Sunday, August 12, 2007

Week 12 - Dénouements Are Us

Congratulations on making it to Week Twelve, the week you push on through to the end. And after SPLAT, you want to get through to your end fairly quickly in film. Don't dawdle, your audience won't like it. In some films, there's barely any falling action or dénouement at all.

In novel writing, you've got a little more luxury at the end, a little time for reflection. But really, the climax is what people have been waiting for. She passed the test, he won the race, she found her daughter, he solved the crime, she won the case, he got the grail (or didn't get the grail, as we know from Indiana Jones, winning isn't everything). Since what they've been waiting for has happened, if they're there too much longer, the audience will wonder why and get restless.

Climaxes can be BIG or subtle. In an action or horror movie, you'd expect something intense, like the final scenes in Cape Fear or any of the Star Wars films. They would be extremely disappointing if they didn't provide that kind of drama. But in Big Fish and Pieces of April, all we want is for the protagonist to make amends with his father and her mother. Or in Sarah Polley's beautiful new film Away from Her, it's simply a man facing his fears regarding his ailing wife and doing something completely selfless for her out of pure love.

Regardless of how big or subtle your climax is, the story is done. I'm partial to more open-ended stories. I don't like things all wrapped up in neat little packages. Mostly because life isn't like that. I'm a little more forgiving with certain genres - mostly comedies, romances, and animated films - because, again, it's kind of expected in a romantic comedy that the end will be tidy.

One of my favourite film endings is from Trainspotting. I just like the fact that we have no idea if he's going to use again or stay clean. For now, for today, he's all right.

Okay, time to bring it on home:

1) As we've been doing for several weeks now, keep typing up your hand-written exercises. 10-15 minutes to warm up. You should have quite a pile of typed notes by now. We'll be talking about these notes next week.

2) I love this exercise when getting towards the end. Sometimes I do it sooner, but now's a good time. Simply write your story from start to finish in one long-ass sentence, connecting all the beats with the word "and." It's kind of like a little kid would tell a story:

There's this prince and he is in love with a princess and her parents have promised her to another guy and so they run away and then the other prince comes after them and captures them both and he tells the princess he'll kill her true love if she doesn't marry him so she agrees and they leave the prince on a deserted isle and...

Try to do this, tell your story, in 10 minutes. This will ensure that you aren't going into too much detail, just focusing on the main beats. Do this exercise at least once during the week. If you have time, try it again and see if anything changes.

3) If you are having trouble with your ending, it's a great time to play "what if." Set your timer for 5-7 minutes and simply make a list of what if's. Don't stop writing no matter HOW silly the idea is:

What if she decides not to take the job?
What if there is an earthquake and she has to rescue her mother?
What if her best friend dies?
What if the killer turns out to BE her best friend?

I use the "what if" exercise all the time, especially when I'm heading into uncertainty. What if you strike upon a brilliant idea that has the domino effect on your entire story? Now you're going to have to rewrite the entire middle section!

Hey, you're going to have to rewrite it anyway. A brilliant idea is a brilliant idea. If it makes it a better story in the end, it will be worth it.

ALTERNATE exercise

If you're pretty sure about your ending, you can simply warm up with one or two of these start lines (5-7 minutes each):

By the end of my story my protagonist has overcome...
By the end of my story my antagonist is left with...
By the end of the story I want my audience to feel...
By the end of the story I want my audience to think...
I'm going to end the story when ________ because...
I'm going to end the story BEFORE ________ because...

4) Go for it! Finish your script. Take a little more time if necessary.

If you were writing steadily for 10 weeks and still have quite a bit more to go, keep going. Review some of the exercises and use the most appropriate ones.

And please write in to let me know when you finish!


ERiCA said...

Great series! Thanks for posting. =)

OpenChannel said...

Hi Erica, thanks for stopping by!