On Saturday I attended an excellent workshop at the KSP Writers’ Centre called Writing Emotion with award-winning young-adult novelist Kate McCaffrey, author of Destroying Avalon, In Ecstasy, Beautiful Monster, and the recent Crashing Down. During the workshop, Kate shared her writing and publishing experiences, from a chance viewing of Dr Phil inspiring Destroying Avalon, to the tribulations of translating In Ecstasy for an American audience. Kate’s story was full of inspiration, wisdom, and emotion.
Throughout the workshop, Kate insisted that writers should write what they know. This, she says, is the key to writing emotion because if a writer has had a similar emotional experience, then it will probably come through in their writing. Kate also pointed out that writers must leave room for their readers to bring their own emotions. This can be achieved by giving the reader enough information of the situation and leaving gaps for them to fill with their own emotions. Another piece of advice Kate offered was that if writers, want to get published, they need to stop writing for themselves and write for an audience.
Kate led the group through two writing exercises. In the first exercises, we presented a scene from one of our current stories, which Kate used to identify how we could more strongly inject emotion into it. In the second exercise, we described a character on the train through the eyes of another character, which, surprisingly, told us more about the describing character. In what was a synchronistic experience, many of the workshop participants described a similar character.
Kate’s lively, down-to-earth personality, personal experience, and relatable tales made for an engaging workshop that enriched all participants.
Inspired interviewed Chris Carter, creator of The X-Files, Millennium, Harsh Realm, and The Lone Gunmen, and one of my main inspirations who made me want to become a writer. Carter talks about his inspiration for wanting to become a writer and discusses some of the forces you have to pit yourself against in order to get your work out there.
Large-scale battle sequences have been popular in film for decades, but it took films like The Lord of the Rings trilogy and even TV series like Game of Thrones to show the epic scale that these can reach. The amount of technical prowess from a production standpoint is massive and demonstrates an admirable level of skill to pull them off so professionally.
While I don’t discredit any of this, from a storytelling perspective, which is what I’m all about, epic battle sequences add little character or plot development to a story, instead functioning as show pieces. For me, stories are all about the drama between characters, within complex situations, and relating to plot development. Yet, I never considered how complex building such epic battle scenes was for a writer until I had to write one myself.
In my sequence, the antagonists have to use cunning to break into a heavily armoured city before the story moves onto further character and plot development within the ensuing battle sequence.
In in a dramatic scene that contains action, the action specifics are less important than the drama between the characters so long as it builds to a dramatic conclusion or adds to the subtext. However, in a large-scale battle that contains little character drama or plot development, the action has to drive the scenes, being engaging in and of itself while, with the action in the adjacent scenes, building to a crescendo within the overall battle sequence.
Film scripts usually progresses from an outline or clear synopsis of the story, to a treatment, which is a lengthy prose summary of a story. They then move to a scene-breakdown, which visualises each scene’s action, before adding the dialogue and subtext in the script. In a treatment, it’s easy to write, “Character X fights Character Y” and leave it at that. In a scene-breakdown, however, the writer needs to visualise the onscreen action. And, importantly, if the writer want the audience to keep watching the film, the action has to be engaging.
Therefore, writing “Character X fights Character Y” no longer cuts it. Instead, the writer has to show how Character X fights Character Y. So, using imagination, the writer has to construct a sequence in which Character X thrusts her sword at Character Y, while Character Y blocks the blow and counters with one of his own. On top of this, the action has to progress, not only within the scene so that Character X overcomes Character Y, but also so that Character X’s actions affect the larger battle, which in turn leads to an important action and contributes to a satisfying climax and resolution.
So, because I prefer to write dramatic scenes that drive the story, this experience was quite complicated for me. But it was also very rewarding to see how Character X overcame Character Y and, importantly, how her actions contributed to the larger story.
Although I still prefer character driven stories, this experience has given me a deeper respect for those filmmakers and writers who construct epic battle scenes. I tip my hat to you.