Sunday, January 5, 2014

Notting Hill On Writing (and a little on life)

I'll admit it, I've watched "Notting Hill" more times than I can count. Although I'm not a huge fan of romantic comedies there are a few here and there that have caught me and I have a bit of a thing for Julia Roberts. The other Julia Roberts movie that tops my list is "Mona Lisa Smile" but that's a post for a different day.

Nothing Hill. The fruitarian, the blue door, the orange juice, the guy with the book down his trousers. Horse and Hound Magazine. It's just so fun. Oh, and that soundtrack. I love it even though my wife insists it is elevator music. I hate elevators but I just might be okay in the one that plays this:

But honestly the biggest reason I've watched this movie so many times is the character development. It's important for a writer to know more about their characters than the reader does. After years of hearing this I've finally caught on and begun to use it in my own writing. I've taken to writing backstories, even for characters that are only in one scene. It's amazing what you can learn about someone this way. For instance, a character in my book who is only introduced in his death I realized had a special relationship with the protagonist. Because of this I was able to include a few little details, for instance a penchant for peppermint tea, which later develop into...  well, that would be spoilers. Let's just say, it might be important.

Richard Curtis, the author of "Notting Hill" obviously knows this technique. He also wrote for "French and Saunders" and "The Black Adder." Oh and one more... The episode of Doctor Who that has spawned a thousand pieces of Van Gogh/Tardis fan art... He wrote "Vincent and the Doctor."

I know, right?!

Anyway, back to "Notting Hill."

This technique Curtis uses is demonstrated best in the scene with the last brownie. In this scene William and his friends agree that the "saddest act" at the birthday party will get the last brownie. One friend reveals that she and her husband can't have children and talks about what it's like to be stuck in a wheelchair for life in a house of ramps. Another laments his job and how much he sucks at it. The birthday girl stresses over her feather hair and shrinking boosies. In this scene the spotlight is taken off of the leading man and leading lady and shared by the supporting cast.
(It was reading that this was someone else's favorite scene on Facebook tonight that prompted this post.)

Not only does this make for good character development, I feel it makes reading more natural as well. Life is supported by a full cast, and even when we feel the most self-centered, the most focused on ourselves, we are never alone in the spotlight.

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