Monday, January 24, 2011

A Writer's Take on the King's Speech

A quick posting today because I had a big setback yesterday with Gold Mountain. I spent three solid days editing it. And then realized I was using an old version. So I’ve printed it out and am now going line by line to match up the fixes. Yes, I know there is a comparison feature in Word. But bearing in mind that almost every paragraph has a change of some sort, things as minor as I am to I’m, this is the best way for me to do it.

Onto my topic which is that I saw a really great movie yesterday, and it made me think a lot about the writing.

The King’s Speech with Colin Firth and Helena Bonham-Carter. Fabulous movie. I’m sure you’ve seen it or have heard about it.

As a writer two things struck me about this movie on the drive home. First there were no flashbacks. How many movies and books do you know that have extensive flashbacks to explain why the character is behaving in such a way? In the King’s Speech the power of the acting, the dialogue between the two main characters, was so strong that a flashback into Bertie’s childhood was not only unnecessary but would have ruined the effect. How much more powerful was the trace of remembered fear in an adult’s voice rather than the cheap trick of actually seeing a little child being bullied.

Secondly there appears to be no villain in this movie. It’s the classic man vs. himself conflict arc. Edward XIII is a self-absorbed jerk, but we’re glad to be rid of him (historically too, this is a fascinating example of the right thing happening at exactly the right time). But wait – there is a villain. And we see one glimpse of him.

The royal family is watching a newsreel and we see Hitler giving a screaming speech to the gathered masses. Princess Elizabeth says to her father, “What’s he saying?” and Bertie says, “I don’t know. But he’s saying it very well.”

And on this one level the fate of the word became personal.

I’m giving the workshop at the Scene of the Crime Festival this year ( and it will be on writing the antagonist. One of the guidelines I’ll give is that the villain must match the hero.

Thanks to a speech therapist, a loving family, and a lot of bravery, a man was created who became a match to his enemy.


Mystery Writers Ink Board said...

Vicki, I feel for you on the manuscript problem. I've done the same thing, though not with a whole manuscript, and yeah, it's really not as simple as merely swapping out changed words. Every change affects the tone of the whole scene, and if that scene was markedly different in the other version, you can get a seriously garbled manuscript in a hurry with a single keystroke or mouse-click.

Thanks for your insights on the movie as well. It's on my schedule for next weekend.

Jayne Barnard

Erika Chase said...

Very interesting blog -- I plan to see the movie in a couple of weeks so will keep your words in mind. Thanks.
Also, good luck with the mss-- these things are sent to try us!

Hannah Dennison said...

Oh Vicki - you have my sympathies -- I have done that myself and it is infuriating and reduced me to tears.
Yes - The Kings Speech was amazing. Very intense and absolutely brilliant. I loved it. Your comment on no flashbacks was an excellent point. Flashbacks are my pet peeve ... along with voiceover narration!

Gail Baugniet said...

Your first paragraph made me cringe as I've often feared doing something similar. I would rationalize that any editing is a lesson in writing.