Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Writing Great Reversals

Reversals, of course, being the little things that make a script hum. Instead of things happening in a dull, expected fashion, the script keeps the audience guessing, on the edge of their seats.

Now, we all know William Goldman writes great scripts. If I’d written even ONE of All the President’s Men, The Princess Bride or Butch Cassidy to name but a few, I’d consider myself lucky. To be honest, if I’d just written Adventures in the Screen Trade, I’d be happy!

He has a great section in Adventures where he talks about reversals. He was writing a spy caper at one stage and there was a scene where the hero was locked in a cage by some circus people (sidekicks of the bad guy), beside another cage containing a huge vulture. The villains stupidly left a set of keys on the table right beside his cage. We’ve seen this kind of scene, right? With some small effort, the hero gets the keys and effects an escape.

What actually happened in Goldman’s script was this: the hero couldn’t reach the keys. But there were some small pieces of twig at the bottom of the vulture’s cage. So our man sticks his hand in, nearly getting it pecked off by the bird, and gets a twig. Still can’t reach the keys. He tries again, gets his knuckles savaged, and grabs a longer twig. STILL no joy, the keys are just too far away.

He painstakingly constructs a tool using the two twigs and with a huge effort is able to finally grab the keys…

Which are the wrong ones.

This is my current aim: come up with a reversal even a quarter as good as that. Keep the surprises coming!

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