparent in the visual images of a scene.
It is one of the more powerful tools available to us in writing the short screenplay. The following example is a brief description of a short film made in by Ken Dancyger, coauthor of this book, when he was a graduate student at Boston University. Within the university, the five students lead monastic, bookish lives with their dean. Outside, a war rages for control of the university. When the dean dies, these last holdouts for tradition leave the building; the past that they and their dean had represented is over and done with.
He was able to accomplish this by using sound to establish both images. The use of offscreen sound has altered the images, pointing them away from their surface existence as a university and toward their true meaning—that the place is a prison. This script, from a very late draft, uses the master-scene format referred to previously with somewhat more camera instructions than usual, and it appears to have been compressed for publication.
Beyond the star, as far as the eye can see, is snow. It seems like the middle of the night.
It is intensely cold. Gradually it becomes possible to distinguish more of the area of the camp: two powerful searchlights sweeping from watchtowers on the perimeter; a circle of border lights marks the barbed wire fences; other lights are dotted about the camp. Now, slowly, the shapes of the huts and other buildings become discernible: the gates, the near watchtowers with their guards and machine guns, the prison block, the mess hall, the staff quarters.
He makes his way to where a length of frosted rail hangs. If the setting in which a hero finds him or herself is to serve as antagonist, it is essential that its features be described in a way that evokes it vividly. The following graduated series of exercises and assignments has been worked out with the idea of helping you to discover—or invent, if necessary—the screenwriting language that will best serve the kind of short script that you want to write. It is essential that the exercises be done in order, and with an open mind.
Keep in mind that just about any location can be shot in an arresting manner. Study the scene carefully and list the details that you find compelling, or even just interesting. As soon as possible, find a place where you can write undisturbed for 15 minutes or so. Look over your notes and underline those bits of description that seem most likely to give the flavor or feeling-tone you would like to convey.
Then, in 10 minutes or less, write a short descriptive paragraph, using the present tense of scriptwriting. When your 10 minutes are up, check quickly to see if you have overlooked anything essential; if you have, quickly add it to your description. When you have done this, rewrite your final version in the master-scene format used in screenplay manuscripts. Look at the examples in previous chapters or in the Appendices. At this point, it would be wise to check grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Again, put away the material for 24 hours before going on to the next exercise.
If indoors, sit by an open window. Take a few deep breaths, relax, and try to become aware of the layers of sound that surround you, night or day, city or country. As you begin to focus on these, you will be able to sort out those that are close by from those farther off, and background sounds that tend to be almost unnoticeable at first the steady hum of machines or traffic from those that declare themselves clearly.
When you feel ready, list all the sounds that you can hear. When done, scan the list and add any additional sounds that occur to you. One by one, imagine each of the sounds on your list, along with this image. Some of the results may be quite surreal, but they should all be interesting.
When you have found the sound or combination of sounds that appeals to you most, add it to your location description. Annotate it at the beginning if it is to be heard throughout the scene or most of it e. Remember that offscreen sound is generally afforded a separate line in the script and printed in capital letters. Take out and reread the introductory scene you wrote as an exercise and then revised at length for the second assignment, in Chapter 2. In this revision, the character X was given a name, so use that name in this exercise. Set your timer for 10 minutes.
Reread your location description, imagining the sounds. X may remain alone or meet someone: let things happen as they will while you are writing, and allow yourself the great pleasure of being surprised. At the end of 10 minutes, put the exercise in your folder and disregard it for 24 hours, at least.
Use few adjectives and make those few count. Now type out the whole scene in proper format, after which it would be helpful to have your teacher, classmates, or friends who are knowledgeable about film read the work and respond to it. Jonathan Griffen. Michaels and Ricks, Pickpocket, directed by Robert Bresson, The story for Thelma and Louise discovered me.
Two women go on a crime spree: the idea came with the velocity of a sixteen-ton weight hitting me. It hit me that hard Callie Khouri chose the journey structure to tell her story. In general terms, this is what makes for a dramatic situation. In the scene that follows, which is from the first pages of the second draft of Thelma and Louise, we are given in a few well-chosen lines a good deal of She is in her early thirties, but too old to be doing this.
She is very pretty and meticulously groomed, even at the end of her shift. She is slamming dirty coffee cups from the counter into a bus tray underneath the counter. The dialogue that follows gives us more information about each character in an exchange indicative of their relationship through most of the screenplay. It also sets up what is supposed to happen next, and with great economy— always a virtue in screenwriting. The script cuts back to Louise at the pay phone:.
I still have to ask Darryl if I can go. Meanwhile, Thelma is cutting out coupons from a newspaper, pinning them onto a bulletin board covered with recipes and more cuttings. The tension between them ebbs and flows, and the balance of power shifts with changing circumstances. It is one of the more suspenseful and engaging aspects of a very action-oriented script. As for Louise, the tone of her speech makes it clear that she has more at stake in their going on this trip than her friend does.
Her clipped sentences, used here to get the lackadaisical Thelma moving, are used elsewhere, and characteristically, to guard against giving anything away about her private life. The accomplished screenwriter selects those few details, out of all that come to mind, that will best describe the essence of the.
Nonetheless, he condenses a great deal of information into a few lines on this first page of a late draft of Chinatown. The script opens with close-ups of a series of snapshots of a man and woman making love. Gittes notes it. A fan whirrs overhead. Gittes glances up at it. He looks cool and brisk in a white linen suit despite the heat. The next lines describe the sobbing Curly, who rams his fist into the wall and kicks a wastebasket. The scene goes on: Curly slides on into the blinds and sinks to his knees. He is weeping heavily now, and is in such pain that he actually bites into the blinds.
Curly responds slowly, rising to his feet, crying. Gittes reaches into his desk and pulls out a shot glass, quickly selects a cheaper bottle of bourbon from several fifths of more expensive whiskeys. Gittes pours a large shot. He shoves the glass across the desk toward Curly. Curly is not just comic relief in the film but a secondary character who plays an important role in the last third of Chinatown.
Most fiction films, comedy as well as drama, tend to portray a particular character or characters in a challenging situation: something unexpected happens to someone—how does that person react? Does he or she struggle to change or, instead, try to turn away from what has happened, to find a way back to things as they were? If the main character engages us, that struggle—which is, in essence, the story of the film—will most likely engage us, too.
Even in slapstick shorts, whose heroes remain unchanged as one wildly improbable situation follows another, character is paramount. Jake Gittes is not an immediately attractive character, nor is he meant to be. He is a cynical private eye who has seen it all—or thinks he has. Note that there is a variety of whiskies in the cabinet to serve to a variety of clients. Chinatown was released in Yet Gittes engages our interest from the very first page of the screenplay. By his nonchalance, his mocking humor, and an air of easy authority that speaks of the consummate professional.
Miss Peach is a grey-haired, formal-looking woman in her late fifties. She sits awkwardly on a suitcase in the middle of the dining room, which is bare of furniture Miss Peach is conservatively dressed in a drab woolen coat and unassuming hat. In a metaphorical sense, the screenplay is about how that empty inner space becomes furnished. Note the different style of the language Taylor uses to describe his antagonist on her first appearance. The elevator continues to rise, She boasts a pair of sunglasses, a large wig, a fancy theatrical dress, and a large leather zippered bag.
She rushes in, ignoring Miss Peach, and presses the lobby button. Very shortly, battle is joined between these two unlikely combatants. It is important that we have been given Miss Peach isolated in the elevator before Scarlet bursts in, because we then identify with her in her shock, rather than with the newcomer. Two little girls, perhaps the protagonists, are at the window of a country cottage, gazing out at the rain: INT. Through the doorway into the small kitchen is NIVY. She is stylishly dressed, with intricate silver earrings.
The fireplace casts a warm glow over the living room, which is oak paneled with an Oriental rug tossed on its hardwood floor. NIVY is making hot chocolate. The cottage is hers; its furnishings— including the fire—are used to express her character. After you have read each script, go back to evaluate these descriptions. If there is change or growth in a character, how does the writer show this?
Try to be specific. These are the kinds of questions that screenwriters ask themselves on rereading a first draft, preparatory to going on to the next.
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Screenwriting, for the most part, is about rewriting. As you read these scripts, note that script format is not a straitjacket but is flexible enough in its outlines to accommodate the very different writing styles of Towne, Khouri, Shapiro, Taylor, and Kusama. However, if you reflect upon it, the witticism also makes straightforward sense: in life, people unconsciously give themselves away all the time. You can understand, therefore, that the first step in learning to develop characters for a screenplay, long or short, is focused observation of the ways in which particular human beings behave in particular situations.
Although he was addressing actors, he might as well have been speaking to directors and scriptwriters. Notice the many different ways in which human beings express weariness, uneasiness, impatience, or contentment when they are unaware of being observed. Notice also the way this can change when they become aware of the presence of a stranger who interests them, or of an acquaintance, or a friend.
Reflect on your own behavior, private or public, if you can do so without becoming self-conscious or uncomfortable. Now, underline the items that seem essential to giving a sense of your character as you see him or her at this point. Find another subject, not necessarily in the same location, who intrigues you, and follow the same procedure. Put both lists aside to mellow and, unless you feel inspired, wait a day to go on to the next related exercise. In dramatic narrative, the catalyst or agent for change, or inciting incident is the occasion or character that sets events in motion, precipitating the dramatic action of the protagonist.
In a short film, we are usually introduced to the protagonist before the catalytic event occurs, so that we will have a chance to. Such an introduction is often, though not always, quite brief. Something unexpected happens to someone—how does that person react? Does he struggle to change the way he does things, or does he instead turn away from what has happened, trying to get back to the way things had been?
Does he do first one and then the other? In order to do this, you must first try to determine which of the characters is the protagonist. Short films often begin and end with a focus on the protagonist. Without too much thought, choose one of your locations and visualize both characters in it. Begin to write, starting with brief character descriptions culled from the underlined items on your lists, using simple declarative sentences.
This should not take more than several minutes. Although triggered by your observations of real people in a real setting, what you are going to write will be fictional. You will be transforming the people you observed into characters—your characters—so feel free to adjust the descriptions as you go. Set your timer for 2 minutes and close your eyes, so that you can imagine both characters in the setting you have chosen, placing them in relation to one another in that space.
Are they side by side, or facing one another? Are they close to one another, or at a distance? Are they in line, one behind the other? Once your characters are in place, your objective will be to write at least a couple of short paragraphs describing a silent interaction between them. Remember that this is only an exercise; there is nothing to be lost, and much to be gained, by letting your characters do the work.
Now set your timer for 10 minutes and begin to write. If you lose the thread, close your eyes again to visualize your characters. Put this away with Exercise 7 and leave both in your portfolio for another 24 hours. At that time, go through both exercises, underlining the phrases or sentences that best describe your characters and their interaction, especially in light of your answers to the questions above.
If you already have a catalyst, make note of it. If not, find one before going on to the next assignment. Use your thesaurus, if necessary, to find words that convey what you see in your imagination, words that will make your characters come alive for the reader. Once again, it would be helpful to have your teacher, classmates, or knowledgeable friends respond to what you have written—essentially the first draft of an opening for a possible short script.
Francis Fergusson, trans. You judge films in the first place by their visual impact instead of looking for content. This is a great disservice to the cinema. It is like judging a novel only by the quality of its prose. Orson Welles undoubtedly would have agreed that the images of a narrative film, whether visual or aural, should, like the language of a novel or short story, serve to illuminate the tale.
Everything must work with everything else. Everything enhances everything else, inter-relates with everything else, is inseparable from everything else—and all this is done with a necessary and perfect harmony. But unlike novels and short stories, which are meant to be read, narrative film and television are forms of drama; if a story is to work as drama, its content needs to be organized in terms of dramatic structure. A drama, whether presented on a stage or on a screen, is the story of an action, intended for presentation before an audience.
In previous chapters, we have been exploring storytelling in images; in this one, we will discuss storytelling in terms of drama. So the protagonist is the main struggler in the story. The antagonist, whether human, man-made, or a force of nature such as a mountain, desert, or raging storm, is the force or obstacle with which the protagonist must contend. It is the story of that struggle that provides the plot. In some stories, the main characteristics of the antagonist are virtually the direct opposites of those of the protagonist; in others, the antagonist can seem almost a twin or second self of the protagonist.
It is also important to note that the stronger the antagonist, the stronger the conflict, and the harder the protagonist must struggle to achieve his or her goal. The decision as to who or what should be the antagonist in a film script is always a crucial one; the designation sometimes shifts from one character to another as a writer goes through revisions. The more there is at stake, the more dramatic—in every sense of the word— the conflict. The climax is generally the moment of greatest intensity for the protagonist and a major turning point in his or her dramatic action.
Even in a fairly short script, the climax is often the culmination of a series of lesser crises. In some forms of comedy, where the protagonist does not experience any kind of illumination, recognition is often reserved for a character who is an interested onlooker, or for the audience itself. Scene is a word with many definitions. We will be using it primarily in the sense of an episode that presents the working out of a single dramatic situation.
The scene is the basic building block of any narrative screenplay. Every scene in a short script should serve to forward the action. And no wonder! Generation after generation, people looked about them and tried to make sense of what they had observed, what they knew from their own experience: that human beings have needs and that these needs bring them into conflict with one another, as well as with the gods. In the Book of Genesis, we are told in a beautifully worded, carefully detailed listing how God created all things, animate and inanimate, in six days and rested on the seventh.
We are told that He formed the first man out of dust, breathed life into him, and planted a marvelous garden for him to live in. Then God gave Adam and Eve a single prohibition: they could eat the fruit of every tree in that garden except one—the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Familiar as we are with our own curiosity, our own desire to get to the bottom of things, as well as our own need to resist authority, we recognize that the seed of conflict has been sown in Paradise. In that seed lies the beginning of a dramatic situation, for Eve and then Adam as well wants one thing, while God wants another.
Two questions often prove major stumbling blocks for film and video students, as well as for filmmakers who have never written a narrative script. What, specifically, do I write about? How, specifically, do I write about it? Yet, as anyone experienced in the arts knows, learning a skill is a process, and that process has to start somewhere. From the very beginning of the film industry, fiction and drama have proved unending sources of film stories, and it has been our experience in many years of teaching that adapting a myth or fairy tale offers the novice screenwriter an immediate way to learn how to structure a short script.
Stories that began as oral narratives almost always are dramatic in structure and lend themselves easily to visualization. For these reasons, and because such material is both readily available and in the public domain that is, not under copyright , we will be using examples of such adaptations throughout the rest of this chapter. If you have a short story already in hand that you would like to adapt, the working techniques we describe are much the same.
The myth we have chosen to adapt is the Fall of Icarus. Jealous because his nephew and favorite pupil Perdix seemed likely to surpass him in every way, he took the boy to the top of the Acropolis and hurled him off. For this he was condemned by the authorities, but he managed to flee to the island of Crete with his young son Icarus. There the tyrant Minos gave him sanctuary and an almost impossible assignment—to design and oversee the construction of a prison for the Minotaur, a sacred monster with the head of a bull, the body of a man, and an appetite for human flesh.
Because the Cretans had to feed the Minotaur youths and maidens chosen to be fed to him, the prison would have to be designed so that the victims could be forced to enter but would not be able to find a way out. Daedalus solved this problem by designing and overseeing the building of the first labyrinth. Instead of rewarding him, however, the tyrant Minos imprisoned both Daedalus and his son in a high tower overlooking the sea. Determined to escape, Daedalus painstakingly fashioned two pairs of wings from feathers dropped by seabirds, binding them together with melted candle wax. When the wings were completed, father and son each strapped on a pair.
Daedalus warned Icarus not to fly too high or Apollo, the sun god, would melt the wax of his wings. The boy promised to be careful, and the two set off from the tower over the water. Everything went well until Icarus, intoxicated by the glories of flight, began to climb.
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Daedalus cried out to him in warning, but the boy ignored him until at last the wax holding together the feathers of his wings melted, and he plunged headlong into the sea. These are questions you may find it helpful to ask yourself each time you begin writing or, for that matter, critiquing a short screenplay. Who is the protagonist? Who or what is the antagonist? What event or occasion serves as catalyst? Do you have any images or ideas, however unformed, as to the climax?
The ending? The approach would be basically the same whether for animation or live action. To give you an idea of the process, we have included something of the reasoning we employed in responding to each of the questions. Who Is the Protagonist? Before considering this question, it is important to note once more that most short films or tapes work best with a single protagonist; there simply is not enough time for an audience to identify with more than one. The exception is with certain kinds of comedy—slapstick, parody, or satire, for example— where a writer may not want the audience to identify with the main character but to maintain a psychological distance from all the characters.
Think of how one views W. Fields, the Marx Brothers, or the main characters in. Thus, short comedies often have two or even more main characters. As the project we are considering is a drama, however, we will want to have a single protagonist. What we must ask ourselves right off is, do we want our script be about what happens to Daedalus, or about what happens to Icarus?
Either one would be intriguing. Do we want to tell the story of a bold and willful exile, a brilliant inventor, who works out an ingenious way to escape from prison with his son and, in so doing, loses that son? Or do we want to tell the story of a boy in exile, almost as bold and willful as his father, who escapes from prison only to destroy himself by flying too close to the sun? These are two very different main characters, whose actions would lead to very different plots. For this project, we have decided to choose Icarus as our protagonist; however, to demonstrate how profoundly different the plot could be were we to choose Daedalus, we will give a synopsis for a longer, live-action project about Daedalus after the story outline about Icarus.
The shorter the film or video is to be, the more license is given the scriptwriter to plunge right into the middle of things. In order to give viewers the opportunity to discover for themselves what kind of youth Icarus is and how he feels about being imprisoned, we need to show details of his daily life in prison. So, the answer to Question 2 is that Icarus has been imprisoned for some time, along with his father, in a tower by the sea.
Visualizing the scene, we came up with the idea that Daedalus has been supplied with parchment and stylus to pass the time, but that Icarus has been given nothing. Who or What Is the Antagonist? In every version of the myth that we looked at, Icarus was warned by Daedalus not to fly up toward the sun, and in every version he ignored the warning. Because of this, and because we do not want to complicate the story by introducing another character, Daedalus is the logical choice for the antagonist.
What Occasion or Event Serves as the Catalyst? Either way, you are engaged in discovering what it is that you want to say, rather than what you think it is you want to say. Still, it is important to realize that a screenplay should not be considered complete until the catalyst is in place. Calling up our image of Icarus trying to occupy himself with the gull feathers, in the answer to Question 2, and knowing that the climax must take place during his flight, it first seemed to us that the catalyst, or agent for change, in the script must be the moment when Daedalus conceives of escaping on wings made of feathers and wax.
The difficulty was that Daedalus was not our protagonist. Therefore the question became this: How could we involve Icarus in this pivotal event? In this way, seeing everything with the utmost vividness, as if he were a spectator of the action, he will discover what is in keeping with it, and be most unlikely to overlook inconsistencies. Imagine Daedalus busy at the only table with his parchment and stylus. Imagine young Icarus, restless and bored, with little to do and nothing to look at but his father, the sea, the sky, the sun, and the gulls that perch on the open parapets. Ask yourself what this particular father would do if he were disturbed while working.
We arrived at an answer to this question by a roundabout way. Because Daedalus is a doer, not a dreamer, a desire to escape prison with his son would serve him as a strong dramatic action. We could simply have made. This difference would exacerbate the natural tension between father and adolescent son. Such a man would probably be an irascible, competitive parent. Icarus escapes his father, but at the cost of his life. The Ending? Keeping in mind that the climax, by definition, ought to be the most intense moment in the film or video—both for the audience and for the protagonist—we should be searching for a powerful image, or series of images, that will express not just what Icarus is doing at that moment but also what he is feeling.
Sometimes a writer is in possession of such an image early on and needs only to articulate it; sometimes he or she finds ideas by going back to the original material, or by doing further research. Sometimes an image of the climax does not appear until the writer is actually working on an outline, or even the first draft, of a screenplay. As professionals well know, each project can prove quite different in the writing from every other; the imagination works in mysterious ways.
In our project,. In answer to the first part of Question 7, then, the climax is to be a series of images in which a joyful Icarus swoops, glides, and wheels up and up through the dazzling sunlight. What about an ending? Because death is the ultimate escape from any situation in life, we can say that Icarus has achieved his dramatic action—to escape his father any way that he can. But at what a cost! In order to care about what happens to the main character, we need to be engaged as early as possible. We need to see that character in the midst of life, however briefly, before the catalyst occurs, introducing or stimulating the main dramatic action.
And while the concept of a full three-act structure has proven useful to writers of longer films mainly features , it can be unhelpful—even obstructive—to writers of short films. With some exceptions, it is best to think of the story line for a short as a single flow of incidents. In our experience, the following structure is a simpler, more flexible scaffolding for the short, whether it is original or an adaptation. One essential feature of the catalyst is its visible effect on the protagonist, as it results in the emergence of the main dramatic action.
In general, these incidents or crises should be of increasing intensity, culminating in a climax which leads to resolution of the action, one way or another. In a sense, the first and last steps above can be thought of as a simple framing device that shows the protagonist before the main dramatic action gets underway, and again, after that action has been completed.
More on closure in Chapter 7, Rewriting Your Script. And as long as they keep the structure form, whatever I have written is relatively valid; a scene will hold, regardless of the dialogue. The writing of a story outline often begins with collecting notes or making observations on character, location, events, bits of dialogue, or images that you have about the project. Keep in mind, though, that for most people the best way to work on ideas for writing anything is with pen in hand or fingers on keyboard.
In the short script, where dialogue is best kept to a minimum, a detailed story outline can occasionally serve the purposes of a first-draft screenplay. There are students who prefer to answer the questions and move directly to a rough draft. If this second method is your choice, you will probably find that writing a bare-bones outline of this draft can help you spot problems in motivation and structure before going on to the next draft.
It is much easier to see such difficulties when the scenes are laid out in sequence on a single sheet of paper. There are those who find that using index cards, or photocopied cutouts from the draft of the outline, for each step and moving them around helps in finding the sequence that works best. Most people who have done any film editing at all discover, sooner or later, that casual or even accidental juxtapositions can yield extraordinary results.
When you arrive at the assignment, keep an open mind and be prepared to experiment with these strategies to find out what works for you. Because our first example of such an outline is intended for a very short animated film or video, and story-boarding is all-important in animation, it will be somewhat more detailed than it would be for most live-action films. Essentially, what we are aiming at is an outline that could almost serve as a first draft of the screenplay. Icarus and Daedalus imprisoned in a room at the top of a tall tower.
Icarus stands at one of the parapets, gazing out at sea and sky; Daedalus sits at a crude table, working on a plan of escape. He looks up, sees Icarus dreaming, and orders him to sweep the room. Icarus takes his time about obeying. Daedalus asleep on a cot, Icarus gazing out, as before. Daedalus stirs, sees the boy at the parapet, and orders him back to bed. When he closes his eyes, Icarus makes a face at him. Daedalus at the table, Icarus at the parapet. Quietly, he spreads arms wide and dips and turns in place, imitating them. Icarus collects discarded feathers from the sills of the parapets and adds them to a pile by his cot.
Icarus at work, trying ways to paste feathers onto his arm. Daedalus at the table, working by candlelight. Behind him, Icarus swoops about on feathered arms. He knocks against a stool and Daedalus looks up. Icarus pulls away. We watch from his point of view as Daedalus goes back to the table and scrapes up a bit of melted candle wax, rolling it around between his fingers. Montage of Icarus and Daedalus crafting the wings: gathering wax and feathers, stripping a cot of its straps to make an armature, and so on.
As they work together, side by side, Daedalus impatiently corrects everything the boy does. Sound of a key in the lock. The door opens and the jailer comes in with supper tray and fresh candle. He leaves these and goes. Icarus runs to light the candle. Icarus and Daedalus gaze down at the completed pairs of wings, which are huge and very beautiful. Now Daedalus warns the boy to stay close behind him when they set out and—above all! Its rays would surely melt the wax that holds their wings together. They help one another tie them on.
A winged Icarus stands out on the sill of one of the parapets. He gazes after his father, already in flight toward the distant shore. He takes a deep breath and launches himself into the air. In the distance, we see the two figures flying, Daedalus in the lead. Intoxicated by his new freedom, Icarus begins to swoop and glide, flying up toward the sun. Daedalus turns, sees what is happening, and calls out to Icarus to come back.
He cries out to his father to save him as he begins to fall. A wide shot of sea and sky as Daedalus, wings beating furiously, races to catch the boy. A shot of Icarus, plummeting down. The camera follows as he plunges into the sea and the water closes over his head.