Monday, March 10, 2014

Make it Hurt

credit: Cinema Fanatic

I watched Roman Holiday last night with my mum-- there's a local theatre showing some classics during the spring, and we caught this one. I forgot how much I liked it, both for the actors, but also its last scene.

It made me think about how much books and films get characterized by single moments that showcase character change. Harry Potter would not be Harry Potter without Harry walking to his death in book seven. The Great Gatsby wouldn't be the same without that scene where Nick is calling people from the wake, wondering where on earth people are.

But without the emotional build-up behind these scenes, what are they? Just a boy with a rock walking in the woods, and a man with a phone by a casket.

So too is it with any manuscript.

One of the neat things that being in poetry workshops and working with poems in undergrad taught me was to focus on an image. And yeah, oftentimes there's a particular scene that captures everything about your characters that have changed in a single perfect moment.

Come back to Roman Holiday. What makes this last scene hurt so much? Joe Bradley's just revealed to Princess Ann that he's a member of the press corps and that he's not going to publish his story about the fun times they had running around Rome yesterday, even though it would enable him to move back to New York and show up his boss.

His character has changed-- he knows who Ann is and, whatever his feelings are towards her, they've changed since he first found her on the park bench. She's no longer some royal kid he's happy to screw over for a quick buck.

What I love about the last scene, though, is how much the power dynamic has changed. All throughout their trip around Rome, it's always Bradley in control, following Ann places, setting things up with his photographer friend to score pictures of Ann in un-regal situations. In the last scene, it's Ann giving the press conference, meeting people, and then leaving. Bradley waits for her to come back out, but she doesn't. The holiday is over.

He walks the whole way to the end of the embassy hall by himself, turning back at the end to see if she's behind him before he leaves. She's not.

This is what a pivotal scene in a manuscript needs to do. It's got to show a character acting in a way that is different from how we meet them (Bradley gives up the money, Ann accepts the rigors of royal life) and punch us in the gut (having the power to destroy someone's life, where both you and the other person know it, it would be to your advantage, and then not).

The nice thing about these scenes is that you don't have to explain them-- it's your job for all the manuscript that comes before them to make them plausible, and then let the reader work it out on their own. All you have to do is lay the groundwork for the pivot point, and when the reader gets there, make it hurt.

When Alex Yuschik isn't writing her next YA novel, she's working on someone else's as an intern at Entangled Publishing. She writes about lock picks, ghosts, the abandoned places in cities, and how not to strike bargains with stars. Between sneaking in time to game and rocking out to indie music, Alex spends the rest of her free time working towards her PhD in mathematics. You know, as one does.

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2 secret replies:

  1. I saw Roman Holiday years ago, and that last scene is the only thing about it I clearly remember. Very interesting post!

    1. Thanks! It stuck in my head after seeing it again, and I was like hmm, why is this happening? before I realized "oh, it's a storytelling technique!"

      Writing is literally everywhere. :D Glad you liked the post!