Thoughts on Assignment 1

I’m frustrated that I haven’t posted on this blog for a while. Life has been busy and I haven’t been able to spend enough time on my coursework. I’m glad Assignment 1 is not submitted for formal assessment!

I felt that I rushed the first assignment. I wasn’t able to meet my deadline and had to push it back by a week. I’m not overly enthusiastic about my three synopses either…doubting my ideas and the fact that I hadn’t spent enough time on the exercises. Having said that I have read some screenplays: Little Miss Sunshine (screenplay by Michael Arndt), Atonement (screenplay by Christopher Hampton) and American Beauty (screenplay by Alan Ball). I’m hopeful that by reading more scripts I will get to grips with the process of screenwriting and begin to feel comfortable with writing in this format.

Writing visually certainly makes me think more about what I put on the page. Adapting an extract from The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald was the second part of the assignment and I think I enjoyed this more than coming up with my own three synopses (should I even admit that?) I downloaded the adapted screenplay by Baz Luhrmann and Craig Pierce and started to work on the extract. Whilst I endeavoured to capture the scene with slight adjustments, I’d forgotten to reference point of view and descriptions about each character. My tutor also remarked it was a little on the short side; I’d just about managed 3 pages but could have stretched to four.

I think I was a bit daunted about doing my first screenplay exercise and thought it better to err on the side of caution, however, it limited my creativity by doing so and therefore resulted in silly mistakes.

Advice by my tutor to make certain adjustments has helped me to understand what I need to do going forward, certainly for Assignment 2. In crafting conflict for the next assignment, I must pay attention to the contrasting voices of each character and think about what makes them unique and how that can be visually expressed in the scene. Thinking about how conflict is going to move my character along to a state of resolution will hopefully satisfy the viewer. Easier said than done!

Finally, since starting ‘Scriptwriting’ I am more aware of what I’m watching on television and screen and how what if’s tantalise the viewer. For instance, does a scene engage the viewer and satisfy them. Is it far-fetched or realistic?  Am I rooting for the protagonist or the antagonist? Am I engaging with what I’m watching? The other night I shrieked at my television “would that really happen?” whilst watching The Replacement. Well, I must’ve been engaged to cause that reaction even though the scene was very far-fetched. In fact, for me, much of them were. As for satisfaction, the juries still out…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Shark attack

I am galeophobic.

In other words I’m scared shitless of sharks. So, you can imagine my distress on reading Exercise 1 in Scriptwriting: An introduction to screenwriting, that I have to watch that scene from Jaws:

‘Police Chief Martin Brody is reluctantly feeding bait into the water. We see him smoking a cigarette and shooting dirty looks at Quint, captain of the boat. Suddenly, an enormous Great White, its teeth bared, surges out of the ocean towards Brody. Brody jumps backwards. Still smoking, his eyes never leaving the water, he retreats slowly to the wheelhouse where he delivers the unforgettable line, “We’re going to need a bigger boat.”’

Yes, I know the shark is plastic and now somewhat dated but I just can’t bear them…not even cartoon versions. Finding Nemo was a nightmare. 1 hour and 40 minutes spent with my hands in front of my eyes. My poor (young at the time) daughter thought I was mad! Well, I was during that. Sharks are so menacing!

So, I somehow plucked up the courage, with the help of my husband to watch the scene via YouTube. In all it is 35 seconds. That’s it…35 seconds! There’s about 9 seconds of dialogue, 20 seconds of reaction after the Great White appears and literally 2 seconds of the Great White baring its teeth…I’m shaking just writing this.

On watching (between fingers) such an iconic scene, seconds seem like hours; there’s so much going on that one doesn’t think about time at all. In a movie like Jaws you are gripped (no pun intended) from start to finish.

 

Writing a 15 minute screenplay is daunting. I have to consider my character’s thoughts and feelings through images, action and dialogue. I must train my mind to think visually, read as many scripts as I can and spend hours watching movies. Including Jaws…gulp!

Already I’m reading the script of Little Miss Sunshine (screenplay by Michael Arndt) and enjoying the interaction of the characters on the page. I have seen the movie and look forward to watching it again for my work on Part 4 of the course.

As I continue to plough through each exercise, I will write about films I have watched and scripts I have read. Most importantly though, my screenplay will be journaled throughout.

Wow! Did I just write ‘my screenplay?’ Here’s hoping…

 

 

 

 

 

 

Final thoughts

When I started The Art of Poetry I had little experience  on writing it and my first assignment proved I needed a lot of help! Writing Poems by Peter Sansom made me think more about the process of writing poetry. In the first chapter of his book, Sansom (1994: 23) writes: ‘Our poems have to be spoken in our own voice, and they have to be true to our own experience.’ He continues: ‘But when you come to write a poem, you do that yourself and you do it regardless of how you think you ought to write.’ This was at the forefront of my mind when I started Assignment 2 and I started to think of poetry from a personal level and to write it from truthful experience.

My second assignment was much better as my tutor stated: Dear Rachelle, thank you for submitting your second assignment for this course. Your writing has really developed since Assignment 1 and I’m pleased you’ve put my feedback into practice and followed up on my reading suggestions. Your hard work is showing in the quality of your writing!

Keeping an eye out for archaic language and giving consideration to your use of capital letters and punctuation has also strengthened these pieces – they sound like they’re written by a twenty-first century poet.

 On reading Stephen Fry’s The Ode Less Travelled, I started to understand the process of metre, rhyme and form and experimented with different forms of poetry. ‘Traffic’ was my first attempt at writing a villanelle and, because of this, I wanted to keep it simple with only two rhyme sounds thus making sure the frustration of sitting in traffic is evident on reading it. Whilst it is a demanding form of poetry, I enjoy the precision of it. Assignment 2 is one of my best assignments to date.

Assignment three I experimented with heroic verse, syllabics and rhyme. In doing so I spent too much time on form that distracted me from other aspects, such as creating interesting images and original subjects.  My poetry also exceeded the 80 line limit – I submitted 111 lines…I got carried away and forgot to check. I was introduced to the poetry of Wendy Cope and her book Serious Concerns. I enjoy her use of parody and humour and experimented with the simple 4-line rhyme scheme of abcb in one of my poems.

Creating interesting images and original subjects was my focus for Assignment 4; I varied the length of my poems and presented a quatrain. I used the anaphora technique in one of them, though I had to re-write another of my poems completely (it was too abstract) and change the title because it did not relate to the poem. I’d also presented a few clichés that I hadn’t noticed in my work. My biggest influence during this assignment was Fiona Benson’s Bright Travellers, in particular her poem ‘Demeter’.

I spent time on  Assignment 5 avoiding abstract language and clichés and presented more concrete imagery and original descriptions. I experimented with sibilance in one of my poems; I like how the repeated ‘s’ sound adds movement, thus making the line more lyrical.

I’m surprised by how much I have enjoyed The Art of Poetry. When I first started the course I didn’t understand the process of poetry but with careful attention and much encouragement from my tutor, I now have a collection of poems that I have sent for assessment.

Reading poetry has played an important part during the past year. I have read some wonderful poems by various poets who have influenced my work and I continue to read them today.

Lastly, my tutor has been fundamental in my progression through AOP. Her recommendations and guidance has encouraged me to write and experiment more openly in this genre and in doing so I have become more confident.

Course complete!

With my deadline looming towards the end of November, work taking up much of my time and the lead-up to Christmas, I haven’t had a chance to catch up with my blog.

So, whilst work is relatively quiet and most of my colleagues are in hibernation until New Year, what better way than to spend an hour surreptitiously writing about assignment 5.

In all, I produced four poems; two new and two previous poems (that had been re-drafted) within the 80 line limit. Upper most in my mind was to follow my tutor’s advice from my last assignment and cull my use of clichés and abstract language. As  my tutor comments: Dear Rachelle, thank you for submitting your fifth assignment for this course. There’s some good work here and you’ve clearly paid attention to removing abstract language and clichés, instead using concrete imagery and original descriptions.

However, with my two new poems ‘Visiting Day’ and ‘New York City Snow Day’ I need to make sure that I concentrate on my grammar and write with more clarity. Here my tutor states: There are still a few places where you can pare your writing back further, and some occasions where your grammar misleads or confuses things, but these should be straightforward enough to remedy.

Having read back my poetry a number of times and looked at my tutor’s annotations I’m able to see what needs changing for the better and can re-draft accordingly. My reflective commentary also needs work and I must analyse my poetry in more detail rather than discussing how my reading has influenced my writing.

I can see a great deal of improvement since my first assignment which was shocking! My tutor has definitely helped me become a better poet and her pointers for the next assignment fill me with hope: As before, this submission showed real improvement from your previous assignment – it’s great to see how well you absorb advice and apply it to your work. There are some wonderful images in these pieces, and ‘New York City Snow Day’ is particularly vivid. Look at my annotations and smooth out the grammar where it’s misleading, and be as tough as you can about what’s superfluous in ‘Visiting Day’. This will help those striking images to sing.

I have already decided my three assignments to send for assessment and will spend the coming weeks re-drafting them to the best of my ability and as always, my tutor’s advice will be forefront on my mind.

Until next time…

 

 

 

Reflecting on Assignment 4

Last week I received feedback from my latest assignment and I’m very happy with my tutor’s response: This is a good submission and focusing on more open forms has allowed you to write some beautiful and unusual pieces. The length of your poems is really varied which is also excellent – it takes courage both to sustain a piece of writing over the page, but also to present a quatrain!

My tutor’s advice is important to me, for it encourages me to progress and explore my poetry in different ways. Her poetry recommendations are equally important within each assignment and I am getting better at reflecting on my creative practice and how others influence my own work. As my tutor states in my latest RC : This is a good RC – you refer precisely to your own work and clearly show how your engagement with other practitioners is influencing your own writing.

Whilst there is much to be positive about Assignment 4, there are a few negatives that I must ensure do not happen in my next assignment: clichés! I have written quite a few. There are a couple of lines that didn’t work; most notably on my poem Genette. There was a line that stood out like a sore thumb (gosh, another cliché) – I knew the line would be picked out but couldn’t seem to make it work in time for my deadline, so stayed with it. This will be changed on re-drafting.

My final poem within this assignment was decidedly my worst. My use of abstract language was confusing; as my tutor points out: It’s unusual for you to use abstract language, but quite a few abstract nouns occur in this poem, such as ‘memories’, ‘thoughts of life’, ‘lust’, ‘dream’ and ‘fate’. It’s much better to use specific concrete descriptions in your writing. On reading this poem with ‘fresh’ eyes I could see what she meant. Abstract language is a  distraction, so I must remember her final pointer for Assignment 5: When you write a poem you need to create a vivid world for your reader; don’t just rely on the reader to bring their own associations into play. If you use an abstract word in a poem, you’re in danger of creating a poem that’s hard to visualise and therefore hard to follow and engage with.

And finally, titles. I didn’t consider how they work for the reader and on two of my poems I failed to connect the title to the rest of the poem.

When a deadline is looming it is difficult to remain calm and present and one forgets about the importance of ‘rules and regulations’ on writing. For Assignment 5 my tutor’s advice will be in the back of my mind as I finish this module, especially her final comment:This submission showed real improvement: your poems are full of wonderful images and confident experimentation with a wide range of techniques. Keep this up, but do be really tough on any clichés or predictable phrases that creep through your work – we all use clichés in our writing, but the trick is to spot them and remove them in the redrafting stage.

I go into Assignment 5 with a positive approach, let’s hope I keep up the good work…