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11/27/2006: Punching People With Words
So, tonight, I stumbled upon a rerun episode of "Scrubs" on Comedy Central while waiting for The Daily Show to start. And I saw a lovely example of a neat trick that can be a real help when you're writing a spec script. It's the ol' unanswered question trick. And it's based on the notion that you don't need to explicitly give the audience any information that they can figure out on their own, because audiences like to figure things out. And, even more importantly, that they secretly like to be kept waiting.
It's such a simple trick. If the story's been building up to a big question like "Are you leaving me?," "Will you marry me?," or "Are you a vampire?," you can have a character finally get up the nerve to ask it, and while the audience is waiting, breath all bated, pulse all poundy, you cut away to some B-story scene. Then come back to the character who asked the question, behaving in a way that tells you what the answer was: they're crying, dancing, or lying bloodless in an alley. There's something totally compelling about never having to hear the actual answer. This is *even though* it seems as though you're violating one of the basic principals of screenwriting by moving a big moment off-screen.
The truth, is, of course, that the big moment, in this case, is not the action, but the reaction. And it's made all the more powerful because we join it in progress, and because we aren't given it when we're braced for it, but somewhat later. It's like that trick where someone pretends to punch another person, then pulls the punch, and then sucker-punches 'em real fast as soon as they relax. Neat, huh?
Lunch: Tamales at "Mexicali." Get this, they were totally over-salted. That never happens. Weird.