Complementary colours

After those primary colours, here are some of the other tools of the trade:

Someone says “I’ll see you there” or a man packs a suitcase) – clocks and deadlines – “In a year I’ll be dead”

True or false hints about future events

Dangling causes
A statement of intent: “I bet I will…” a dialogue hook to set up whether the intent will be fulfilled.

Leading the audience to expect something to happen next.

A dramatic pause in speech or in a scene.

Scenes that give the audience a chance to take in what just happened – to lend emphasis – to make sure action doesn’t follow action – these scenes have little dialogue or action.

Plant and Payoff
A gun shown in the first act better go off in the third act. A phrase or action takes on a new meaning (we know secrets and are rewarded for paying attention). We feel the story is a unified, singular piece. Keep plants and payoff as far apart as possible.

Making sure the audience has the information they need. Exposition as ammunition – in arguments and speeches (In Act One of Toy Story: The toys are frightened – Woody re-assures them by telling them [and us] what they need to know). As long as there is a subtext to the argument we get the information without slowing down the drama. We notice the subtext and realise we know the information when we need to know it – later in the story (His brother can help – he knows sailor knots).

To review where we are now – as part of figuring out what to do next – for people who have got lost in the plot. Characters coming up with plans based on what happened so far. A little information can be added too – in courtroom scenes (such as Vertigo)

Characters should never directly express what they mean – they go around the subject of what they really want. Start with people pretending to be the opposite of the way they feel. Visual indirection: imply events and actions (off screen deaths).

True: the revelation between what the audience expects and what happens – we get an emotional response to the event. Cheap: Smash cut away from what you expect to see to see – in a dark corridor at night our hero’s shoulder is grabbed… by a friend.

Patterns and threads appearing through the film – the same phrase again and again (Doc. Brown saying “Great Scott”), the same symbol, a recognised series (the Seven Sins), similar elements (water/eyes/glass in Chinatown). Motifs come in two forms: visual and dialogue (including patter between characters and running gags). Themes can be highlighted with contrasting images (nature vs science) – visual metaphors. Only use motifs to enhance stories – they aren’t the story. Drop a scene if it is there to introduce a motif or trope – add motifs or tropes to scenes that already have functions in your story.


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