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05/14/2006: Tears On Your Keyboard
I went to a fantastic wedding yesterday. Two television writers married, legitimizing the next generation of television writers. Lovely reception up in Malibu, overlooking the water. I ate, I talked, I danced, I had a tiny root beer float served in a shot glass! And there was a hilarious and touching toast that compared the companionship found within a marriage to the scenes between James Spader and William Shatner at the end of episodes of Boston Legal. How can you not love that?!
So, while we're here, let's talk about those scenes and ones like them. Let's suppose you consider yourself a joke writer, or a procedural writer, or any kind of writer except a sentimental writer. And now you have to write a scene that's crammed with "heart." Sure, there may be jokes in it, but the main purpose is to show an emotional connection. You might be tempted to sort of rush through the scene, to dash it off, to write this sort of place-holdery kind of dialogue that you've heard on other shows:
Well, we've lived through worse before.
THE OTHER PERSON
We certainly have.
Yes. Yes, we have, my friend.
Piffle, I cry! You can do better! This kind of writing might not come naturally to you, but you can do it. It was completely foreign to me, and I learned. So can you. On Buffy, Marti Noxon was the queen of the scene that rips your heart out. She could find that moment that made the viewer connect to their own emotion and experience. I watched, and tried to figure out how she did it.
In the episode called "The Prom," Angel breaks up with Buffy, breaking his own non-beating heart in the process. She's shocked and hurt and angry. And, in the line that gets me every time, there's a moment where you suddenly realize that what's happening is sinking in. She simply asks, "You don't want to be with me?" Oh! Punch in the stomach! So small, so vulnerable. Go Marti!
Work on writing the emotional moments. Think about how you felt in a similar situation, and what you actually said. And what you left unsaid -- the Boston Legal scenes can be very sparse, as the two men don't pour unfiltered emotions at each other. Sparse doesn't have to mean surfacy.
Some writers find that it helps to play music while writing these scenes. Many writers cry while writing deeply emotional scenes. You'll feel like a fool, but the emotion will show in the writing.
Lunch: Skipped lunch, saving room for the wedding reception. At the reception, I especially enjoyed the tiny potato pancakes and the tiny root beer floats. Tiny food good!