Sunday, August 18, 2013

Tension and Texture

In fiction, creative nonfiction, or screenplay, a good storyteller adds layers to elevate story beyond plot, infusing it with humor, originality, psychological insight, and deeper understanding of the human condition. If a story seems multi-dimensional instead of flat, that’s texture.

Tip: Texture enhances tension by making what happens more original, empathetic, and thus haunting.

Only so many basic plots exist. But you can add texture in as many ways as there are writers to add layering.

Film is a terrific vehicle for investigating texture. Your commitment is hours instead of weeks, and you can find many free screenplays on line. “Silver Linings Playbook” is a good example.

It opens with protagonist Pat’s main concerns: His biological family and his wife.

~ We know what’s at stake right at the starting line.

The protagonist immediately explains that the situation is his fault—but it’s going to be better. Because he’ll see to it.

~ We immediately know how much we like this guy: He’s honest, responsible, resilient.

The protagonist’s room in the institution appears next: Jar of mayo, black trash bag, and the sign “excelsior.”

~ We know this story might be dark, sad, and romantic: It’ll be funny, too.

Then the group therapy session starts.

~ We can expect realism: We can expect an antidote to grim realism, as well.

After that, Pat’s doctor warns that his mom’s taking him home without medical approval.

~ We know, because we know how stories work: He’s just not ready.

That means trouble. Count on it. 

If you haven’t seen this, do. So the synopsis stops here. If you watch it and/or read the screenplay, notice how playing with expectations creates texture. What’s happiness? What’s sad or funny, sane or crazy? What’s true love? Who deserves what—and why do they?

This film lets you examine ways to open, interweave plot with theme, create likable characters, and transform individual predicaments to universal ones. It does that with texture.

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