Tuesday, September 10, 2013
Frogs and Writerly Bits :: When Characters Need to Share Important Information
Today I glanced out the front door and spotted a teeny, tiny frog perched on a skinny plastic divider between the glass panes. I took a picture of him with my iPhone. He stuck around for quite a while. Mini got to see him when he came in from school, and when hubby arrived home from work, he got to take a peek at him, too. The little frog is actually a pale, stone gray color, but he's sitting in shadow. Also, he's only about the size of a nickle, so he's a definitely a little guy. Once it got dark, he hopped away. I guess he had frog business to take care of.
Moving along... A few days ago, I found a DVD that had never been opened on our video shelf. On seeing it, I remembered that I'd picked up a copy when I spotted it in the $5.00 bin at Walmart many years ago, even though I'd already seen the movie before. I watched it with Oldest around the time it was first released. I'm talking about the movie Fallen, starring actors Denzel Washington, Donald Sutherland, John Goodman, Elias Koteas, and James Gandolfini. (The link provided goes to the movie trailer on Youtube.)
I never really analyzed the movie that much when I originally watched it, which that's been many years ago, like I said. I think the movie came out in 1998, or something like that. So, it's an older movie. If you care to watch it yourself, it's probably available for instant download at Amazon. I imagine it's also available as a used DVD for pretty cheap.
Anyway, a couple of days ago, I needed some background noise while working in my office and decided to watch Fallen. There is this one scene at around 36:52 minutes into the movie, where Denzel Washington and John Goodman are trying to determine what a high profile prisoner was saying on a video tape right before his execution. To the detectives, it sounds like the prisoner is speaking a gibberish language, so they have called in a specialist from the local university to listen to the video tape in the hopes he can translate what the prisoner was saying.
My interest in this scene is from the view point of a writer, rather than a movie goer. By watching the way they introduce the linguist into the story, I learned an interesting way of writing information into a scene without it coming across as heavy handed, or as an info dump.
First, the scene shows Washington and Goodman on screen together talking about the tape. Goodman gets a call that the linguist has arrived. Now, bear in mind, this linguist is (supposedly, hopefully) going to give them a lot of new information about the tape. This is vital information the movie goer needs to know in order to follow what's going on. Also, the information furthers the plot. So, it's important stuff we're talking about here, not just trivial details or scene filler.
Goodman hangs up the phone and tells Washington he's going to go "greet" the linguist, who has arrived at the police station. Washington says he'll be right there. And the camera cuts away while Goodman leaves and Washington is still at the desk.
What makes this so brilliant, is that this setup gives Goodman a chance to become informed about the tape OFF SCREEN, so he can expertly relate pertinent information to the hero (Washington) in the NEXT SCENE. And, he's able to do this without having to regurgitate a long, drawn-out, overly complex conversation with the linguist. It also manages to do this without straying into an "as you know, Bob" type of conversation trap.
Goodman simply exits the scene. Then in the next scene, Washington, Goodman, and the linguist are able to sit down at a table together and have a straight forward, to the point conversation about the tape that doesn't drag down the story. Goodman already knows the finer points of what the linguist is going to say, so he's able to paraphrase what's going on. He's able to tell Washington - and thereby the movie goer - what's happening in a simple, straight forward way that propels the story forward.
This is really smart writing. It's one technique a writer can use to relay important information between characters without it bogging down the story with clunky techno babble. No one has to go through the painstaking discovery phase with this new, necessary information. Goodman already knows what's what, so he's able to answer Washington's questions simply and concisely.
Like I said, that's really good writing. It also creates a smooth transition to the next scene. Seriously, it's worth watching. Read the notes, then take a peek at the movie. If you do, let me know what you think.
Enough brain picking for now. It's 2 in the morning, and I need to go on to bed. Yesterday I was so tired all day, and I wasn't able to sneak in a nap. I'm trying to avoid a repeat of that. ;o) Night, night all. Until next time, happy wishes! ♥