(June 1 – 7)
Minor writing update this week: started a new chapter of the novel. This one’s inspired by children’s stories (fairy tales, primarily) and is another one I’ve been pretty excited about starting. In any case, it’s always good to have a fresh section of the story to get stuck into.
One good thing
This week I watched two films which helped cement a few good lessons on the relationship between character and drama. The first was the very excellent Sexy Beast, which is always a treat and gives us Ben Kingsley playing arguably one of the most terrifying characters ever committed to screen.
This movie reminded me about two key aspects of building character. The first is that the way a character speaks can give you a great insight into who they are. Sexy Beast is, perhaps, infamous for its almost Shakespearean approach to expletive-riddled language (mostly coming from Ben Kingsley’s character, no less) but it’s not simply that the character swears that makes him stand out; it’s how he swears, and when. It’s in the moments when Ben Kinglsey is at his most dangerous that the expletives flow (and, oh, do they flow!)
The second, and equally obvious, point is that the way that characters react to another character will do a huge amount of heavy lifting for you. We spend a reasonable amount of time in Sexy Beast with characters we’ve already gotten to know, watching them react to the mere prospect of Ben Kinglsey’s character arriving. The sheer dread reflected on their faces does a lot of the work building his character, but once he appears on screen we learn for ourselves that this initial reaction was more than warranted.
The second movie was Vast Of Night, which has received a lot of well-earned hype surrounding its release on Prime Video. It could hardly be more different from Sexy Beast, but it also takes its time developing its characters. In fact, we’re easily twenty minutes into the film before the main plot kicks off.
The reason Vast Of Night gets away with this is because the characters are so well developed; they’re idiosyncratic and have very distinct voices; in fact they’re so good we could probably spend a whole movie just listening to them (which is handy, since these two do largely carry the movie).
There’s also another aspect to this highly dialogue-driven movie, which relies on various (occasionally unseen) characters relating their stories. Again, in a similar way to Sexy Beast, Vast Of Night puts a lot of work into the build-up: we know that the characters we get introduced to have something important to tell us, something that will move the plot forward, but the script very skilfully keeps us waiting for it. The result is a superb sense of tension derived from not much more than people sitting in rooms and talking to each other.
One bad thing
I’ve realised that I’m spending a lot of time on my phone in the mornings before I get stuck into my writing, having somehow convinced myself that checking Twitter, Facebook, etc first thing is what I need to do to get my brain in gear. Given the morning schedule is already curtailed due to school stuff, this isn’t helping. Funny thing is, I didn’t really think about it until I saw John Scalzi tweet that he doesn’t ‘log on’ until he’s done his writing for the day. I think I shall have to try that …