Not To Contrive
I know exactly what you mean, Monty, and I do
appreciate you pointing that fact out to me and all that are reading
this. Contrivance shows
up in many scripts – especially if you keep your eyes out for it.
I’ve thought along the same lines for quite some time.
Here’s a few more contrivances:
Did you ever notice that serial killers always seem to have
access to chloroform? Where
do they pick that up? Maybe
there’s a Maniac Murderers Pic &
Save. Or a Serial
Killer Depot. And why
does it usually always storm heavily in the third act of horrors and
thrillers? What happened
to second-act storms? Or
at least first-act drizzles. First
act: clear and bright and
not a cloud in the sky. Second
act: same skies (although
with a maybe a little breeze).
Third act: A
deluge, lightning, thunder – somebody contact Noah-- etc.
The lightning is good for flashing on the terrified
protagonist running for her life, and allows us to see her and through
her sheer lingerie. And
makes tombstones look very ominous at night – especially if the
lightning is accompanied by thunderous thunder (as opposed to just
thunder). Or nicely
highlights the killer as a shocker for us all.
The truth is that contrivances are used to
connect the storyline and, even more importantly, to connect events
together and quickly. One
of the greatest pressures on a screenwriter is time because he has to
keep us, the audience, intrigued; has to keep the action moving.
And this is not easy to do if we’re waiting a long time for a
phone call to come in, or for somebody to find a number in a phone
book, or a particular section in a huge book of magic spells
(accompanying dialogue: “Ah,
here it is!”) Things
need to move along and they often don’t do that in real life.
So, the screenwriter uses all her skills to give the impression
that important events immediately follow other important events.
One of the biggest tasks of a screenwriter is to make the story
appear to have depth and motion, and, to do so, she uses “tricks of
the trade”: set-ups and
succeeding payoffs, connecting dialogue in more than one scene,
circular story planning, twists, reverses, fast car chases (actually,
that’s a different kind of motion).
Sometimes the screenwriter is simply forced to use some
contrivance to give the story the quick and building pace it needs.
Dialogue can be giveaway that a contrivance has just been
contrived. Maybe you
recall some of these pat sayings:
“Hi, Pat.” (No,
not that one. These:)
“Hey, what’s that on the floor?” and “What did you just
say?” and “Say that again. What
you just said. Say that
again.” (That’s the
familiar “the hero just heard what he needed to finally hear to turn
the tables on the villain” speech.
I’d like it if, in just one movie, we could see the hero actually
turn some tables on the villain.
Now, that would be something new!
Then you could have some spiffy dialogue like this:
[*nice name for a villain, don’t you think?]
Turn the tables on me, will you!?
Well now I’m turning them back on you!
The villain curses under his breath and grabs the
tables that were turned on him and turns them back on the original
Now, that’s a good scene.
A skillful screenwriter will camouflage
contrivances so that they don’t stick out like a sore thumb (unless
the contrivance is a sore thumb. If that be the case, you would want
the sore thumb to stick out like a sore thumb. Sore thumb.
That's a wonderful contrivance for a hitchhiker movie. That's
how the killer hitchhiker would be recognized.
has a sore thumb!
When coming up with these
“shortcuts,” so to speak, you as the writer just want to make sure
that you don’t have the viewers shouting at the screen, “Aw, come
on!” That’s all.
Just avoid those -- as Monty, our contributor of the week,
aptly puts it -- “come on!”’s and you’ll be pretty much okay.
The fact is, if you look at screenwriting (and
all writing, really) in a broad way, ALL of it is contrivance.
Those screenwriters making a good living are master contrivers,
to be sure.
Now, I have another very important secret that no
one else knows that will assure you of certain success as a
screenwriter and that very important and guarded secret is--
Just a sec.
It’s my phone.