Project 2: Writing a screenplay

For this exercise I’m going to examine some of the techniques a writer uses to make a story more visual and dramatic. Project 2 touches on Brokeback Mountain, a short story from Annie Proulx’s book Close Range: Wyoming Stories. Larry McMurty and Diana Ossana are screenwriters whom adapted Brokeback Mountain into the much acclaimed film.

There are similarities between prose and screenplay: time and location remain the same, likewise the confrontation between Alma and Ennis over his relationship with Jack Twist.

We are introduced to Monroe, known as the Riverton grocer in the story, whom Alma married after divorcing Ennis.  In the adaptation though, he is  driving the action forward, setting the scene of Thanksgiving by carving the turkey. Placing him at the head of the table, the viewer is aware that the scene is set in the Monroe household.

Dialogue is added between the interaction of Ennis and his daughter, Alma JR. In the story he sits between his daughters, talking about horses to them, trying not to be a sad daddy. In the screenplay, Alma JR starts the conversation by asking her father about riding broncs in the rodeo. It states that he tries to be cheerful for his girls, not wanting to be a sad daddy and his girls love him, their faces rapt when their daddy speaks.

The following scene is the interaction between Alma and Ennis in the kitchen on Thanksgiving night. The story tells us that Alma is worried about him and he ought to get married again but in the script, dialogue is used to start the conversation:

ALMA

You ought to get married again, Ennis.

(pause)

Me and the girls worry ’bout you bein’ alone so much.

Dialogue is primarily the same as in the story, though the screenwriters have omitted some  sentences and added others to heighten the dramatic conversation between the pair: Alma turns on Ennis telling him not to fool her no more with the added sentence ‘You didn’t go up there to fish. You and him…’ Here, the screenwriters add some action before he responds: Ennis grabs her wrist and twists it. He continues, ‘Now you listen to me, you don’t know nothin about it.’ Alma then drops the dish she is holding.

What is interesting about this scene is the subtle changes the screenwriters have used to heighten a dramatic moment. From seizing her wrist in the story to grabbing and twisting it in the screenplay, and dropping the plate as opposed to it clattering, an image is already set in motion.  Ennis becomes more forceful too; in the story he is less so: ‘Shut up,’ he said. ‘Mind your own business. You don’t know nothin about it.’

From reading this section of the screenplay the screenwriters have told a story through images. I know where each scene is set, when it was set and what year:

INT: RIVERTON, WYOMING: MONROE HOUSEHOLD: THANKSGIVING NIGHT: DINING ROOM: 1977 : (and) THANKSGIVING NIGHT: KITCHEN: 1977

I know who is speaking: the name of the character is in bold capitals and sometimes brackets are placed underneath encompassing their feelings, emotions and reactions so they know how to portray the dialogue.

An adapted screenplay is pared down from prose using direct interaction between its characters. Dialogue connects one character to another. In comparison to prose, where a novel or short story can take the reader inside the mind of the character, with the words revealing opinions, dreams, thoughts and feelings, a screenplay must show what a character is thinking and feeling through images, actions and  dialogue.

I must keep this in mind when writing my screenplay.

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