Lessons from Celine Sciamma’s Writing Process.

This talk by French Screenwriter and Film Maker, Celine Sciamma, has challenged me in two ways.

  1. It has challenged my already challenged mind regarding the received ‘this is the way you plot a story’.
  2. It has challenged me to think even more deeply about what the focus of my stories are.

For Sciamma there is a three stage process for her writing. She may not title them exactly as I am about to list them, but this is my translation of them:

  1. Identify your Global Desires for the film/story
  2. Place the Local Scenes
  3. Return to the Global View and ensure that each of the Local Scenes are in keeping with your Global Desires.

Your Global Desires for your story encompasses the whole form and key elements of your narrative. There may be a number: It is a love story; it has a non-typical viewpoint; its is artistically driven and not obstacle driven in plot.

Your Local Scenes are the actual scenes in the story and should be split into two lists:

1.The Desired List – This is the parts of scenes, the snatches of dialogue, the setting of the story, random ideas of plot; in fact they are anything which inspired you in the idea of the story to begin with.

2.The Needed List – These are the scenes you need to have in your story in order to tell it. It is the plot, the characters, the action, etc.

The aim here is to take all of the items in your second list and work them into the first list. All that should remain is your list of Desired scenes.

Focus on what is important in each scene. Is it the dialogue? Is it the detail of setting? Is it character? Is it the action between characters?

Your final Global View for your story now checks that your Desired list of scenes is telling the elements you specified in the original Global Desires list.

What isn’t necessary needs to be cut or altered so it is necessary.

  • You may not need lots of background detail in your narrative.
  • You may not need to follow the conventions of your time period or the genre of your story.

Conflict and Obstacles – the usual cornerstones of plotting – may not have to be the focus of your story telling.

If you are telling a love story your key characters may not have to have large obstacles or have conflict in their relationship. If your Global Desire is to tell of the love between two characters then focus on the love.

Take a story you are currently working on, or a new idea you have and apply Sciamma’s three stages of planning/plotting to it.

I expect your view of your story to change. Mine has.

Day 465 – Revisiting Ray Bradbury’s ‘Fahrenheit 451’.

If you have read any of my other posts then you already know that I am a fan of Podcasts and Audiobooks. Today, I revisited one of my favourite Ray Bradbury novels in F451, with a great audio version narrated by Tim Robbins.

One of the many things which struck me this time around was just how quickly Bradbury gets the story moving.

After a quick page or so of describing the Fireman Guy Montag doing his job and returning to the Fire Station we – along with the protagonist – are confronted with Clarisse McClellan.

I wondered if this was where Thomas Harris got his inspiration for Clarice Starling in The Silence of the Lambs. I also couldn’t shift the image of Julie Christie as Clarisse in Truffaut’s cinematic version from 1966.

Back to the novel and Clarisse starts to question Guy Montag and his profession as a Fireman, musing on the possibility that Firemen used to put out fires not start them.

Bradbury moves so fast here. How did she pick him out? Was she waiting for him? What made her think that he was different? The strong opening imagery of Montag now confronted with an alternative possibility takes just six pages.

Montag returns home to find his wife has attempted suicide and we become aware that his life, and the life of the society we have been dropped into, is not positive or healthy. Like Hamlet we realise that something is rotten in the state of Denmark.

Is Montag mad? Suffering from a disease spread by the very things he burns? Or like Hamlet, is he the only sane person in a cast of the mad or those who do not even realise they are just as trapped as he is?

Within fourteen pages, pretty much everything is set for the rest of the story.

Within twenty-three pages we have met the Mechanical Hound, which Montag is convinced doesn’t like him, and Captain Beatty, who we don’t trust the moment he explains that the Hound doesn’t think anything that ‘they’ don’t want it to.

Genius.

Main character. Catalyst character asking questions. Difficult home life/relationship. What will pursue the Main character. The Antagonist.

Then let the story play out . . .

Day 437 – What You Know.

There is an old writing adage which exhorts you to write what you know.

Sound advice.

If you have never been a police officer, or investigated a murder, then you might want to avoid crime novels.

Yet plenty of writers ‘do’ crime.

Why? Possibly because they want to murder someone and they’ve really thought hard about it?

Fake it until you make it?

You get out of your writer’s room and ride along with the police and detectives so you do know what you are talking about?

But what do you know that can be used in a different way?

George Lucas knew Westerns and Japanese Samurai movies but he had a fascination for space.

Think about your setting and drop in different characters or point of view.

Think about your characters and drop them into a different setting.

See what happens.

Day 397 – Seth Godin’s Ten Words.

Seth Godin writes.

If you don’t read him, then you should be.

He has written best sellers and he writes a daily blog. He is also an engaging speaker.

His blog post for today is titled ‘Ten Words Per Page‘.

He challenges us to highlight ten words out of a thousand we have written. If our readers only take in those words, which ones would they be?

Take those ten words and form all the others around them.

With each page you write, what’s the most important thing your reader needs to take away?

Which ten words define your main character at that moment in the story?

Which ten words tell your reader what they need to know in your description or narrative?

Maybe more fundamental – what’s your ten words?

Piece to Camera.

In Tim Ferris‘ book The Tools of Titans, B.J. Novak lists Ferris Bueller’s Day Off as a must study for the way the character narrates to camera throughout the movie.

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is an awesome movie and definitely worth studying in more detail.

Shakespeare was a big fan of his characters talking to the audience as well, only they’re called soliloquies; a term which puts most people off.

But what if your protagonist tells your story directly to your reader?

Ferris Bueller isn’t really about Ferris Bueller anyway, it is about his best friend Cameron Frye and the whole day off is to help him get over his problems.

So why not even tell your story from the point of view of a character who isn’t your chief protagonist?