Over the last weekend, I attended the Dreamspinner Retreat in Orlando, an amazing opportunity to meet the staff and to learn more about how to write better. (On a side note, I was in the heart of the Disney World Resort and didn’t see anything other than the hotel *cries *).
It was a great retreat – I learned a lot as an author about my craft, and got some fantastic news I will share with you all when I am able.
One of the hilights of the retreat was a showing of the 1984 Michael Douglas/Kathleen Turner film “Romancing the Stone,” by the amazing Damon Suede. The screenplay for the film was written by Diane Thomas, a woman who was very familiar with how Romance works, and is apparently the only true Romance that’s not an adaptation of a previously published book.
Damon, for anyone who hasn’t seen him in action, is a born teacher – charismatic, whip-smart, and well-versed in the art of writing and the Romance genre.
The movie showing went like a Romance version of Mystery Science Theater 3000, with Damon doing a running dialogue about the film and how it was put together from a romance plot point of view. It was like a master class in romance film writing.
Some of his observations:
- The set in Joan’s apartment does most of the work telling you who she is – an unfulfilled, single, middle-aged woman – so the characters don’t have to spell it out
- The script starts with Joan at a mid-point, and drops her down to a low that allows a long, powerful rise in her character’s emotional arc
- Metaphors, like the set, do a lot of the heavy listing, like when Jack throws her suitcase off a cliff, literally ridding her of the remnants of her own life
- The writer deftly intersperses action, drama, and comedy. The drama tells us this dilemma is serious. The action keeps the story moving. And the humor is often used to communicate to us that our heroes are never really in mortal danger
- This film is lousy with anti-hispanic racism
The last point seems to reflect both the time the movie was created and the laziness of the producers in making it – it’s set in Columbia, but was filmed in Mexico with some terrible caricatures of Hispanic villains and some atrocious Spanish dialogue.
But in spite of that, the point of it all was that you can actually extract a lot about how films and TV shows are written by dissecting them, and then applying it to your writing. This is something that’s fascinated me for a long time – I love taking apart plot lines and writing on TV to see how a screenwriter made me feel something, or effectuated a surprising plot twist.
If you ever have a chance to hear Damon speak, take it. While you may or may not agree with his methods, he gives you new ways to examine and break apart your own writing, and in the process, to become a better writer.
To my writer friends – do you ever dissect a TV show or film to learn more about your craft? If so, give me an example of what you learned.