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EPISODE DESCRIPTION - Today, I'm sharing tips number 3 and 4 of some of the aha moments I've had as a writer. find a way to dramatize the information that you reveal.
#3: Find a way to dramatize the information you reveal.
When I tried to write my first novel, I ended up revealing a lot of things through the character's head. I'm in the character's head describing to the audience what my character was thinking or feeling. When I dramatized the scenes so that the information came out through dialogue, it was a much more dynamic way to have the information revealed. So, learn how to dramatize the information by creating justifiable scenarios, or dialogue exchanges or conflict events between characters. It's just a way better way for the audience to learn it.
#4: Scenes are mini dramas.
Every single story is composed of scenes. You have one scene plus another scene plus another scene. And you keep doing that until you finish your story. But in that scene, the scene itself needs to go somewhere. The scene itself needs to have an arc, the scene itself needs to change where the character is at emotionally. So, each scene is a mini drama that needs to alter the internal emotional state of your character, or your audience's perception or experience of what's happening.
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The Storyteller’s Mission with Zena Dell Lowe
S2_E36. Two Easy Tips to Immediately Maximize the Dramatic Potential of Each Scene
INTRO: 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.
TOPIC INTRODUCTION: So, we are in a series on aha moments I've had as a screenwriter or as a writer in general. Things that I want to pass on to you in the hopes that maybe it's going to give you some clues or help you along in your writing career. Things that made a huge difference to me personally when I learned those principles.
And the third one today, because we've already covered number one, and two, the third one today is find a way to dramatize the information that you reveal.
PRESENTATION: What do I mean by that? Well, first of all, this is a really good thing for novelists. When I tried to write my first novel, what I found is that I ended up revealing a lot of things through the character's head. Right? What is the character thinking? And so I'm in the character's head, and I'm describing to the audience, or I'm explaining those things that the character is thinking directly to the audience. But what I found is that while it was well written, and all of those things, it just wasn't as interesting as when I then rewrote some of those scenes, and had it dramatized so that it came out through dialogue, or it came out through an exchange with another character. That was a much more dynamic way to have the information revealed. So, sometimes, that's not possible, I suppose, in a novel, but if it is possible, then it it's always more interesting to your audience, to your reader, if you're dramatizing the information.
Now, what's interesting is that in a screenplay, information is always conveyed to the audience through the camera lens. That is our access to what's happening to the character. It's only what we can see on the screen. So in a screenplay, you can never tell us how a character is feeling. You can never tell us what they're thinking. If you write that in your screenplay, it just doesn't work. Because a character can't act that, right? An actor can't act, "Okay. Think about your mother." I mean, how do you show that, right? So you only can show in a screenplay behavior. And then you allow the audience to interpret that behavior in order to try to ascertain how the character is feeling or what the character is thinking.
So instead of writing, "she's mad," you write an action that allows us to interpret, "Oh, she's mad," or maybe you describe the smirk that they get on their face, and we know how they feel about that particular character, or whatever the case may be. You're always trying to reveal how a character is feeling. It's just that you can't actually explain how that character is feeling. It can only be through their actions that you reveal it. So that's how information comes to us in a screenplay -- always through the camera lens based on the character's behavior, or what we actually see. Right? You're describing what we're seeing on the screen. But that's not how the information is conveyed to the audience in a novel.
In a novel, The information comes to us through the character's head. Every single thing in a novel, the filter that gets it to the reader, is through the character's head. It's what the character sees. It's always what the character is describing, even if it's third person, somehow it is still through that character's head. And so it's an interesting challenge to not rely overly much on what the character is thinking or feeling. Because even in third person, you can describe how Mr. Smith sits at the kitchen table drinking tea, thinking about his mother and the loss of her during her cancer fight and how she withered away into nothing and how, now that his wife has been diagnosed with something similar, he doesn't know if he can stand going through that again. I mean, you could describe all of that third person, and it's everything that's happening in the character's head.
Now, imagine taking a scenario like that, and putting it in a context where he has to try to explain that to another person. And it's now dramatized through dialogue. It's a much, much better way to try to convey that kind of information. So the basic principle, again, is to try to dramatize the information that you're revealing through conversation, through an exchange, through dialogue. Whenever I have a scene where I spend a lot of time sharing things with the audience directly from the thoughts of the character, I try to go back and find a way to reveal the information through dialogue.
And by the way, this is why it's good to learn how to reveal exposition and backstory through things like conflict, right? When people are in conflict, and it's pressure, pressure and things are heated, they blurt things out that they wouldn't normally say, because the pressure gets so much that they finally explode. And it's in that explosion, then, that they might say something that they've been holding on to for years, some secret that they have, or some bitterness that they've held on to or whatever the case may be. And now it comes out because of conflict. Something the other character doesn't know that is a, "WOO," a big, big, big reveal. So it's good to learn to do things like that.
There are things about the past that the audience may need to know. But how you reveal that information is key. If you do it clunkily, or without any real justification, there won't be any enjoyment in it on the part of your audience. They need to be able to enjoy, if you will, learning that information. Make it exciting for them to learn it. Make it dynamic. So, since people say things when they're angry that they wouldn't normally say, that is a far more wonderful way for the audience to learn important exposition or backstory, or whatever the case may be. So learn how to dramatize the information by creating justifiable scenarios, or dialogue exchanges or conflict events between characters. It's just a way better way for the audience to learn it.
Okay, and today, I'm going to give tip number four, something I learned that really helped me in terms of each piece of the story that I was telling. And it's basically, number four, scenes are mini dramas.
They are mini dramas, they are a world of their own. Every single story is composed of scenes. You have one scene plus another scene plus another scene. And you keep doing that until you finish your story. But in that scene, the scene itself needs to go somewhere. The scene itself needs to have an arc, the scene itself needs to change where the character is at emotionally. So, each scene needs to somehow change the emotional place that your main character is at.
And you need to milk each scene for everything it's worth. You have to milk it, you have to get every bit of dramatic potential out of the scene that you can. In fact, a scene should have its own climax, if you will, which is generally where the character's emotion changes.
So, for example, let's say it's a small scene. Like in a screenplay, right, you can have a scene that's only an eighth of a page long. That's pretty short on a page: one eighth of a page long, okay. But even in that scene, let's say you're showing a character who's researching something, and they've got books piled everywhere. And you just want to show that they are a bookworm. And they're doing all this research, and that's where they are in their particular career or stage of life or whatever. Well, that's not enough. What you want to do is find a way to change where that character is at emotionally. So now you show them researching and researching and all of a sudden, the character sees something in the research and her eyes light up. Now you can cut away. You don't want to cut away until you have that moment. You don't want to go to a new scene until you have that moment.
Don't think of scenes as a way to establish something. A lot of people think, especially in a screenplay, that you're just showing something, you're establishing, "Well, this is where the character is at." Each scene needs to have an arc. It needs to go somewhere. So, that means that you need to change the internal emotional state of the character somehow. Let's say that the character is playing racquetball and do do do do do and they're playing racquetball. And then all of a sudden, they hear laughter from the hallway, and they look because they feel, they think people are laughing at them. Now, maybe those people aren't laughing at them. But nevertheless, it was a feeling of insecurity. That reveals something about your character. It changes their emotional state. Even if it's short scene, you want to do this.
Let's say that you just have a character who's going from point A to point B. And I see this all the time in the work that I'm critiquing in screenplays, where writers will have characters walking, say, from their car into the donut shop. And inevitably, what happens is, that's all they show: the character walking from their car to the donut shop. Well, they're not milking the scene for everything it's worth, they're not getting the full dramatic potential out of that scene. And they're certainly not changing the emotional state of the character.
Now, here's the thing, maybe you can't change, for whatever reason, the emotional state of that character, but you can change something about it so that it's different for us, the audience. So maybe this character is walking into the donut shop, and you just have somebody on the street, notice them. Well, now, all of a sudden, that changes something. It changes something emotionally, dynamically, for the audience, for that experience. So you're looking for those things. Maybe that character is walking in and they trip on a crack, maybe that character is walking in, and they lift their head a little higher, before they get there, you know, they're the working up the emotion that they can or the confidence they can. It can be a very short walking from the car to the donut shop. And yet, you still have to do something with it.
CONCLUSIONS: So, make sure there is slight movement in the scene. And if not on the part of the character's internal emotional state, then on the part of the audience. For example, maybe your character is blithely walking along, picking flowers, kind of heading into the forest. Well, maybe there's a shadow shift, and all of a sudden, WE know that there is danger lurking, even if the character is oblivious. So that changes OUR emotional experience of the scene. It can still be a very short scene, but something happens. It moves the story in terms of emotionality. That's what we're going for -- changing the emotional state of either the character themselves, or the audience's experience in that moment. So that's a great tip for you, I hope. That helped me a lot as a writer, and I hope that it will help you.
CALL TO ACTION: For more tips like this, check out the Storyteller's Mission website. And of course, if you're a screenwriter, check out our class for screenwriters, Formatting as an Art Form, an advanced class for screenwriters to learn all sorts of things about being a screenwriter. It will change your world if you're able to take that. So check it out on the website, www.thestorytellersmission.com.
OUTRO: In the meantime, thank you for listening to The Storyteller's Mission with Zena Dell Lowe, and may you go forth inspired to change the world for the better through story.