I am a dinosaur decapitator.

We had a great Jot Conference last Friday night!

A full crowd showed up to hear some great speakers, and I was happy to be among them. The conference that my writers group, the Weaklings, put on is just as much for us as it is for other writers in our area. Perhaps more so.

In any event, I’d like to share a bit of what I learned from our first presenter and newest member of the Weaklings, Thomas McClurg.

Saying that Thomas is a film buff is like saying Rip Van Winkle took a catnap. But his passion for watching movies is exceeded by his passion for writing. And in many ways, his experience with films and screenwriting has helped him as a fiction writer.

The overlap between the disciplines of writing for the screen and writing books is obvious. Both invite people to lose themselves in the worlds created for them. Both involve good character development and solid plots. And both are made up of a series of scenes which must further the action or risk losing the watcher/reader.

Photo by ScottRobertAnselmo

Photo by ScottRobertAnselmo

To this last point, Thomas shared the example of picturing a scene as an Apatosaurus. The head is the beginning of the scene, the long neck gives more information while moving slowly toward the large body or meat of the scene. The tail is what happens after the main action occurs. After giving us this illustration, Thomas showed us two scenes from the Star Trek reboot, one of which was this one:

In the scene, we are shown a car speeding through the desert driven by a boy. The boy jumps from the car just before it plummets off a cliff. As the police officer who had been chasing the boy stands over him, he asks his name. The punch line for the scene is the boy’s revelation to be James Tiberius Kirk.

If this scene were an Apatosaurus, its head and tail had been removed, leaving only the body of the dinosaur. We didn’t see young Kirk steal the car, and we didn’t see the police officer take him into custody afterward.

Thomas said that this is a good way of keeping the reader’s attention, especially when the attention spans of readers are shortening by the minute. He asked us to write a full scene, then cut the head and tail off the dinosaur. Leave only the meat.

This is as true to screenwriting as it is to novel-writing (and even more true to flash fiction writing), but some writers forget this and leave readers floundering through pages of description without giving them a plot or a character onto which they may latch.

Thomas had a lot more great things to say. You may be able to watch the whole conference online here if the video works. And if it doesn’t, you probably should have come to the Jot event.

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