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Thursday, June 19, 2008

That's Entertainment

Sometimes it's very clear to the Wave-iantrix exactly what I'm going to post on the Rouge Wave and other times I stare at the flotsam and jetsam on my desk until inspiration strikes. But you don't want to hear about the coffee rings, highlighters, books and scripts lying all over my desk. Oh but wait, what's this?

This week the Wave-inatrix had to cover a book for an A-list actor and his production company for whom I read. And the book is a ridiculous bodice-ripper. Which is, incidentally, one of the, if not THE highest selling paperback genre in human history. So I'm thinking - oh god, kill me now - I'm a Dorothy Parker adoring, F. Scott Fitzgerald worshipping, John Irving, Michael Chabon, Alice Sebold, David Sedaris, Joan Didion loving literary fan girl. A bodice ripper? Really? Why me, god? Why?

So two days later, as I'm reviewing this book for potential movie adaptation, I find myself reading the pages. I mean reading the pages. I'm not supposed to do that. I can't - it takes too long. Usually when you cover a book, you skimmy mcskimmerson as fast as you can, only noting the major plot points and general vibe so you can summarize it quickly and make a decision about whether it's cinematic, commercial and appropriate for the actor or production company in question.

But this Dorothy Parker adoring, F. Scott Fitzgerald worshipping, John Irving, Michael Chabon, Alice Sebold, David Sedaris, Joan Didion loving literary fan girl finds herself - the shame - responding to the romantic through-line like nobody's business. Oh, don't get me wrong, this is a big fat PASS for a lot of reasons (repeated beats, archaic, outdated themes, thin subplots) but I once again find myself in awe of the power of the primal, archetypal emotion to sway even the snarkiest of us. In this case - romance.

He loves her! He will not ever leave her! He's so strong - oh, his rippling muscles and sad blue eyes - I mean, this is treacle. But I'm responding to it like a freaking Jungian experiment. Sure, I could be embarrassed. But if you know the Wave-inatrix, you know I can find a lesson in just about everything.

When writing a screenplay, recognize the power of the primal core of your story. Which is to be found in your...wait for it...THEME. Love, death, fear, lust, revenge, redemption, triumph, tragedy - these are some of the most deeply rooted human emotions which are literally encoded into our genes. It's hardwiring, people. We're stuck with it. Emotional response to primal archetypes and fears.

Shakespeare knew it. So did Milton. And Tolstoy. And James Joyce. And Euripides. Every truly great writer knows that we must tap into that deep well of primal human emotions to really hook the reader. It's why JAWS - a silly (but great) movie about a giant shark scared us out of the water for decades. It's why we cried so hard watching ORDINARY PEOPLE or TERMS OF ENDEARMENT. Or why we laughed so hard at most any Monty Python movie and our hearts broke for the two cowboys in BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN. It's why we rooted so passionately for Christian Bale in 3:10 to YUMA and Viggo Mortensen in A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE. Because we are deeply drawn to the themes of dignity and redemption. We're not ranchers or crazy mob killer guys - we never have been, we live in a three floor walkup in Brooklyn - but that hardwired instinct is alive and well in all of us.

So ask yourself - what is the primal emotion that is the foundation of your script? Your reader, even the snarkiest, most jaded Hollywood reader is a human being susceptible to having that hard wiring light up like a switchboard. Push the reader's (and ultimately viewer's) buttons, Wavers. Push them hard but not obviously. Sneak in and leave them secretly lusting after the revenge the antagonist deserves. Or the cojoining of the two leads in your romcom. Leave them wanting resolution and satisfaction on a level so deep they can't quite articulate it.

Push those buttons, Wavers. Push them wantonly. Readers love it.

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PJ McIlvaine said...

Since I know who the A list actor is (nyah nyah), I wouldn't mind ripping his, uh, shirt.

Julie Gray said...

I have to admit, PJ, imagining Mr. X in this role is a big part of the draw of this book, lol.