Thursday, October 06, 2005

Thursday - Scene Analysis

Same classroom today. Just as I was ready to leave, the heavens opened. Maybe I should invest in a raincoat. And waterproofing for my books... yeah, never mind.

Today I was back to Story, and loving it. I think it's not so much a difference in content as in tone. Writing Experiment is written kind of clinically, academically, while Story is written all friendly-like. Conversational.

Today's lesson was simple but great. It started off with text and subtext, and how a scene isn't worth doing if it doesn't have subtext.

Nothing is what it seems, said this chapter. "If the scene is about what the scene is about , you're in deep s**t." - Old Hollywood saying

Subtext is all around us but we don't often catch it, we're wrapped up in ourselves. But in the movies, we're concentrating. Have you ever seen a film and thought, "I know what that character's really thinking..." That's subtext in action.

"Subtext is present even when a character is along. For if no one else is watching us, we are. We wear masks to hide our true selves from ourselves."

So even a voiceover or direct narrative isn't direct. That's kind of postmodern, ain't it!

Having laid that foundation of what subtext is and how important it is, McKee then took us through the technique of analysing a scene.

  1. Define conflict. Who drives the scene? (Could be a non-human character, like the weather) What do they want? What/who's stopping them? What does that antagonist want?
  2. Note opening value. What's at stake here? Is it positively or negatively charged? E.g. faith... the protagonist begins the scene believing in God.
  3. Break the scene into beats. Identify the text and subtext for each action and reaction. Subtext is what's really going on... so the dialogue could be moving along, but for each character you just need one phrase to describe what they're really thinking, feeling, or doing. E.g. "begging". And what's the other person doing? E.g. "ignoring him". Each action-reaction pair is one beat.
  4. Note closing value and compare it with opening value. How does the scene end? The value you identified in 2 should have an opposite charge now ... e.g. the protagonist no longer believes in God, or his faith is challenged at least.
  5. Survey beats and locate turning point. Look over the list you've made of "beats" in the scene and see where things turn - where that value turns from positive to negative, or vice versa. Remember, if it doesn't turn, it's very probably a wasted scene.
That was it. See, I told you it'd be a nice and simple lesson today.

One last definition, this came up in one of the example scenes that got cut to pieces.

Synchronicity: the fusion of meaningful coincidence around a centre of tremendous emotion.


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