I'm revising Unseen
, which had felt a little young. A 16 year old protagonist doesn't have to mean a tween movie. Just look at Harry Potter. I think what makes a tween movie is soft jeopardy. E.g. What a Girl Wants
the jeopardy is ... her father's relations won't like her. Ironically movies for kids usually have harder jeopardy, e.g. the protagonist's death. And, in this case, the jeopardy ought to have been there. Her mother was in danger of death. Her father (whom she hadn't known was alive) was in danger of death. And she was up against deadly critters. Yet, somehow, it felt young.
Part of the problem was I was taking the fear for granted. I wasn't selling the emotion. When the situation implies danger, the actor will give you fear on screen. But to get past the reader, you have to sell it. You have to give us the hero's reactions. If her dialog is tough, you have to show
us that she really is scared in spite of the tough talk.
I wasn't doing that enough.
Another thing that was getting in the way of feeling adult was that I was taking the supernatural situations for granted. The story's about a girl thrust into a situation she would previously have thought was the stuff of fairy tales. And I jumped the gun on that. As I wrote it, I wasn't very interested in the experience of the heroine doubting the reality of her situation. After all, I
knew it was real. So I emotionally fast-forwarded through those scenes.
Consequence: hard to take the situation seriously. Because the heroine wasn't taking it seriously.
Now I'm letting the moments where she doubts her own grasp on reality breathe. And it's feeling much more grown-up.
Unless you're an actor, you probably try to avoid emotional pain in your life. But emotional pain is compelling on screen; it is the basis for drama. If you elide the pain, you'll throw a wet blanket on the drama. That gets you a James Bond movie. Which is okay, if you have $200 million to spend on spectacle. And even then it's not that great.
Follow the pain. If something in a scene is pushing you away -- is urging you to skip ahead, is making you uncomfortable -- that's a good sign that you're on to something. Push back. Push into the pain. That's going to provide a compelling scene.
Thanks, Alex. You've given me some ideas here.
I was running into similar problems with THE KNIGHTMARE. While the action was exciting (it's modeled after the cliffhanger serials) the situations don't read 'frightful' yet, which is a major motif of the whole story. The main character has to harness the fear within himself before he can instill it in others (his superpower).
That's a common problem when writing supernatural-related stories. How to logically push through that moment when the protagonist first discovers that there's something really, really wonky going on (i.e. did I just see a ghost/demon/UFO?) to that moment of clarity when they must deal with the fact that the things that go bump in the night are actually real -- and they're out to get you!
Thankfully, I was able to avoid that situation with my 15 year old protagonist -- since she quickly learns that she IS one of those things that go bump in the night.
I would like to rephrase your advice as "follow the emotion" in the given scene - within the limits of reason ofcourse. The more I write the more I come to realize that screenwriting is very much like painting - emotions being colors, and information the canvas. Without canvas (info and all that plot-related stuff) you have nothing to paint on, but what matters is the colors and their juxtaposition. (Sorry for the metaphor, I could not help it :)
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