Alice Jane Cooley ajcooley at
Thu Jan 27 21:44:14 EST 2000

"McMullin, Elise" wrote:

> > >Philip. (Wondering why films (US: movies) so seldom include soliloquies)
> >
> >From classes I have taken, I've been told that in writing for drama you are
> supposed to show the action and let the thought or motivation be inferred
> from the action.  So the idea is, wherever possible, to show rather than
> tell.  Also, if something must be told to explain the ensuing action, it
> "should" be stated as briefly as possible and "should" also be exposed
> during action - such as a conversation or the main character's reaction to
> events told to a third party.  Something like that.  I found this whole idea
> really hard to absorb, but now that I've been "taught" it, I do tend to
> notice it happening in movies.

Oh, Elise, I'm so glad you put the word "should" in quotation marks! One of my
most deep-seated annoyances with creative writing instructions is when people
trot out ideas like this and call them RULES. My own particular grievance is
against the "rule" that in prose description, Simplest is Best. These things
are not RULES; they are STYLES. Maybe it's a petty distinction to insist upon
-- they are the styles that are most popular in modern writing, and perhaps one
hasn't a hope of being published or produced without adhering to them, but
still I balk at referring to such things as "rules". It's such a historically
limited view (surely there must be a jargon term for that: recentocentric?
chronological chauvinism?). I mean, great novelists haven't always adhered to
the Simplest is Best rule, for Heaven's sake, nor playwrights to the Show Don't
Tell rule. I think this is a similar problem to the one which Wolverton's
excellent article addresses.

Anyway, I'm sorry if I'm coming on a bit strong! And Elise, I don't mean to
criticize your screen-writing instructor, either, because I'm sure this advice
is good and practical. I just had to vent a bit. : )

I love movies that have that playwright-ish smack about them, personally -- but
I agree that the voice-over often seems like a cheap cop-out. The worst are
movie-versions of Shakespeare where they do the soliloquies as voice-overs
rather than having the actors actually speak them. Eew. I think the reason
movies don't incorporate soliloquies in general is because movies are all about
fooling us into thinking we're watching something real, whereas plays have
always been self-conscious about their own fakery. Hmm. There's also the fact
that the stage actor actually has an audience to look at and speak to, and the
movie actor doesn't. Now I feel the need to relate an anecdote. A few months
ago I played the Nurse in a college production of Romeo and Juliet. At the end
of the scene where R & J first meet at the party, Juliet sends her nurse off to
find out Romeo's name, and she basically has to go and come back in the space
between one line and the next, which is kind of stupid, as it gives her no time
to ask anyone anything. I came up with the idea of asking the audience -- I
went down to the front of the stage and said to the people in the first row, "I
pray you, who was yonder gentleman in the blue coat?" We did three
performances. On the first night, this went smoothly: several people in the
front row hissed "Romeo", I said "Gramercy" and went back to Juliet, and
everyone laughed. The other two nights, however, it didn't work. The people in
the front row sat and stared at me. I was totally flummoxed -- it had never
occurred to me that they might do this. Fortunately, on the second night,
Alexandra, who was sitting back in the 3rd row but knew I was going to do this,
helped me out by calling out "Romeo!", for which the people sitting nearby
stared at her as if she were mad. Now that I think about it, they were behaving
like a movie audience -- as if, because I was on stage, I wasn't really there
and they couldn't actually interact with me. Weird.

Anyway, enough of this. It's time I turned my attention back to "Venus and
Adonis" in order to prepare for a presentation tomorrow. <sigh>


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