Friday, April 22, 2011

What 12 Angry Men can Teach us About Writing

First off - I haven't been on for a long while and I know. Sorry for all two of you that I'm pretending were waiting with bated breath for me to post again.

Now - Last night I watched one of the best movies ever made - Lumet's "12 Angry Men". Now, aside from being a plotting masterpiece with brilliant attention to detail, one thing stood out very prominently to me.

This movie is one of the best examples of character development I've ever seen.

Through the actual storyline of the movie, nobody has a name. You might be able to keep track of them by juror number, but when push comes to shove you remember the appearance of each of the men and their personalities.

This is what needs to be shown in our writing! So often we rely on names to specify the actions of a character apart from the others. When we're writing, we should be able to delete all of the names from our manuscript and still track every character (unless, of course, you have characters that are deliberately similar, but they tend to be interchangeable if you can't tell them apart without names (i.e. Fred and George Weasley).)

It makes much more sense if you've seen the movie, but each and every one of them, through actions, shows their personality. I won't go into great details on this subject, but I have a few examples to share.

Juror 4, near the end of the movie, has one of the most powerful scenes in any movie - previously he says that he never sweats, but when he is proven wrong on the subject of memory, a single bead of sweat drips down his forehead.

Juror 3, in the climactic scene, rips up his son's picture and tosses it on the table. Then, seeing the situation in a different light (the case is that of a son supposedly murdering his father), he collapses into tears and repeats "not guilty".

Juror 9, in the beginning of the movie, shows his entire life value system in one motion - he votes not guilty just because Juror 8 was standing alone at not guilty up until that point. He doesn't have any other reason besides supporting Juror 8.

I realize this was brief and not nearly as helpful if you haven't seen the movie, but it's not a hard movie to find and it is well worth the watching (the original, of course).


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