One day I want to write a story that runs backwards. I’ll start with the protagonists in a mire of disaster, and then tick back through time, unpicking their mistakes, until they are blithe and bonny.
So I devour all I can about backwards narratives, and the other day I was listening to the actress Kristen Scott Thomas interviewed about her part in Harold Pinter’s play Betrayal. The play is a love triangle; husband, wife and wife’s lover. The first scene takes place after the affair has ended and the final scene ends when the affair begins.
Aside from indulging my long-range planning, her comments about playing the part clarified something fundamental that writers do when we create any story – backwards or forwards.
Scott Thomas said that Betrayal’s chronology stripped away the tools the actors normally used to carry them through a performance. Usually, the actor plugs in at scene one, and what they experience there carries them, changed, into the next one. This domino taps that domino. In each scene their character learns something, commits to something, discards something, and that sets them up for the next. Changing all the time.
This relentless momentum, the decisions and acts that cannot be undone, the words that cannot be unsaid, are the pulse that gives a story its life. It’s like a shark who must keep moving otherwise it will die.
That change in every scene is what the actor looks for. It might be gigantic or it might be just a grain. And it is what the writer must look for too.
Thank you, Mrpbps, for the picture. Does each of your scenes have that momentum of forwards change? Do you think there are any situations where a scene can coast without anything changing? Let’s discuss!