Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Rule Breaking and Little Children

Okay, that title sounds like I'm going to do a post offering parenting advice. Ha!

Actually, I saw the film Little Children last night (instead of handing out candy to real little children) and was blown away. In spite of feeling absorbed in the story/characters, I knew I had to blog today and so the movie made me think of something writer related -- rules and rule breaking.

In the romance world new writers are faced with a lot of "rules" some of which I started to think had been made up by the writers themselves. Amazing what rumors can do. But in all genres of writing there are lots of rules of good writing we learn. Don't dump backstory. Stay in one character's POV at a time. Don't include too many POV's. Don't include too much exposition. Don't do prologues. Don't do flashbacks. Start with action. Each scene should move the plot forward. etc. etc. etc.

At the Surrey Writers Conference last week I went to a workshop by agent Donald Maass on breaking the rules and getting away with it. He read some examples of good writing from published books (one example was from a new Anne Perry manuscript to be published next spring) and each of them broke some golden rule, yet worked. One of my favourite things about this presentation was that two of the examples he used were from romance novels. You should have heard the collective gasp in the room when he casually dropped in that one of them was a Harlequin. Everyone had been praising the prologue, saying how tight and tense and ominous it was... Then "gasp" It's one of those novels. Gotta love Donald Maass. But I digress...

I was thinking of rule-breaking during Little Children tonight. It did some things that not only broke "writers" rules but also broke "film making" rules -- at least as I know them. Big sections of the film were narrated with the narrator telling us very omnisciently what each of the main characters was thinking. Robert McKee would not approve. But it really worked. At one point, I noticed there was no more narration and I thought, "Oh, he only did that at the beginning to set up the characters. Now we know them, we don't need it anymore." But later I realized the narrator was back and then gone and then back.

I'm making the narration sound distracting... but my point is that it wasn't distracting at all. If I hadn't been trying to keep track, I don't think I would have noticed and even trying to keep track I blew it, not noticing until well after each switch, because I was so caught up in the characters.

Todd Field, the filmmaker, who I don't remember as being a very memorable actor when he was an actor, is certainly a talented filmmaker. His previous films include In the Bedroom which also blew me away. Such a talent for exploring the darker side of human nature that resides even inside the most normal/sympathetic people. Master of quiet tension, too. Very good.

Highly recommend this movie. Two beer mugs up.


Anonymous said...

I've heard amazing things about this movie. I'm really hoping I get to see it in the theatre.

I believe film makers and writers can break rules, when they've mastered the basics.

Molly O'Keefe said...

Good post Maureen -- I've been thinking alot about rules too - and I think they give us some kind of framework when we're beginning but at some point the task has to be to break some of those rules. I think any rule can be broken as long as you do it right. Anything works if it's good.

how was the kate winslet nude scene?

Maureen McGowan said...

Yes, you have to know the rules and deliberately break them for effect... when you're sure the effect of breaking the rule is stronger than not breaking it.

Re: Kate Winslett...

She's nude a lot... and they didn't try to make her look all perfect either... Not that she isn't gorgeous, but she had bumps on her skin and stuff like that, that they normally fix with lighting or whatever in Hollywood movies.

Part of the story is Kate Winslet's character is supposed to be plain compared to Patrick Wilson's character and his wife... Lucky they cast Jennifer Connelly for that one... And she did always look perfect.

Unknown said...

I haven't heard about this movie, but I'll be on the look out for it now. Sounds very interesting.

I like the fact that romance novels seem to be branching out and breaking the rules. More publishers are taking chances on different styles and settings. I might actually be able to find a place for my erotic/comedy about a genie. :)

Molly O'Keefe said...

Erotic comedy with a genie!!! I love it!

Anonymous said...

Is this the movie based on PD James book Children of Men? I LOVE that book.

Maureen McGowan said...

No... I think that movie is actually going to be called Children of Men.

This one was based on a novel to, called, wait for it... Little Children.

Not nearly as exciting a plot as Children of Men (if the trailer--Clive Owen, yum--is any indication). It's more of a character driven thing about adultery and intolerance and other ugly things. (child abuse)

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