CHARLES DICKENS’ SCREEN-WRITING RULEBOOK
LONDON – It was the best of films; it was the worst of films – that was my opinion of Danny Boyle’s Sunshine, but for why? For why? In a word, or if you’ll allow myself, Charles Dickens, a tired old Victorian novelist, an excess of the prescribed proverbial minimum, then in several words: the Ruddy Screenplay Messrs Boyle and Garland!
The late introduction of a preposterous villain, the insupportable shift of tone, the grinding abandonment of interesting premises and believable characters all showed a lack of rigour in the art of composition and so to avoid such future crimes to the eyes I have endeavoured with my small fund of knowledge to communicate to future generations these golden immutable rules of storytelling for the edification of the moving pictogram business.
- Names: names are all important and yet the execrable Jack Reacher, John McClaine even James Bond are all bland beyond the credence of even the most supine of spectators. Imagine if Jack Reacher had been entitled Jacob Recksnifflewick; how much more exciting would the Die Hard series (execrable title but I digress) have been had Bruce Willis played New York police officer Jonathan Piggleturd or imagine in the private magic lantern of your brain how the world of divertimento would be enlivened if 007 muttered ‘the name’s Bond, Jazandapus Bond.’ If anyone proffers the argument that these names are not realistic I would ask them to explain their point in person to my best friend Augustus Egg.
- The Three Act structure: There has been so much hogwash, piffle-cakes and poppycock written about this concept that it makes one tug at one’s fore whiskers until they smart. So let us be clear. It is not a THREE act structure but a Thirty Seven Chapter structure that works so well. Read Bleak House, read Great Expectations, read The Pickwick Papers and you will see this rule in perfect action.
- Humor: Yes, I’m looking at you Herr. Haneke. Humor is an important ingredient in writing popular entertainment of any kind, be it light theatre, newspaper sketches or long, long novels. Be sure and put in plenty of jokes. Wake the blighters up with some blarney about a missing pound note or a drunken ombudsman.
- Kill a child: We’re all a sentimental lot and love a good cry. Nothing works so well as a beautiful innocent child dying of some undefined disease which starts off as the merest of coughs. You’ll have them eating out of the palm of your hand. Breathlessly asking after Little Nell as if she were a real person and not the invention of genius.
Well, I hope I have been of some modest assistance. If you have more need of me feel free to address your enquiries to the comments box below.