Monday, April 23, 2007

Enter Late, Leave Early

Sticking to the thought-thread of anticipatory suspense, this, I believe, goes hand-in-hand with ELLE, as Robert Gregory Browne puts it:

When writing a scene, rather than start at the “beginning,” you
come in after events are already in motion. And you make sure you get out of there before said events have concluded.

For example, John and Mary decide to go for a jog. Instead of cutting to the two of them throwing on the jogging shorts, pulling on the running shoes, and hitting the road, we cut straight to John and Mary running
side by side, in the middle of a conversation. Then we cut away from them AFTER the point of the scene has been made, but BEFORE they finish their jog or their conversation. To compel the reader forward, it often helps to use a line of dialogue or prose that’s a springboard into the next scene.

Many people think this has to do with brevity, keeping the scenes as short as possible, but that’s not quite true. Yes, when writing screenplays it’s important to keep scenes short (if the story calls for it,
there are always exceptions), but, to my mind, ELLE has more to do with keeping the reader (or viewer) interested. It’s a neat little trick that cuts the waste and keeps the story moving.

It also has a lot to do with pacing, because any good story should have rhythm, aided by the ebb and flow of your scenes. ELLE is one way to
maintain that rhythm.

I think this applies to novels as well. I certainly applied it when I wrote my first. And I’m still doing it with the second. Get in, make your point, then get the hell out.

How does this work alongside anticipatory suspence? Scenes serve a certain purpose. As undisciplined writers we tend to write a scene from the point of story - lets throw in the character doing this, travelling this path, interacting with that character, performing that feat; without giving any thought to reasons to show this, that and the other, with no idea about what a character really is - my wife finished an essay on Greek tragedy characters at the weekend, regarding "How sharply drawn" they are, which I want to share at some point, but even back in oldy Greeky days, the likes of Aristophanes, Sophocles, Aeschelyus and Euripides knew how to show character development, arcs and inner conflict for the purposes of plot.

ELLE helps us understand that when a writer writes a scene it MUST serve a purpose. And, to Leave Early help maintain anticipatory suspense by, as most often seen these days in TV programs, one character asks a majorly important question, and either, as shown below, a distraction occurs, or, the scene ends, and we cut to somewhere else.

The audience is left in one of two positions:
  1. The audience, already being aware of information themselves (dramatic irony), know that one character has imparted the new knowledge to another character that is important to the plot and the audience had an inkling of before. The audience have a small sense of catharsis - Thank God the new character knows - and also, the audience doesn't have to sit through the knowledge again - so, they don't lose interest over repeated material - We only need to know that the information is to be transferred. There is a sense of relief; the audience are happy that there is one more person on side.
  2. The audience doesn't already know the information (dramatic suspense), and when we cut away from the scene we are held off knowing the vital clues around which the plot, or subplot, is hinging - maintaining/sustaining our interest a little while longer.

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