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Old 10-23-2018, 01:22 AM   #31
nmstevens
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Default Re: Advice on character reaction description

Quote:
Originally Posted by JoeNYC View Post
JoeNYC is shocked.

No, I want to “show” my shockness about what nmstevens stated about character reactions visually with a facial expression:

JoeNYC stares at his computer screen, jaw dropped.

nmstevens, I am –- soooo -- shocked because in the past you’ve stated a complete opposite opinion on character reactions, which I’ll get to later.

nmstevens, in your post you stress “action” to get across character emotion, which I completely agree with. In my VOICE (NARRATIVE DESCRIPTION) thread, I posted a romance scene from my script. I didn’t use the on-the-nose dialogue, “I love you,” or the on-the-nose description, “They are in love.” I used “actions” to express a powerful love.

nmstevens, the problem that I’m having with your post is that you don’t allow any leeway for creativity, or to take into account a writer’s personal taste and choice by stating your edict of: “don’t try to describe people’s expressions.”

You go on and say, “Saying –- he has a shocked expression or –- his face is full of fear –- isn’t earning you any more points than saying –- he’s shocked or –- he’s afraid.”

Oh, come on, I loved my “Cast Away” example. If I was a newbie, you’re edict would have crushed me.

“As she listens, an expression of shock comes to her face.”

I wanted to express a nuance by showing, as she listens, her going from a normal emotion to a shocked emotion instead of just saying, “She is shocked.”

You say a writer writing description like this won’t get him any extra points then by just saying “she is shocked,” but if it’s his personal taste and choice and there isn’t any clarity or overwriting issues, it’s okay. This type of description won’t be the cause of a writer’s script being rejected, but, in my opinion, there is a possibility that done right, it could enhance the read, contrary to what you believe with the “more points” statement.

nmstevens, I believe your intentions was not to make a blanket, absolute edict, anyway I hope not. Overall, “actions” is the best way to express character emotions, but there are situations where a writer may want to use facial and/or body expressions, such as, rolls his eyes, shrugs, etc.

Why is this?

Well, nmstevens, in the past you’ve explained “why” very intelligently, so I’ll quote you. Six years ago, in 2012, there was a thread called “Writing Comedic Reactions,” where members said they would leave the comedic reaction up to the actor instead of using words to write out a description.

You entered the thread and stated the following:

“And often, the reaction *is* the punchline and you need to describe it. When I find myself in that situation, I’ll often simply put unspoken words or unheard thoughts into the description:

He stands watching the approaching behemoth. He rolls his eyes –- oh, well, another bad day in the city.”

nmstevens continues with:

“…if you’re trying to describe a visual moment using words, if that moment depends upon actors or shots or a particular reading of a line –- or whatever it is, you can’t just leave it up to someone else to do, what needs to be done. But unless you find the right words to describe the moment, the expression, the proper delivery of the line –- to convey that moment the way it needs to be conveyed –- the reader won’t get what’s in your head. There just won’t *be* a joke (or a scare, or a tear) unless you figure out how to convey where the joke is.”

This excellent advise is not just for comedic reactions. It could be applied toward Horror, Tragedy, etc.

For those who would like to view the full thread click on the following link:

http://www.messageboard.donedealpro....edic+reactions

Okay fair enough. Someone can roll their eyes. Someone can pout. Someone can sneer. There are, in fact, a handful of useful, handy, pre-existing words in the English language that can be used to describe facial expressions.

But I hold to my sentiment that, "A happy expression crosses her face" or "A look of sadness creeps across Marvin's face..."

Not so good -- it simply gives the impression that emotions have been plastered across the characters' faces.

What I wrote above -- there's a particular gesture, followed by a line that conveys a state of mind or an emotion, from my perspective works much better, whatever the emotion might be.

Bob holds Jenny's hand until she finally stops breathing. He just stares at her, silent, empty, all the life draining out of the world.

Or ---

As Sidney watched from his back window the whole end of the block fell into abyss with a huge crash. He puts down his cup of tea with an annoyed sigh. Well, there goes the neighborhood.

It's obvious that the last phrase or sentence in both cases aren't action and they aren't description -- they're there to give a sense of tone -- to let us know what's going on inside the character -- so that we have a sense of how the character is reacting.

That's something that you can do in any number of ways using the tools of prose -- all of which I encourage screenwriters to make use of.

But I don't believe that prose can be used effectively to convey that sort of thing by physically describing a person's facial expressions -- beyond simply the broad -- he smiles he frowns, he scowls, etc.

I still don't think that between "shocked" and "shocked expression" or "terrified" and "terrified expression" or "confused" and "confused expression" that anything has been gained by the latter.

I'm not saying that it's the worst thing in the world -- I just don't think that the extra words are adding anything.

NMS
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Old 10-23-2018, 04:40 AM   #32
JoeNYC
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Default Re: Advice on character reaction description

Quote:
Originally Posted by nmstevens View Post
Not so good -- it simply gives the impression that emotions have been plastered across the characters' faces.

But I don't believe that prose can be used effectively to convey that sort of thing by physically describing a person's facial expressions -- beyond simply the broad -- he smiles he frowns, he scowls, etc.

I'm not saying that it's the worst thing in the world -- I just don't think that the extra words are adding anything.
nmstevens, you're entitled to your opinion, and it's a good opinion, but I don't believe it's as simple as you articulated it. I believe there are other factors that come into play, such as, the context, nuances, cadences, tone, a writer's personal taste and choice, etc.

Well, at least it's not "the worst thing in the world." This gives me the encouragement to write another day. Thank you, nmstevens.
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Old 10-24-2018, 06:40 AM   #33
LMPurves
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Default Re: Advice on character reaction description

This is just my opinion...

It seems like some may be under the impression that the reader/actor/director, etc., is a backwards idiot who won't understand what you are going for unless it is explicitly spelled out for them and includes the fine details of every reaction.

Find your voice and write the reactions the way that works for you. At the end of the day, if your script is compelling and conveys the story clearly, nobody actually cares how you wrote it or which words you used.

STORY.

It's all about story.

The technical aspects are secondary.

I have been guilty of this before. I placed all my focus on making sure my script was worded properly and missed the fact that my story actually sucked. That script ended up in the trash.
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Old 10-24-2018, 05:18 PM   #34
JoeNYC
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Default Re: Advice on character reaction description

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Originally Posted by LMPurves View Post
This is just my opinion...

STORY.

It's all about story.

The technical aspects are secondary.

I have been guilty of this before. I placed all my focus on making sure my script was worded properly and missed the fact that my story actually sucked. That script ended up in the trash.
Again, someone shouts out the “STORY” mantra.

As amateurs struggling to break in to the industry I suggest that we focus our time and energy on both the story and making the read vibrant.

In my opinion, when it comes to facial expressions, it’s not a one-size-fits-all type of advice. It depends on the circumstances of the context and what the writer is looking to convey.

We are not looking to have pointless facial details because as nmstevens says, this would be a “waste of words” and “add nothing.” Also, we are not looking to micro managed the actors, or spoon feed the readers.

There are appropriate times where a writer would want to use general terms, such as, he is shocked, he is happy, he is sad, etc., but keep in mind that these are overused phrases that readers have read many, many times in stories.

I just did a thread on NARRITIVE DESCRIPTION where it was pointed out by professionals in the industry that reading description is one of the most boring things to do, so they skip over description and read only the sluglines and dialogue.

Overusing these cliché phrases doesn’t help in keeping a reader engage where they are not tempted to skim. Yes, there are times where a writer is going to find a situation appropriate to simply say, “He is happy,” where an actor can portray this emotion and a reader can use their imagination to visualize this emotion, but there are times where a writer might want to elevate a facial expression for whatever reason, such as, not having his facial expression misinterpreted by the actor and reader, or maybe to express an underlying emotion, for example:

The set-up is two characters, once in love, meet after a long time apart. They look happy to meet one another, then the male character brings up something awful that the other character (Caroline) did to him in the past. This incident wasn’t revealed in the story until now in their dialogue exchange and the following is Caroline’s reaction:

“Caroline’s expression turns uneasy –- like she hoped he would have forgotten.”

This description cues the actor and reader to the underlying emotion that the writer wants to convey. Whether any member likes or doesn’t like this example is not relevant to the point that I wish to express, which is when it comes to creativity there is no one rule to how to apply facial expressions. When done right, it’ll work and this skill will come to a writer as he gains experience.

“it’s a matter of a craft that you have to sharpen through experience, through critically studying your own work and having other people read and analyze it –- analyzing whether a paragraph, a line, a word is really conveying most effectively what you need it to say” -- nmstevens.
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