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Use Edges and Value the Marginal

April 16, 2014

One of the principles of Permaculture is to “Use Edges and Value the Marginal.” Ecosystems have a more diverse and abundant range of species – whether flora or fauna – at edges; edges of fields, forests, ponds, etc. Let’s take two example edges:

Example 1:

A – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – B

Example 2:
.                      / \ _
A —         – – –         \          – B
.      \ _ /                    \ _ /

In both examples, the distance between points A and B are the same, as the crow flies. But, if you followed the edges, you would travel further in example 2; you would cross paths with a more diverse ecosystem – there would be more diversity of flora and fauna. Edges are abundant. Permaculture teaches to increase edges, like as shown in example 2. And, now that I diagram this, it’s easy to look at the above lines as paths of a story’s structure, plots, subplots, arcs and journeys and innately know that example 2 is preferable. From a story perspective, example 1 is boring, just like it is from an ecosystem perspective – it’s less lively, featuring fewer species of plants and animals.

I touched on the concept of using edges and valuing the marginal in my initial permaculture screenwriting post, but this entry intends to go more granular.

What is an Edge in a Screenplay?

* A transition from scene to scene, or sequence to sequence.
* The beginning or end of a block of action.
* The beginning or end of a piece of dialogue.

If you have a field meeting a forest – at the edges between them – there is a certain type of activity in each. A field may contain an abundance of grass, while a forest may contain an abundance of trees. But, in the edges where they meet, something unique occurs. In that transition, there is a change in flora and fauna. If you were walking between the two, you might slow down and admire the sudden diversity of life. Perhaps, it punches your senses.

So, if we take a lesson from nature, perhaps screenwriters should “punch people’s senses” when transitioning from scene to scene. As the forest and field provide the traveler with a wonderful closing image upon departure, so can the screenwriter of a scene. End scenes with a bang. Begin new scenes with a flourish. On occasion, perhaps pre-lap, to increase your edges and impact of transitions.

Here’s where I’d like to pull it back a bit. A pre-lap can be very effective when used sparingly, but don’t go overboard. Don’t be clever for the sake of clever. I suppose don’t over-use edges.

Let’s look at something as simple as a couple lines of action:
It can end with a colon, like above, or a period, a dash, a double-dash…
An ellipsis. They imply different things, take up minimal space, yet change/add impact. They are edges.

BANG! Sounds are edges. People cutting people off in dialogue are edges. Trailing off dialogue is an edge. There are so many places where edges occur within screenplays. One could say screenplays are documents of edges. As a screenwriter, you can control your diversity and abundance of edges. Make your edges matter. Make your screenplay, story, sequences, scenes, action and dialogue look more like example 2 than example 1. The more you can imbue your screenplay with the look and feel of example 2 – abundant with edges – the more vibrant your screenplay will be.

Edges of a Characters’ Existence

The edges of any character are the moment they’re introduced and the last moment you see them. In life, it’s often re-iterated how important first impressions are. It’s true in screenplays. It’s true with characters.

When Yoda is introduced in Star Wars, he’s introduced without us or Luke knowing it. Luke thinks he’s some green creature that can help him get to Yoda. Meanwhile, Yoda is using his anonymity to learn the true nature of Luke. By the time the audience and Luke learn who Yoda is, we’ve already learned Yoda’s wise. We’ve already seen his wisdom in action, before ever knowing who he was. That’s a great character introduction. By the time Luke learns who Yoda is, he’s already stuck his foot in his mouth and needs to immediately begin prying it out.

How about the last time we see Darth Vader. The unveiling of the mask. That is a lasting ending image of a mythic character. It’s impact is increased because it occurs at the characters edge. It’s the last thought we have of the character; the image stays in our minds. The evil Darth Vader is actually a frail old man; in other words, evil is frail. Meanwhile, the master Jedi Yoda is wise beyond his many years; and we know this before we ever meet him. Why? Because of the excellent utilization of the edges of a characters’ existence. Embrace the introduction of a character. And go out with a BANG!

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From → Permaculture

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