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Literary Techniques of Screenwriting and Ethnicity’s Role in Screenwriting Essay

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Updated: Aug 16th, 2022

Overall, the art of screenwriting remains for the general public a somehow mysterious kind of creative work that is difficult to appreciate. Indeed, in cinema, unlike theater, the fate of the printed text is inextricably linked with the interpretation that the director will give it in the only product that will be released on screen. The dramatic structures of script construction in cinema are based on laws of action development, embedded in the theoretical and practical experience of creating a dramaturgy. Modern methods of analysis and creation of scenario structures in theory and practice are drawn in the first place on the Aristotelian scheme of the development of dramatic action. This same scheme was later reinterpreted for filmmaking in Linda Seger’s three-part structure, Sid Field’s paradigm, and the laws of composition by R. Mackey. According to Chiarulli (2021, p. 113), “the first cinema storytelling manuals often refer to a sort of “wave” motion of the action which should rise and fall and space out the different segments of the narrative”.

Through their chosen theme, the screenwriter conveys the main idea of ​​the script to the audience, raising a number of questions of concern to it and answering its interests. A script is never written abstractly but always designed for a certain specific audience. Harrod and Powrie (2018, p. 6) claim that “contemporary comedies have developed more of an interest in the concept of specific groups of people, covering not just ethnic communities, but queer communities, professional communities, and others”. Eternal themes of the meaning of life, death, love and hate, war and peace, power and capital become the basis of screenwriters’ creative conception. Each author’s disclosure is deeply individualized through the lens of their views. Elseewi (2019, p.195) argues that “filmmaking is the site through which this nation composes itself and explores the ambivalence at the heart of American national subjectivity”. Basic visual and auditory images are heavily influenced by the screenwriter’s cultural and social background. For example, Benis (2020, p. 27) states that “while American mainstream screenwriting models are now hegemonic and increasingly present in Portuguese film culture, it is also true that Portugal has a strong ‘author-oriented’ film tradition”. A clear understanding of the interpenetration of classic samples of dramatic action structure and ethnical identity offers a potentially new approach to cinema analysis. Moreover, the concept may also be used in the creation and development of new screenwriting techniques.

Literary Techniques of Screenwriting

Script creation always begins with the processing of artistic and documentary material, as well as the collection of information, with the help of which the screenwriter can create a complete, holistic script. Chiarulli (2021, p. 110) states that “the screenplay is the core element which allows the intersection between two traditionally distinct sectors: the means of production and the means of representation”. Referring to facts and documents and translating them into artistic images is an extremely complex process. Thus, a screenwriter must also have the qualities of a documentary filmmaker. The challenge lies in not simply retelling historical events but in finding a poetic expression for them. The development of creative observation, necessary for the accumulation and selection of both artistic and documentary material, remains a crucial skill for a screenwriter. Additionally, dramatic thinking, which is necessary in script work to build a plot outline and a series of events, must also be constantly developed and improved in order to be used accordingly.

Due to the inherent artistic image complexity and, sometimes, ambiguity, many works of art can give rise to different, often directly opposite interpretations, which might cause critical debates. Undoubtedly, interpretation is one of the main techniques of screenwriting, and it is often used out of a desire to propose an original approach to an already well-known concept. However, due to the lack of certain knowledge, a “conflict” may potentially arise between the interpreter’s and the original’s author’s views. The solution to this problem might reveal itself in the systematization and identification of the principles of working with artistic, documentary text that would help the screenwriter remain in touch with the original meaning.

Among these principles are the constant comparison of the plot lines and the detection of intertextual connections between two works. By disclosing how the texts interact with each other, the screenwriter might reveal a fundamentally new meaning, thus providing a polyphony of depths to their work. This helps to consider how one topic is present and disclosed in another text, and, in addition, it contributes to the analysis of different points of view, giving way to unique screenwriter’s thoughts.

The Role of Ethnicity

Ethnic identity stands as a constituent component of a person’s self-awareness, manifesting itself in acceptance, identification, and knowledge of their ethnicity. The ethnic identity of a screenwriter can acquire various forms of expression in their work depending on the genre and narrative. Positive ethnic identity is usually associated with the formation of a positive attitude towards a person’s ethnic group. A screenwriter with such an identity is quite prolific with their cultural experiences, and is usually capable of an accurate representation of their ethnic culture in their work. In addition, such screenwriters would express a tolerant attitude towards other ethnic groups, recognizing the importance of the ethnic factor in their narrative and portraying it with respect and accuracy. Nowadays, as the cultural diversity of the world grows and extends to almost all aspects of society, it is quite recommended for a screenwriter to recognize and implement the ethical aspect specifically into their work. Ajayi (2017, p. 1) provides an example, stating that “Nigeria has no developed tradition of screenwriting and films tend to be built on principles and techniques derived from oral heritage”. This brings out the opportunities for a completely unique approach to portraying Nigerian culture.

Key Theorists of Screenwriting

Stanley Kubrick has often been called the last giant of the cinema age. He shot both large-scale and chamber films, worked in different genres, and almost each of his films became and still remains a significant milestone in the history of cinema. The pinnacle of Kubrick’s creativity, however, is considered the fantastic saga “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968). In the prehistory of the plot, the viewer makes a journey through space and time – from the Stone Age to intergalactic flights. Through the lens of the scenario, the viewer observes the transformation of a monkey into Homo sapiens, who at the end of the film turns into a “child of the stars”. The famous science fiction writer Arthur Clarke, on whose novel the film was based, wrote his text in parallel with the filming. Kubrick was quite rough with the script: he discarded specific details, not caring about the harmony of the plot. According to his idea, the viewer should perceive the film not as science fiction, but as a deeply subjective experience, like music. With this approach, the result of human influence on the universe, a synthesis of art, science, and beauty, is the majestic dance of spaceships to the waltz “On the Beautiful Blue Danube” by Johann Strauss.

The last genius of cinema and a psychopath with a movie camera – one probably cannot find a more scandalous and discussed figure in modern cinema than Lars von Trier. His scripts are arranged in such a way that one cannot be indifferent to them: they are either hated and cursed, or called masterpieces and exalted to the skies. As a screenwriter, Trier is a sophisticated manipulator who plays a game of cat and mouse with the feelings and expectations of the viewers. They expect catharsis and clarity of speech but instead receive confusing encryption, which successfully jumbles their feelings. Confusion, irritation, resentment at being used and trampled by one’s innermost thoughts and feelings are a natural reaction to von Trier’s movies. The screenwriter uses seemingly irreconcilable concepts and scenes brilliantly, arranging the viewers’ perception of his will.

Last but not least, Quentin Tarantino is also a genius screenwriter. He puts his films solely on the basis he himself created, thinking over not only the motivation of the characters but also the whole universe around them. His scripts include the backstory to the events in the picture, as well as what will happen to the characters after the movie – if, of course, they stay alive at the end of it. Tarantino rewrites his scenarios along the way, changing the events and dialogues, however, he always manages to bring the final look to perfection, avoiding any compromises and indulgences. A good example is “Pulp Fiction”, which is considered by many to be Quentin Tarantino’s best both directorial and screenwriting work. This film truly changed the cinema – to close the cycle of stories in such a way that everyone remains alive created an elegant, brilliant metaphor about rebirth and acceptance.

Research Background

The modern level of art dictates the need for a holistic study of screenwriting as an element of artistic culture in close relationship and mutual influence with other arts – primarily with literature. Chiarulli (2021, p. 110) supplies that “the dialogue between cinema and the other arts contains both clashes and reconciliations, shaped a need to categorize forms of artistic experiences, such as reading, theatre and photography”. Considering the synthesis of arts in cinema as a sum of literary, theatrical, musical, and pictorial principles, a screenwriter must remember that the main property of this synthesis is to create a new quality. Within this quality, the synthesized arts have to change significantly, falling into the sphere of photographic reality. Ksenofontova (2020, p. 131) adds that “the screenplays draw inspiration and borrow techniques from contemporaneous literature—from a first-person narrator to free indirect discourse”.

From the point of view of rapidly changing modern filmmaking and cultural diversification, it is important to understand that the works of non-European or non-American screenwriters cannot be subjected to European action development structures. Doane (2019, p. 13) explicitly states that “colorblindness has been identified by race scholars as one of the major political strategies for the preservation of white supremacy and racial inequality”. The ethnic background of a screenwriter might offer conceptually different ways to reach a dramatic tension, providing the resolution of the story conflict in a completely different key. Banjo (2019, p. 89) emphasizes “the paradox of post-racialism is that the normalizing of interracial friendships in films might blind us to forms of modern racism and its impact on racial minorities”. Thus, it is important not only to understand the general literary techniques of screenwriting but also to consider the cultural input and influence.

The Significance of the Research

The relevance of the research topic is determined by the fact that in the conditions of globalization and integration processes affecting all layers of culture, the self-determination of any art becomes especially significant. For example, Harrod and Powrie (2018, p. 4) claim that “the ‘unexportability’ of comedy has long hardened into a critical commonplace as academics try to explain culturally specific linguistic items or attitudes”. In this context, the research provides a better understanding on the role of one of the most significant aspects of screenwriting – the use of ethnical and cultural identity. The screenwriter’s understanding of the originality of their ideas is inextricably linked with the awareness of differences from “others”, through the emphasis on cultural and ethnic differences. In this situation, archaic stereotypes-based models with their limitations and boundaries should not be applied, as the research shows.

Taking into account the stability and vitality of ethnicity’s influence and literary screenwriting techniques, the research provides an insight into the principles of modern screenwriting. Any type of artistic activity presupposes the specifics of the perception of the surrounding reality and the processing of the information received. At the same time, the emotional impact on the viewer is achieved by the artistic integrity of the performance. Thus, as the research implies, in the learning process, a screenwriter needs to both master the writing technologies and take the ethical aspects of the narrative into close consideration.

Reference List

Ajayi, O.B., 2017. Transcending the oral roots of screenwriting practices in the Nigerian cinema. Bournemouth University Research Online [BURO]. Web.

Banjo, O.O., 2019. The paradox OF Post-racialism: Black Hollywood’s voice IN post-racial discourse. The Myth of Colorblindness, pp.89–112.

Benis, R., 2020. The origins of screenwriting practice and discourse in Portugal. Journal of Screenwriting, 11(1), pp.27–44.

Chiarulli, R., 2021. «Strong Curtains» And «Dramatic Punches»: The legacy of playwriting in the screenwriting manuals of the studio era. Communication & Society, 34(1), pp.109–122.

Doane, A., 2019. Colorblindness: The lens that distorts. The Myth of Colorblindness, pp.13–33.

Elseewi, T.A., 2019. Zombies, Muslims, and Politics: Racism without race in contemporary America. The Myth of Colorblindness, pp.195–213.

Harrod, M. & Powrie, P., 2018. New directions in contemporary French comedies: From nation, sex and class to ethnicity, community and the vagaries of the postmodern. Studies in French Cinema, 18(1), pp.1–17.

Ksenofontova, A., 2020. Modernist screenwriting and the crisis of reason. The Modernist Screenplay, pp.131–157.

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