Study a romance screenplay to find out its secrets.
The 1990 romantic comedy Green Card has it all: premise, plot, pacing; a setting that’s integral to the story; unique, developed characters who experience personality and/or motivation change; tension, conflict and a satisfactory conclusion, although considering what’s deemed traditional for romance writing, it’s not strictly “happily ever after,” or even “happy for now.”
Rom-coms are generally too lightweight for my taste, but this one is unusual, in that it exhibits the kind of intense storytelling that seems to be missing from much modern fiction. Novelists are creators of Written Art, but there’s a crossover into the realm of Visual Art, because the way an author uses words must be able to paint pictures inside readers’ heads.
A writing exercise.
If it’s been a while since you watched Green Card, buy it, borrow it, or dig it out of your video collection. Watch it through once, just to experience the story. Then watch it again, several times, concentrating attention on a different aspect of the story, as listed above. Take notes, using as much sensory detail as possible. Then answer the following questions:
- How would you describe the street scenes and interior scenes, from a narrator’s point-of-view?
- What details would you include about the characters’ bodies, behavior, expressions and tones of voice?
- In Green Card, the two main characters are forced to focus on one another. How would you describe the way the main characters feel as they experience change in their perceptions of the other person?
- How would you describe the way the main characters experience change in their perceptions of themselves?
- How would you communicate in words the rising tension between the characters? (The background music in the soundtrack contributes to this, so you might turn off the volume, the better to catch the visible cues.)
You don’t have to re-write the whole script, just the parts that impressed you the most. If you know where your writing has trouble with constructing convincing scenes, you can focus on the film’s scenes that illustrate solutions to similar problems.
It’s an exercise in people-watching, which is really the way fiction should be written: as if the writer was observing some inhabitants of the Parallel Universe, and reporting on what is seen and heard, and how those things make the writer feel.
Finally, look at your own work-in-progress, especially if it’s a love story or has a romance sub-plot. What can you do to make your novel’s interpersonal scenes appears as vividly in a reader’s imagination, as the actors brought Peter Weir’s script to life on the screen?