Donald Maass’ inspiring post last week showed us how we can tap into vivid personal memories to add new levels of delight (AKA “pixie dust”) to our storytelling. Later that week, Kathryn Craft’s wonderful post delved into how we can use setting to reinforce the emotional state of our characters. Today I’m going to look at some ways to use aspects of both of these approaches, with the goal of taking your readers to a world they’ve never seen – but you have.
Lessons from a loudmouth
Several years ago I stumbled across an indie film called Loudmouth Soup. The film is small in scope, focusing on a Hollywood dinner party attended by seven characters who come from various levels of the food chain within the film industry. Everybody has come to the party with an agenda (some hidden, some not so much), and a tense and often passive-aggressive dance slowly unfolds over drinks and dinner.
A few things make this film unusual. First, it was shot entirely in one night. Second, and probably most unusual, it had no script. (I know some writers who will hate this idea, but please, bear with me.) Instead, the director briefed the actors on their characters’ individual backstories, and then gave each character a set of goals, and then told them to basically do whatever they had to do to achieve them, while the cameras rolled. All the players were experienced Hollywood actors, so the director was calling on them to draw on their “insider” knowledge of those familiar shark-infested waters, and basically act like actors at a Hollywood dinner party.
Oh, and all while drinking heavily. The party may have been imaginary, but the drinks they served were real. So we get to watch a group of actors slowly getting drunk, playing the part of actors slowly getting drunk. Definitely a “meta” moment in filmmaking.
I enjoyed Loudmouth Soup, but I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a great movie (although I agree with much of this five-star review). I’ll admit, the unusual way the movie was made is probably its most interesting facet. If you haven’t lived in L.A. and/or been involved in the entertainment industry, much of the film might be a bit too “inside baseball” to be compelling.
But I have lived in L.A., where it seems everybody has an agenda, everybody is playing an angle, and everybody – from bank teller to studio executive – wants to be somewhere else on the food chain other than where they are right now. And that is exactly what these actors captured so well. Their knowledge of the film business allowed them to truly OWN the world in which the story was set.
For 96 minutes, those seven increasingly drunken actors whisked me back to L.A. and all its best and worst characteristics. I’ve seen few movies that evoked such a specific time and/or place so vividly – and so quickly.
So that’s what I want to look at today: how can we take our readers to a world we know intimately, and make it come to life for them? Here are a few ways – you can likely come up with even more. [Read more…]