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Note from AED: We asked Lighthouser Marie Kaufman to write up her takeaways from the March Writer’s Buzz with Alexandre O. Philippe. Here’s what she came up with:
March’s Writers Buzz offered both a new venue and a unique approach to writing the next great scene. Alexandre Philippe, documentary film maker (The People vs George Lucas) and longtime instructor at Lighthouse Writers Workshop, gave a lecture at the Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design on the importance and potential impact of individual scenes in a story. Philippe’s lecture involved the deconstruction of the opening scene of Quentin Tarantino’s film Inglorious Basterds. Philippe walked the audience through this scene, pausing about every twenty seconds or so to deconstruct what Tarantino was achieving on screen. Although these – pauses were at times jarring (one is not used to watching a film in this way), it was fascinating to literally watch the narrative arc develop one small frame at a time. The equivalent to this on the page, I think, would be an examination of a story in one-sentence increments. Although we never got far enough into the movie to see Brad Pitt (I was a bit disappointed), I left the auditorium that night abuzz with new ideas for my writing (they don’t call it the Writers Buzz for nothing) and with a new, magnified way of seeing the scenes I have already created. Here are some of the lessons learned:
- Create index cards for each scene. Consider: Why is this important? What is the purpose of the scene? It must do something for the story as a whole. If it doesn’t, don’t keep it.
- If a writer can remove the scene and not impact the story in any significant way, the scene did not belong in the first place.
- Position the audience. Set audience’s expectations and hopefully exceed them.
- Have a rubber ducky. A rubber ducky is a traumatic event that becomes the underlying motivation in main characters. (I am currently in Freudian inspired therapy with my protagonist. She’s on the couch as I try to figure out what her rubber ducky is.) In Inglorious Basterds, Tarantino gives the audience the rubber ducky up front. The suspense in the film stems from how the character(s) deals with/reacts to the rubber ducky. The story is borne of the character’s response to the rubber ducky.
- Create something the reader cannot stop reading.
- The audience must see the powers of darkness slowly introduced; this builds tension.
- A story is about putting questions in the mind of the reader and not answering those questions. Or, if you do answer those questions it must be because those answers lead to a more important question.
- Waste no time getting to the meat of the story.
- There is a difference between mystery and suspense. Think carefully about what you are holding back and why.
- Milk the moments of tension. A story is a succession of tension-release-tension-release moments.
- Small details are the lifeblood of scenes. For example, in Inglorious Basterds, the camera’s angle changes and the audience who has just witnessed the murder of an entire Jewish family is now looking at a wooden barrel of apples and a small Persian rug. The items are in the same room in which the murder has just taken place. The smoke from the fired weapons drifts slowly over the rather lovely items. Although it is a moment of inaction, it is a very disturbing moment all the same. Moments of stillness can be powerful.
Thanks for that one, Marie. If you missed this, check out the Podcast here. And keep up with the Buzz and other free Lighthouse events on our Facebook page, Web site, or by signing up for our sometimes-scintillating e-mail list.